Belfast Telegraph

McGuinness warns over violence

Recent violent unrest in Northern Ireland has posed a real challenge to the political institutions, the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said.

Loyalist trouble which has left hundreds of police officers injured combined with a decision by the Democratic Unionist Party to veto the building of a peace centre on the site of a former prison have created tensions in the power-sharing administration.

Mr McGuinness said: "That represents a real challenge to these institutions. It is not the first time that the institutions have been challenged.

"Serious questions have to be asked about the response of unionist leaders to the activities on the streets, particularly 56 police officers injured...by the riot in Belfast city centre."

Days of violence followed the banning of a controversial loyal order parade through a contested part of North Belfast in July and that spilled over into the main commercial thoroughfare Royal Avenue when Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers were attacked with scaffolding and glasses from a nearby bar.

Former US envoy Richard Haass is chairing five-party talks on parades, emblems and dealing with the legacy of Northern Ireland's 30-year conflict.

Mr McGuinness said there can be no wider development of the Maze site unless it is on the basis of the peace centre deal.

Last month, DUP First Minister Peter Robinson said the centre could not go ahead without consensus.

A broad swathe of unionist opinion, including politicians, victim groups and members of the Orange Order, opposed it over concerns that it would create a shrine to terrorism at the former paramilitary prison where 10 republican hunger strikers died.

The Deputy First Minister claimed the DUP's decision to pull out of plans to build the centre related to violence on the street.

"That deeply saddens me," he told members of the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont.

"It is about the commitment of all of us to stand by the agreements that we have made. It is about the commitment of all of us to face down violent extremists, whether they be so-called dissident republicans or extreme loyalists.

"That is the test for this assembly and that is the test for this (ministerial) executive and I think thus far serious questions have to be asked about the commitment to stand by the PSNI."

The Deputy First Minister said the withdrawal of support for the centre was "deeply disappointing".

"The combined efforts by the unionist parties supported by extreme loyalists in maintaining a campaign against the peace building and conflict resolution centre were deplorable," Mr McGuinness said.

"The inability to deliver a programme for Government commitment has created very significant difficulties for me as Deputy First Minister.

"The peace building and conflict resolution centre always wanted to be a shrine to peace and a symbol of a new future where space is opened up for dialogue and true reconciliation between people."

He said it would also have been a big attraction for tourists.

Defending his decision, Mr Robinson has cited the appearance of senior republican Gerry Kelly at an IRA commemoration parade which was interpreted by unionists as glorifying terrorism.

Mr Kelly, an MLA and veteran Sinn Fein member, has claimed the political institutions were in crisis.

The Deputy First Minister said the difficulties facing the Stormont administration were "quite severe" and accused some members of the Orange Order and a splinter loyalist party of being indistinguishable from the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

The minister said he was disturbed by the suspected UVF shooting of a 24-year-old woman in loyalist east Belfast recently and claimed if republicans had been involved there would not have been "silence" from unionist ranks.

Mr McGuinness recently addressed victims of the IRA's Warrington bomb which killed Tim Parry, 12, and three-year-old Johnathan Ball.

He was asked in the assembly whether he could help catch the culprits but responded that he had no personal information to give to the authorities. The Deputy First Minister also defended his truthfulness when questioned about his past as an IRA commander during the Bloody Sunday inquiry.

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