Sinn Fein MLA: secret burials wrong
The IRA's practice of secretly burying some of its victims during the Troubles was wrong and unjust, a senior Sinn Fein figure has told the Assembly.
Mitchel McLaughlin said the Provisionals should also have come clean with information on the whereabouts of the so-called Disappeared long ago.
But the South Antrim MLA's remarks drew challenges from unionists to retract a claim he made in 2005 that the killing of one of the victims, Jean McConville, was not a criminal act. Mr McLaughlin said he would deal with that issue in the context of a full truth recovery process in the region.
The exchanges took place during a debate tabled by the SDLP on the ongoing efforts by an independent commission to locate the seven bodies still to be found of the 17 Disappeared. The majority were killed by the IRA.
"I support the right of the families to have redress after so many years of injustice piled on injustice and I think this policy was wrong. It was wrong then and it is wrong now," said Mr McLaughlin.
In reply to a subsequent question from Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt, the Sinn Fein member confirmed his belief that secretly burying victims was an official policy of the IRA at the time. He said it was one that first emerged in Ireland in the 19th century.
"What I regret and what I think we all should regret is, as well as ending the practice and policy, they should also at that time should have taken steps to identify where the remains were buried. I say it was an injustice then and it is an injustice now."
Traditional Unionist leader Jim Allister then quizzed Mr McLaughlin on his past remarks on Mrs McConville, a west Belfast mother of 10 shot dead and buried by the IRA on the belief she was a British spy. The allegation she worked for the security services was subsequently rejected by a Police Ombudsman investigation. Mrs McConville's body was found on a beach in the Irish Republic in 2003.
Mr McLaughlin responded: "I have to reply in this way: I will address that issue in the context of a process of truth recovery and in a process of genuine reconciliation. That would mean that I could expect from all sections around this room, people to acknowledge the role of the British security services in procuring murder, in procuring collision with murder gangs."
The SDLP motion called on anyone with information to share it with the commission without delay. An Ulster Unionist amendment also urging the commission to make clear what more could be done, and by whom, was accepted without opposition. The amended motion was passed unanimously.