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Willie Frazer furious over UUP deputy's 'apology' for unionist failings

By John Mulgrew

A victims' campaigner has said he is “shocked and disappointed” after Ulster Unionist deputy leader John McCallister said unionists had “hard and painful” questions to ask themselves about the past.

Willie Frazer, who was also at the Sinn Fein event on Saturday, said Mr McCallister’s “apologies and blaming of unionism” did not reflect the view of the electorate.

Speaking at the ‘Uniting Ireland’ conference in Newry, the UUP MLA said that in Northern Ireland’s history, unionism “fell short”. The party’s deputy leader said unionists had “hard questions to ask” regarding the past.

“This is a part of our heritage that we have to confront and recognise,” he said.

“It is not easy and it certainly isn't without political risk.

“But to build reconciliation in Northern Ireland and throughout the island, it has to be done.”

He added the future of both the UK and Ireland lay in partnership and interdependence.

Mr Frazer, who founded the Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (FAIR) group for Protestant victims of the IRA, said people “were appalled” with Mr McCallister’s remarks.

“People I have spoken to said they were disgusted — he didn’t challenge Sinn Fein. Where was the bravery in what he did? The comments made had no substance — there was no heart behind what he was saying,” he said.

He added he believed his “apologetic view” could affect voting decisions among members of his constituency in the future.

Mr McCallister said he believes he is the first unionist to address a Sinn Fein conference. It is also understood his speech had been cleared by the UUP leader Tom Elliott.

Also speaking at the conference was Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams. He said he “very much welcomed Mr McCallister’s contribution” to the event, along with the presence of other unionists.

“Of course, as John McCallister has reminded us, to plan for the future we have to deal with the past,” Mr Adams said. “Sinn Fein has never shied away from this whether on the issue of victims or on other matters.

“Dealing with the past is not easy and there is little agreement at a political level about how we do this. But that should not be an obstacle to the future.”

Mr Adams said republicans, including the IRA, have acknowledged the hurt they have inflicted.

“And Sinn Féin have put forward proposals to both governments, victims’ support groups and the other political parties, for an independent, international process for dealing with all of the issues arising from the conflict and with deference to all the victims, including victims of the British State and unionist paramilitaries, as well as the IRA,” he added. “I very much welcome John McCallister’s contribution here this evening and the presence of other unionists at this event.

“Unionists are 20% of the population of this island — a political force able to shape economic and political policy, and exercise political power to the benefit of those they represent. They should use this power wisely.”

The TD added: “I will resist the temptation to remind John of how this power was used unwisely and ruthlessly, though I do note there has not been a fulsome acknowledgement, much less an apology for this abuse which benefitted neither unionist working class nor the rest of us.”

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