Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: O'Neill's remarks on violence welcomed

Editor's Viewpoint

It would be churlish not to acknowledge the comments of Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill in the wake of the violence that accompanied a dissident republican parade in Londonderry on Monday.

She described the scenes as disturbing and said it was a far from dignified way of remembering republican dead.

She went further in saying that those responsible for hurling bricks and petrol bombs at police should be brought before the law.

Her comments were not in the same league as those of her predecessor Martin McGuinness, who denounced the killers of PSNI officer Stephen Carroll in Craigavon and two soldiers at Massereene within days of each other in 2009 as traitors to the island of Ireland. Nevertheless, they show she is keen to distance mainstream republicanism from the mindless violence of dissidents.

But unionists will recall her comments at a memorial service last year for IRA men killed by the SAS in her native Clonoe, which praised their actions and the republicans' "freedom struggle".

Many people in Northern Ireland can never forget past violence, from whatever source it came. They are the bereaved and survivors of terrorism. Jackie Nicholl resigned from the Victims and Survivors Forum this week after learning that a convicted Provo bomber was also on the body.

Mr Nicholl's baby son was killed in an IRA bomb attack.

Today we carry an interview with a babysitter, then just 13, who was hand-in-hand with three-year-old Johnathan Ball when he was killed by an IRA bomb in Warrington 25 years ago.

She wants the investigation into the outrage reopened, echoing the feelings of many bereaved and injured people who feel they have never got justice.

DUP MP Gregory Campbell gave Mrs O'Neill's comments a qualified welcome and called for Sinn Fein to agree to the restoration of devolved government to help fill the current political vacuum.

Of course, he knows the issues that divide his party and Sinn Fein remain unresolved, and unless both sides have a change of heart and a real desire to find compromise, the impasse will continue.

Mrs O'Neill's comments are a step in the right direction in what she calls outreach to unionists. The journey towards meaningful re-engagement between the parties could be lengthy, but perhaps this is an important gesture and a tentative first step.

Belfast Telegraph

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