News Letter
1 March 2012

THE Ulster Unionist party has cautioned against offering “undue sympathy” to republicans who are now “racked with guilt” about their terrorist actions.

Strangford MLA Mike Nesbitt was reacting to a report in yesterday’s News Letter in which south Armagh peacemaker Ian Bothwell said that some IRA members are privately in “torment” about their past and are “seeking forgiveness”.

“This is not a criticism of Ian Bothwell and his Crossfire Trust charity, but the fact is that there is a simple remedy – they should present themselves at the nearest PSNI station,” Mr Nesbitt said in a UUP statement.

“These people are seeking help to overcome their feeling of guilt for past actions but I would need to be persuaded about any sort of truth process. Until those who shout loudest for ‘truth’ agree to come clean about their own past we should not be doing anything.”

In particular, he cited scepticism of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and his assertions that he was never in the IRA, despite the fact that he had engaged in talks with the Government about IRA matters in the early 1970s.

“Before we can move forward in this area we also need to settle several issues,” Mr Nesbitt said. “Is it truth and justice we are looking for or are we seeking broader issues as well?

“We also have to agree for whose benefit we would begin such a process – for those most impacted by the violence or to enable society to move forwards? If you can agree on those issues then perhaps we could move forward.”

In his statement, he said that as a victims’ commissioner, he had the “horrific” experience of hearing about a would-be perpetrator who approached his intended victim to confess that he had targeted him decades ago.

Mr Nesbitt said: “The two men had been at school together, and the victim only survived because he happened to be standing chatting at a street corner under a bright light when the perpetrator approached.

“The gunman waited, but the weight of the weapon in his pocket finally forced him to panic and he ran away. Twenty years on, he approached his victim and confessed.”

But while the gunman found some comfort from his confession, his intended target had nightmares.

“We cannot allow any displacement of emotion,” Mr Nesbitt said. If former terrorists are feeling guilt because their hands are blood-stained for the rest of her life, then that is simply “a reflection of the human condition, and the inhumanity of their actions. Their only recourse is the rule of law”.

Speaking to the News Letter yesterday, Mr Nesbitt said: “I think there may be some victims of terrorism who are interested in a carefully managed process. There is no one-size-fits-all model.”

As for the possibility of a private process that is not open to public scrutiny, he felt it would “absolutely” be possible – if that is what individuals involved in specific cases desire.

He said: “If perpetrators and victims in a specific case could sit down and resolve the issues, if that worked for them then who am I to say that it should not happen.”