News Letter
4 March 2012

Unionists have expressed deep scepticism about a Sinn Fein statement urging republicans to engage in “uncomfortable conversations” about their past and to recognise the healing influence of saying “sorry”.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said that the statement “fails to recognise that the acts of terrorism of the past cry out for justice” and noted that its author turned down a chance to say “sorry” live on radio yesterday.

Sinn Fein national chairperson Declan Kearney made his statement after News Letter revelations this week from south Armagh peacemaker Ian Bothwell, who said that some IRA men are “tormented” by their past and are “seeking forgiveness”.

UUP victims spokesman Mike Nesbitt responded that such people “should present themselves at their nearest PSNI station”.

In what he said was an exhortation to republicans, Mr Kearney said: “Regardless of the stance of others, we should recognise the healing influence of being able to say sorry for the human effects of all actions caused during the armed struggle.”

His statement was published in the March edition of Sinn Fein’s party newspaper.

However, Mr Kearney still defended the IRA’s campaign of violence.

“All sensible people would wish it had been otherwise” but it “arose from political conditions, as a last resort,” he claimed.

“A deep suspicion remains within unionist communities towards republicans due to the legacy of the armed struggle. Real hurt exists on all sides,” he said.

Twice he urged republicans to use “new language” and “make new compromises”.

“Reconciliation means being willing to have uncomfortable conversations” and listening, he said, means not only seeking to persuade “but also being willing to be persuaded”.

On yesterday’s BBC Nolan Show UUP MLA Mr Nesbitt responded: “If this is a seminal statement and is designed to change the dynamic we will need time to think about it.”

He chided Mr Kearney for talking over him in debate and suggested that this “was not selling yourself as someone to sit down and talk with”.

If the IRA had been engaged in “war”, had the Kingsmills massacre been “a war crime?” he asked.

Mr Kearney replied that he “understood the fear” of unionists towards talks, adding that Kingsmills “should never have taken place”.

But DUP MP Mr Donaldson said unionists saw his statement as “a hollow publicity stunt”.

“Whilst truth is important, Mr Kearney should recognise that justice is central to dealing with the past,” he said.

“No one should be above the law.”

He noted that Mr Kearney “still attempted to justify the so-called ‘armed struggle’” of the IRA.

Despite acknowledging the “healing influence of being able to say sorry”, Mr Kearney rejected the chance to apologise during yesterday’s BBC interview, the DUP man said.

“‘Sorry’ seems to be the hardest word” he added.

Sinn Fein makes “farcical” claims that Gerry Adams was not in the IRA and refuses to admit the IRA’s responsibility for atrocities such as Kingsmills, which clearly demonstrates the fallacy of a truth commission, the MP added.

Creating a better society requires brave leadership from those in political leadership and, whilst the First Minister has demonstrated that through actions, republicans must offer more than a newspaper article, he said.

“Such internal republican discussions may well be best kept behind closed doors, but undoubtedly they should also include recognition that their constant demands for the truth from others will be the standards against which Sinn Fein themselves are judged. It is a simple fact that you cannot apologise for something which you won’t admit you were actually involved in.”