News of Interest: Belfast flag riots and the past haunting the peace

Unionists talking tough on protestors’ concerns
News Letter
Published on Saturday 19 January 2013 10:27

LEADING unionists talked tough on issues increasingly articulated as grievances by flag protestors on Friday, as a second Operation Standstill was promised with Province-wide roadblocks .

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt publicised a speech he had made in County Armagh, in which he called on republicans to call off their “cultural war”.

Likewise, East Londonderry DUP MP Gregory Campbell said he was tabling a motion calling on republicans to be questioned by police about their actions during Bloody Sunday.

“Because if it was a war, then Kingsmills was a war crime and the perpetrators belong in the Hague,” he said, dismissing claims that Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams were not senior IRA leaders.

Police said 124 people have been arrested and 88 charged in the wake of civil disorder since the Union Flag stopped flying daily on Belfast City Hall in December.

However, a PSNI spokeswoman said those figures were likely to be revised upwards as arrest figures came in from outlying areas.

Police arrested a further six men yesterday – aged 18 to 49, from Newtownabbey, Greenisland, Carrickergus and Greater Belfast – for rioting.

On Thursday night, Mr Nesbitt told unionists in Bessbrook that, contrary to the republican narrative, the Troubles were “not a war”.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has said he is unable to trust Sinn Fein because its leaders will not come clean on their IRA past.

Speaking to his party’s south Armagh branch in Bessbrook, the former broadcaster said true political leadership needed “more than a mandate”.

[…] In a speech likely to drive further divisions between the parties, the UUP leader said there was no moral basis for the IRA’s campaign.

He called on republicans to call off their “cultural war”.

[…] He said Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams denied being in the IRA yet allowed himself to be flown to London in 1972 for talks with the British government.

“So let me be clear – I do not believe Gerry Adams when he says he was never in the IRA,” he said.

“I do not believe Martin McGuinness when he says he left the IRA in the early 1970s and because of that—and much, much more – I do not trust Sinn Fein.”

Mr Nesbitt said it was necessary to be honest when dealing with the past.

“We need a clear and unequivocal statement from republicans that terrorism is wrong in an absolute sense, and that no-one needed to die, or be maimed to get where we are,” he said.

“We need apologies from the IRA and reports on their terrorism, to put on the shelf to balance what is already there from Saville and the rest – then we need to move on, with an honest and truthful process to deal with our past, and its legacy.”
Excerpts from: Flags Crisis: I do not trust Sinn Fein says Nesbitt, by John Manley, Political Reporter, Irish News

Yesterday [Mr Nesbitt] launched another broadside against Sinn Fein, saying the removal of the flag from Belfast City Hall was not in the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.

He complained that republicans described the flag removal as “a good night’s work” while adding that the tricolour was not flying from Belfast City Hall ‘yet’.

He added: “The vote on December 3 was not just an event, it is part of a process – a cultural war,” which he demanded they call off.

All four processes dealing with the past –- public inquiries, Police Ombudsman, coroners’ courts and the Historical Enquiries Team -– focus on the actions of the state but ignore the IRA.

He said: “Enough is enough.”

“Whilst the republican campaign of terror ultimately failed and they have been forced to accept a settlement within the United Kingdom that should not mean that they are exempt from investigation and being held to account for their actions at that time.” – Gregory Campbell, Democratic Unionist Party, quoted in the Irish News, “Call to Probe IRA Role”

Meanwhile, Mr Campbell said he had tabled a Commons motion calling upon Chief Constable Matt Baggott to ensure that if soldiers are to be questioned regarding Bloody Sunday then republicans should be too.

“If there is to be an investigation now by the police then it must also look at the role played by senior Provisional IRA personnel including Martin McGuinness in the weeks and months prior to January 30, 1972,” he said.

East Belfast community leaders and other unionists have increasingly referred to the flag issue as “the straw that broke the camel’s back”, pointing to a much greater grievance of discrimination in probing the past.

But Deputy First Minister Mr McGuinness yesterday continued the Sinn Fein narrative by declining to even acknowledge this as a problem.

Instead, he spoke of the need for compromise and dialogue, acknowledging only that “there is clearly a very powerful emotional connection between identity and symbols”.

He also dismissed the Province-wide protests and unrest as being linked to the UVF and BNP.