Jim Allister has said he is “disappointed” the new justice minister did not challenge the definition of collusion used by the Police Ombudsman when she made her debut appearance at ministerial question time in Stormont.
Independent unionist MLA Claire Sugden was asked about the recent ombudsman’s report into the UVF’s Loughinisland massacre, which accused security forces of engaging in collusion with loyalists around the time of the attack.
The ombudsman had found “no evidence the security forces were aware the UVF were planning to mount an attack in Loughinisland”, but was highly-critical of the authorities’ use of informers and of the failure to fully capture a shipment of loyalist arms, among other matters.
In a statement ahead of her appearance at Stormont on Tuesday, Claire Sugden had said the report had raised “difficult and disturbing issues about the conduct of some police officers, in relation to both investigative failings and collusion”.
She said “anyone involved in collusive activity should be held accountable”.
In the Assembly, she was asked twice about the Loughinisland report.
Initially she was asked if she fully accepted the ombudsman’s findings.
She said it was “an operational matter for the PSNI, so it is difficult for me to comment”.
Asked later if she agreed with Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, who had said claims of collusion were helping to create a “pernicious counter-narrative”, Ms Sug den replied: “The language used should be very carefully considered, because this is, and rightly so, a very emotive issue that we are dealing with.
“I think that some of the comments need to be considered in that light and, more than anything else, in mind of the victims and their families.
“I would certainly take care with the language I use.”
Since the ombudsman had found no evidence that the security forces directed or even knew about the planned Loughinisland massacre, TUV leader Jim Allister said there has been an “overacceptance of a perverse definition of collusion – because collusion in its proper sense means active involvement in conspiracy towards the commission of an offence”.
He added that Sinn Fein had been capitalising on the findings of collusion in the report (see this story, about when the News Letter challenged Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams’ comments about the report).
Asked about the fact Mr Sugden had not challenged the use of the word in the Assembly, he said: “I’m disappointed with that, but not surprised. I suppose she would not have been appointed if she was going to rock the Sinn Fein boat.”