A DUP politician has attacked Sinn Fein’s national chairman over his claims that the republican party is pursuing an agenda of reconciliation.
Trevor Clarke, a DUP councillor in Coleraine, said as long as Sinn Fein continues to “eulogise” paramilitaries, no such reconciliation will be possible.
He was reacting to an interview which the News Letter had done with Declan Kearney, who had just swept to office in South Antrim with an increased share of the vote.
In the interview, conducted at the Valley Leisure Centre counting station shortly after his victory, Mr Kearney was pressed about how his calls for “healing” of Troubles wounds could be reconciled with Michelle O’Neill’s recent public tribute to an IRA team who were killed after raking a police station with gunfire from an extremely powerful mounted machine gun.
Mr Kearney replied: “We’re at a very advanced stage of our peace process. It’s now necessary to move the political process into a phase of reconciliation and healing.
“And all political leaderships must now take responsibility for working together in addressing that challenge.
“Sinn Fein has taken huge initiatives to advance the project of reconciliation in our society by making very, very significant gestures.
“Those gestures have yet to be reciprocated by political unionism.”
He was asked how Ms O’Neill’s tribute to the Co Tyrone machine gun attackers helped with reconciliation.
“There are multiple narratives of our political conflict, and there is disagreement in relation to all of them,” he said.
“Now what we need to do is move to a stage where we can mutually accept the reality and legitimacy of those different narratives.”
Mr Clarke responded on social media at the weekend (by coincidence, his name is identical to that of a DUP former MLA, who has just lost his seat in the South Antrim constituency).
Citing the book ‘Lost Lives’, which gives a detailed breakdown of the statistics behind the bloodshed of the Troubles, Mr Clarke wrote: “How about we stop discussing ‘narratives’ as suggested by Mr Kearney and deal with facts.
“Terrorists caused 90% of deaths during their campaign of sectarian slaughter here.
“That’s not a narrative, that’s a fact.
“And whilst Sinn Fein continue to eulogise and therefore legitimise terrorists and their actions, there cannot be reconciliation with the victims of their atrocities.”
He noted that roughly 30% of deaths were attributable to loyalists, and about 60% to republicans, adding “give me democracy and the ballot box over the Armalite every day – it’s just a shame others pursued both at the same time”.
In his interview, Mr Kearney was also asked about legacy-related Sinn Fein demands relating to the creation of any new Executive.
He said the UK government should remove the “blockage” to ensuring “maximum information disclosure” relating to the Troubles.
As to when he could see the Assembly being re-established, he said it ultimately rests with unionists, and “in particular the British government”.