Loyalists are being excluded from legacy talks aimed at dealing with Northern Ireland’s troubled past, it has been claimed.
Writing on blog website eamonnmallie.com, PUP media spokesperson Winston Irvine warned that any legacy deal reached by the Province’s main political parties would be doomed to failure unless loyalists were given a voice.
He added that excluding loyalists from the talks process would “impede and sabotage any progress on how we engage and deal with the past”.
Speaking to the News Letter yesterday, Mr Irvine said: “Loyalist combatants were major protagonists in the conflict, so how can any process move forward without their input?
“There is a clear gap in terms of engaging with people from the loyalist community who have been bereaved by the conflict.”
Mr Irvine claimed his argument had been “perfectly illustrated” this week, after Shirley McMichael – the widow of murdered UDA leader John McMichael – was appointed to the Victims and Survivors Forum.
“The criticism that was levelled at Mrs McMichael after her appointment clearly demonstrates that loyalists are not being treated fairly in this whole process,” he added.
Mrs McMichael was one of 10 fresh appointments to the 25-strong body. The forum was set up to advise the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors Judith Thompson.
When asked who he believed could best represent the interests of the loyalist community in the legacy talks, Mr Irvine suggested that the Loyalist Community Council would be a “natural fit”.
However, that suggestion has been shot down by DUP victim spokesperson, Jeffrey Donaldson MP, who told the News Letter:“I would not support the idea of a body such as the LCC being involved in these talks.
“It is elected political parties who have been tasked with this and the PUP should respect that mandate.
“Our door is always open if the PUP want to talk to us about these issues.”
The News Letter asked Mr Donaldson if the DUP would be open to representing loyalists in the talks process, to which he responded: “Our priority will always be to innocent victims”.
Meanwhile, a victims advocate from Co Fermanagh has stated that those people with a paramilitary background or should have “no involvement” in legacy talks.
Ken Funston, an advocacy manager at South East Fermanagh Foundation, said: “These people made a wilful decision to go down that road and they will have to live with that. Having them involved in the legacy process would only serve to tarnish the whole thing.
“It seems that there is almost an attempt to make everyone a victim in Northern Ireland, yet the real victims never wanted or asked to be victims, that unwanted tag was placed on them like a ‘black spot’.
“It is this dilution and widening of the meaning of ‘victim’ that takes us away from the real issues, supporting those who really need help.”