The DUP has backed a victims’ charter which calls for an end to terrorists being defined as victims and urges the Irish government to account for “failures” in border security during the Troubles.
The charter, which can be viewed by clicking here, was launched in April by Innocent Victims United (IVU), a consortia of 14 terror victims’ groups, and has been backed by the UUP’s Danny Kennedy and Mike Nesbitt, the TUV, UKIP and the Orange Order. However the DUP held back because the charter also opposed the development of the Sinn Fein-backed ‘peace centre’ at the Maze.
However, with First Minister Peter Robinson last week withdrawing his party’s support for the centre, IVU spokesman Kenny Donaldson launched a fresh appeal on Sunday, calling for renewed backing for the charter.
Mr Donaldson gave “a cautious welcome” to the DUP’s Maze decision adding: “People power and, more accurately, the power of truth has prevailed. Innocent victims were quite simply not prepared to remain silent any longer – they have gained their voice and, over the coming months, that voice will only get louder as they push on with our ‘agenda for change’ in restoring decency to a political and societal system which has become corrupt and deeply confused.”
Yesterday junior minister and DUP MLA Jonathan Bell, who attended the launch of the charter, responded that the DUP was now fully behind it.
“The actions of Sinn Fein over recent weeks, and in particular the re-traumatisation visited upon victims in Castlederg, have undermined community consensus for the development of a peace centre at the Maze site,” he told the News Letter.
“The First Minister has now taken decisive action on this issue and we have been heartened by the welcome this has received from many innocent victims. We stand absolutely in support of all issues within the charter which still require action to be resolved.”
A new definition of a victim is central to many of the other issues which the victims’ groups say must be addressed flows, he said. The SDLP previously blocked a related DUP bill, but this “must be reviewed” in light of that party’s backing for the Special Advisors Bill, which banned killers from serving as ministerial advisers, he added.
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd was repeatedly challenged on the BBC Nolan Show yesterday as to whether his party still supported the development and potential 5,000 jobs at the Maze. The MLA responded that the loss of the ‘peace centre’ would jeopardise the backing of international investors.
Lagan Valley DUP MLA Brenda Hale said later that “when challenged repeatedly to give an assurance about the development of the rest of the Maze site, the question was side-stepped and evaded” by Mr O’Dowd.
A Sinn Fein spokesman responded that the Perot Group “spoke for all of the international investors when they said that the peace centre and retained buildings were the jewel in the crown of the Maze/Long Kesh site”.
He added: “Without them it is simply another brown field development site of which there are many. The decision by Peter Robinson last week undermines the Development Corporation and the work they have been tasked with in developing the site.”
Mrs Hale also said Mr O’Dowd had “equated the wearing of a poppy to the commemoration of IRA terrorists” during the radio debate. She countered that the symbol originated in WWI, when Protestants and Catholics from across the island had fought alongside each other.
Sinn Fein replied that both republican and British army families should continue to pay tribute to their dead.