Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party has pledged to enter next week’s talks on parades in a positive manner but castigated Sinn Fein for its commemoration of dead IRA men.
Expectations have been mounting for all-party negotiations chaired by a US diplomat to find a resolution to conflict over flags and emblems and prevent a repeat of this year’s serious loyalist violence.
Robin Newton, a senior Democratic Unionist, called for an end to the “cultural apartheid” creating no-go areas for members of the loyal orders after a troubled summer when many police officers were injured during rioting linked to marches. The political temperature was further raised following last month’s demonstration lauding two IRA bombers killed near Castlederg, Co Tyrone.
Mr Newton told the assembly: “Those who pay tribute to the terrorists cannot be seen as genuinely interested in or concerned about peace.
“Their words are false and phoney, there is no truth in them, they are dishonest, they are words without substance.”
Relations between the DUP and Sinn Fein, power-sharing partners at Stormont, have been strained following extended loyalist rioting linked to restrictions imposed on a Twelfth of July parade in North Belfast. A nightly protest by the Orange Order continues.
In August Sinn Fein negotiator Gerry Kelly spoke at the Castlederg commemoration. His address was viewed by many unionists as glorifying terrorism.
Mr Kelly said: “They were ordinary young men in the extraordinary circumstances of the early 1970s who rose to the challenge of the time. They had a vision of equality and freedom and they knew the risks they were taking to achieve it but they could not stand idly by or leave it to others.”
He has called for greater open-mindedness ahead of next week’s discussions chaired by US diplomat Richard Haass but supported the right to remember republicans who died during the conflict.
Mr Newton said: “The DUP is intent on entering into the Haass talks in a positive manner and we are committed to finding a way forward.
“Northern Ireland needs to move forward for the sake of our children, citizens and the economy, but there needs to be recognition by Sinn Fein, there needs to be recognition that they cannot continue their campaign of paying tribute to those who butchered innocent men and women.
“We are seeking a shared future and if it is to mean anything it has to include shared space. If we have situations where there are no-go areas where Orangemen and women are not welcome, if cultural apartheid is the order of the day, then we are going nowhere.”
Mr Kelly said the DUP should understand the right of republicans to mourn their dead.
“Remember that there are other people who have suffered as well and that is the difficulty in the debates we are having,” he said.
“I was a combatant and I did make a choice and people need to realise that if we are going into the Haass talks then open-mindedness needs to be part of it.”