The Ulster Unionist Party leader has set a challenging tone for the Haass talks by publicly accusing southern political leaders of being “in denial” about their views of the Provisional IRA.
Yesterday former US diplomat Richard Haass, pictured, arrived in Belfast to chair talks dealing with highly contentious issues such as flags and emblems; parades; and dealing with the legacy of the past.
But UUP leader Mike Nesbitt issued a stark statement to coincide with the beginning of the talks in which he accused the leaders of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour of failing to say whether they agreed with Sinn Fein that IRA members who died in the Troubles are among “Ireland’s patriot dead”.
His concerns come among increasing unionist unease about what some historians see as a “rewriting” of the Troubles to portray republicans as victims and security forces as perpetrators, despite the fact that republicans killed almost 2,200 people and security forces 365.
Mr Nesbitt said: “In the run-up to the ill-advised, provocative and hurtful republican parade in Castlederg on August 11, there was much talk from Sinn Fein representatives that they were honouring ‘Ireland’s patriot dead’.
“I cannot accept that two people who died because the bomb they were transporting to Castlederg exploded are among ‘Ireland’s patriot dead’.
He wrote to the leaders of the Republic’s three main parties, asking them to confirm whether they shared Sinn Fein’s view of the Provisional IRA dead as patriots.
“I am saddened to say none has addressed the question,” Mr Nesbitt said. “Enda Kenny TD, as Taoiseach, said it is ‘not government practice to comment on particular comments by political parties in Northern Ireland’.”
The UUP leader added that Eamon Gilmore TD, as Labour leader, “at least mentioned the ‘patriot dead’ phrase, in the context of his party avoiding the use of such terms”. But Micheál Martin TD for Fianna Fáil “totally ignored the question”.
Mr Nesbitt said he believed that the main political parties of the Republic are aware that republicans in Northern Ireland are striving to create “a totally unacceptable equivalence between members of the Provisional IRA on the one hand and the security forces on the other”.
He added: “As one former security force member put it to me, when he told a former IRA man he never woke up thinking ‘Who can I kill today?’, the IRA man replied ‘But I did’.”
Dr Haass will be liaising with both the UK and Republic of Ireland governments during the talks process.