The Irish government will listen to unionist “perceptions” about its failings in dealing with the IRA as part of the forthcoming Haass talks on dealing with the past, its deputy prime minister has said.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore made the comments at the British Irish Association in Cambridge on Saturday.
Mr Gilmore’s comments come in advance of wide-ranging talks being facilitated by ex-US diplomat Richard Haass to deal with highly contentious issues in Northern Ireland such as parading, flags and dealing with the past.
As reported in the News Letter yesterday, in his speech Mr Gilmore said: “We need to acknowledge those unionists who feel that, notwithstanding the sacrifices made by members of An Garda Síochána and the Irish army throughout the Troubles, the Irish state could have done more to prevent the IRA’s murderous activities in border areas.”
Mr Gilmore made the overture at the British-Irish Association conference in Cambridge, which has met annually for over 40 years in Cambridge or Oxford, bringing together politicians, historians, academics, clergy, community workers and journalists to discuss the political process.
The Irish Times reported that senior unionist politicians – from many parties – heard Mr Gilmore’s offer “and appeared to be impressed”.
He reportedly majored on the necessity of ongoing support for the Belfast Agreement.
Last month during a low-key visit to east Belfast, it is understood that Mr Gilmore met with a variety of local figures at the Skainos Centre and got a flavour of grassroots unionist feelings in the wake of the flag protests and a summer of significant violence.
In an interview with the Irish Times after his speech, Mr Gilmore said his government was prepared to engage about the past in the forthcoming Haass talks.
“If there is criticism of the way in which the Irish state handled particular issues, I think we have to be able to hear about it,” he said.
Asked if he was referring to issues such as the 1970s Arms Crisis, unionist claims that the IRA frequently made easy escapes across the border after gun and bomb attacks, and complaints about extradition legislation, Mr Gilmore said the government would address “whatever the criticisms are”.
“If you look at the lives that were given by the gardaí and members of the army; if you look at the various efforts that were made right through the 1970s in terms of the security side and then look at repeated efforts made by successive Irish governments to try and get talks going, to try and get a resolution going, I think that the Irish state has a very honourable record in that regard,” he added.
“But I think we do have to acknowledge that there are people in the unionist community who question that and do raise the question about whether or not enough was done and I think we have to listen to them,” he added.