THE first Ulster Unionist to ever address a Sinn Fein conference last night told republicans to confront the “bloody and immoral actions of the IRA”.
UUP deputy leader John McCallister spoke at a united Ireland debate in Newry at which Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and numerous other senior republicans were present.
But following outrage from many IRA victims at the Rev David Latimer’s speech to Sinn Fein’s Ard Fheis, where he described Mr McGuinness as a great leader, the UUP man last night told republicans that they need to show remorse for the “systematic murder” of innocent Protestants and Catholics.
A copy of the speech seen by the News Letter contains a series of tough messages for republicans as well as a carefully-argued defence of the Union.
In the speech, the South Down MLA welcomed the fact that in the new political dispensation he can attend an event organised by former IRA men but not fear to argue vociferously against republicanism.
He also told Sinn Fein that it is impossible for them to get rid of ‘the Brits’ from Northern Ireland because they are ordinary unionists whose support for the Union will not be easily swayed.
The senior Ulster Unionist, who agreed to an invitation to address last night’s Towards a New Republic event in Newry Town Hall, warned Sinn Fein that “getting the Brits out” is not going to happen because ‘the Brits’ are people like me and those who have voted for me”.
He adds: “I have to say that republican discourse and thinking does not appear to recognise — much less respect — this reality.”
Last night’s event is being promoted by Sinn Fein as a “major conference” and it was also addressed by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and others. The event is the ninth in a series of republican meetings attempting to gather support for removing the border, with past meetings held in San Francisco, New York, London, Toronto, Cork, Monaghan, Galway and Dublin.
In publicity material for the event, Mr Adams said that he was keen for those who object to a united Ireland — as well as its supporters — to attend. He said: “We want to hear your opinion, ideas, proposals or objections to building a new republic on the island of Ireland.
“Saturday’s conference has a wide range of expert and political opinion, including John McCallister the deputy leader of the UUP.”
In last night’s speech, Mr McCallister said that unionism has some hard questions to ask of itself.
Quoting Edward Carson’s words at the creation of the northern state when he said that Roman Catholics should have nothing to fear from a Protestant majority, Mr McCallister said that unionism fell short of Carson’s vision.
But, quoting the republican 1916 Declaration which spoke of “cherishing all the children of the nation equally”, he added: “Republican actions between 1969 and 1998 told a brutally and bloodily different story.
“Building a shared future in Northern Ireland and reconciliation across the island will require republicans to confront and recognise this; confront and recognise that for unionists the IRA campaign of violence was inherently sectarian.
“And that, whatever the perceived injustices, for unionists and for many nationalists, it was a campaign of terror entirely without moral justification.”
He added: “Reconciliation within Northern Ireland and across the island requires it.”
The South Down MLA dismissed Sinn Fein’s economic strategy built on removing the border as “tired old rhetoric... which is not serious politics and certainly not serious economics”.
But he called for a “constructive unionism” which does more than state the glaringly obvious.
He acknowledged that in the past some unionists had revelled in the Republic’s economic misfortune but said that there is a growing political maturity on both sides of the border which recognises that it is in Dublin and Belfast’s interests that both prosper.