Troubles victims have voiced “disgust” after the PSNI’s chief constable shared a panel with a former IRA terrorist during a debate on legacy issues.
George Hamilton, along with Victims’ Commissioner Judith Thompson, took part in the ‘Stuck in the Past’ discussion at the West Belfast Festival on Tuesday.
The panel also featured leading republican Sean ‘Spike’ Murray, who was once reportedly a top figure in the IRA and is now a key Sinn Fein figure in Belfast.
He spent 12 years in jail over explosive offences.
Also participating was loyalist Winston ‘Winkie’ Irvine, a member of the PUP, which has links to the UVF.
In the wake of the debate, victims’ group the South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF) said it has been contacted by a number of people who had expressed concern at the make-up of the panel.
Ken Funston, SEFF’s advocacy service manager, told the News Letter it “alarms” victims and survivors to see the chief constable in such company.
He said: “I have received numerous phone calls and messages from innocent victims and survivors who were disgusted that the police chief and the victims’ commissioner would accept that it was okay to share a platform and debate with them.”
Mr Hamilton took part in a similar event at the West Belfast Festival with former deputy first minister Martin McGuinness in 2015.
However, Mr McGuinness was a democratically elected politician, who was occupying one of the highest offices in the land. Mr Murray does not hold elected public office.
In 2015, the police confirmed that they were investigating Mr Murray over allegations of gun-running after the IRA’s 1997 ceasefire.
Mr Murray said the accusations were “without foundation”. He was not charged with any offence in relation to the allegations.
Former Ulster Unionist Party leader Reg Empey said the sight of the police chief sitting alongside a former IRA man at this event would be “difficult” for many victims.
He added: “If you are an RUC widow and see a chief constable sitting with someone who was involved in the organisation which murdered your husband, it would be hard to swallow.”
However, former assistant chief constable Alan McQuillan defended Mr Hamilton’s decision to take part in the debate, stating: “The chief constable is absolutely right to be out there arguing his corner in this kind of environment.
“I don’t think it compromises his impartiality in any way.”
Innocent victims and survivors of the Troubles in Northern Ireland “were not meaningfully consulted” during the creation of the Stormont House legacy proposals, SEFF has said.
The Fermangh-based victims group told the News Letter: “Views are now being sought but it’s akin to asking someone if they are prepared to live in this house designed with someone else’s vision.
“Would it not be preferable for victims/survivors to be involved at the concept and build phases ensuring a heightened likelihood of their contentment with the finished build?”