DUP leader Arlene Foster has turned down an invite to a live television debate with a terror victim on restoring power-sharing, while Sinn Fein has declined to respond to the challenge.
Alan McBride publicly challenged Mrs Foster and Sinn Fein’s Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill after reflecting on the 25th anniversary of the IRA’s Shankill Bomb attack, which claimed the lives of nine innocent civilians, including his wife Sharon.
He has called for a live televised debate on restoring power-sharing, and on the principle of “being a good neighbour”.
While Mrs Foster told the News Letter the issues were too complex to be addressed on live television, Sinn Fein declined to offer any comment to the News Letter.
Mr McBride issued the challenge after what he says was a positive response to a recent column he wrote recounting how, two years after his wife’s death, Catholic neighbours invited him to a non-sectarian 11th night barbecue and bonfire in their backyard, organised just for him.
“That’s the kind of Northern Ireland I voted for in 1998 and it’s still the kind of Northern Ireland I want to be part of in 2018,” he said the letter, which was published in the Belfast Telegraph yesterday, and which he emailed directly to them.
He added: “I challenge both of you to a live debate with me on the issue of being a good neighbour. There is no need to bring a facilitator in from amongst the great and the good, just a live televised interview with an ordinary guy who lost his wife in a bomb.”
He told the News Letter: “I might be a bit naive, I get that, but at the end of the day if I was wanting to reach an accommodation with my neighbour on this island I’d try to do what I could to make them feel welcome.”
To those who believe it suits republicans to keep power-sharing collapsed, he suggests calling their bluff by offering an Irish Language Act at a low financial cost, and calls on Sinn Fein to offer similar protections for unionist culture.
He cites examples of Mandela and de Klerk, Gorbachev and Reagan, and McGuinness and Paisley as leaders who made compromise work.
A DUP spokesman said Mrs Foster shares the frustrations of people like Alan McBride. “We want to have devolution restored and would do so tomorrow without any pre-conditions,” he said.
“The issues are much more fundamental than could be resolved in a televised debate. Sinn Fein should end its boycott of the Assembly, Executive and Westminster. Their actions have created a backlog in decision-making.”