Jude Whyte, a member of the Victims’ Forum whose mother was murdered by a UVF bomb 30 years ago, addressed the conference as a guest speaker.
Mr Whyte, who grew up on the lower Ormeau Road, recalled how his parents were both “stalwarts in the Alliance Party”, with his father acting as David Cook’s agent when he became the first non-unionist lord mayor of Belfast in 1978.
In a powerful – and at points witty – speech to the conference, the south Belfast man said that the victims’ forum was largely made up of those who were either unionist or nationalist, as well as some “fence-sitters” such as himself.
Mr Whyte said that he had forgiven the UVF man who killed his mother “as a matter of principle” because he understood why someone in the position of that individual would have done what he did.
Mr Whyte referred to how segregated Northern Ireland society has become, saying that as a Catholic who likes a drink he still didn’t feel he could go into a pub on the Shankill Road.
And, speaking in the La Mon Hotel – scene of one of the IRA’s most notorious atrocities where 12 people were burned to death in 1978 – he said : “I’ve never been in this hotel in my life ... but I’ve heard this name a thousand times in 40 years.”
Mr Whyte said that in his view the only way for Northern Ireland to move forward was to introduce a blanket amnesty for Troubles’ crimes, an issue which many Troubles’ victims fiercely oppose.