Unionist defends decision to back SF 1916 event

John McCallister
John McCallister

John McCallister has defended his decision to help facilitate a 1916 Easter Rising commemoration at Stormont.

The South Down MLA faced fierce criticism yesterday when the News Letter revealed he was the sole unionist signatory providing Sinn Fein with the necessary cross-community support to host the controversial event on Wednesday.

TUV councillor Henry Reilly said Mr McCallister had been “used” by republicans and that the event should not have been held at Parliament Buildings.

On the BBC Talkback show yesterday, Mr Reilly told his political rival: “If this had been done in a historical, respectful context then okay...but they have used you to legitimise that physical force tradition of Irish republicanism that they say they are the standard bearers of to this day.

“They used butchery against the UDR, and they used the 1916 Rising as justification for that - and the dissidents that killed the prison officer still use that as justification, so we shouldn’t be glorifying the physical force tradition of the IRA.”

Mr McCallister responded, saying: “Parliament Buildings should be open to all.”

He added: “It is not particularly an event that I commemorate, or is important to me, but it is important to thousands of people.

“There is a slight irony that you are holding an Easter Rising commemoration in a devolved Assembly within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

“A few months ago I hosted an event for the UDR Association. Not everyone shares my view of the narrative of what role the UDR played in Northern Ireland’s history, but I needed a nationalist MLA to sign that form.”