PSNI Chief Constable sticks to assessment of IRA position at Derry meeting

The PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton (left) greets Sinn Fein National Chairman Declan Kearney at the 'Uncomfortable Conversations' event held in the Clooney Hall Centre on Wednesday evening
The PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton (left) greets Sinn Fein National Chairman Declan Kearney at the 'Uncomfortable Conversations' event held in the Clooney Hall Centre on Wednesday evening

A meeting in Derry’s Waterside last night involving PSNI Chief Constable and National Chairperson of Sinn Fein, Declan Kearney tackled issues surrounding the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland.

‘Uncomfortable Conversations’, the title of the event took part under the auspices of the 2015 Gasyard Wall Feile. Other members of the panel were Alan McBride, whose wife was murdered in IRA bombing of the Shankill Road in 1993 and Patricia McBride, a former Victim’s Commissioner.

Despite the political hiatus of the last ten days in relation to the killing of former IRA man Kevin McGuigan, the Chief Constable shook hands at the outset with Declan Kearney. The Chief Constable has acknowledged that the IRA still exists in some form, but that they have not been engaged in terrorism. He also said that he accepts the bona fides of the senior Sinn Fein leadership in their assertion that they remain committed to the peace process.

Chair of the meeting, Catherine Pollock, said the event was planned months ago “before Tue murders of Jock Davison and Kevin and before today’s political fallout.”

Declan Kearney spoke first and said what was needed was a “Collective acknowledgement of pain caused by the past to make sure that it does not happen again, “ and what was required was the “courage to forgive for sake of our children.”

Chief Constable George Hamilton said: “people have questioned the appropriateness of my attendance here tonight, but I am not shying away from having uncomfortable conversations. We share a troubled past. So many people in this city have suffered loss. They have heartbreaking stories from our dark history as raw today as when the hurt first occurred.”

Alan McBride, whose wife was killed by the IRA in the Shankill bomb in 1993, said he did not accept the Sinn Fein analysis that there was no hierarchy of victims: “I disagree that my wife’s name on the same page as Thomas Begley the man who killed her. Do I recognise that Thomas Begley’s mother lost a son and has suffered, yes I do. But, to say he is the same as my wife-I find that offensive.”

Patricia McBride reflected on being at the meeting on the day that “Stormont’s stitching came apart,” in reference to the mooted withdrawal of the Ulster Unionist Party from the Stormont Executive.

“21 years after the ceasefires, why are we still seeing virtual and real peace walls being built. It’s because of a lack of honesty. The conflict didn’t begin in 1969. The UUP grabbed the limelight but for 50 years administered a single party date. Their Special Powers Act was the inspiration of for South African apartheid. Nationalists and republicans deserve an apology from the UUP for 50 years of misrule, “ she said.

Various other points from the floor raised questions about the lack of progress in relation to legacy cases/inquests. Currently 53 inquests outstanding connected to 86 deaths.

George Hamilton admitted that he believed the coroner’s system was heavily flawed and assured victims relatives that he will not allow political opinion to be allowed to interfere with these investigations and believed the HIU wax the way forward because it has a degree of independence beyond the perception that the RUC were part of the problem of the past.

More in tomorrow’s Journal.....