Unionist elements giving cover to extremists - Sinn Fein chair

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Some elements of unionism are attempting to slow down the peace process and in doing so are providing cover to violent extremists, a senior Sinn Féin figure claimed in Derry last night.

Declan Kearney, Sinn Féin’s national chairperson, made the comments during a public debate on reconciliation organised as part of Féile 2012 in the Gasyard Centre.

In a wide-ranging speech, the Park man accused some unionist of pursuing a “wrongheaded strategy” which “pays lip service to reconciliation”.

“It’s about slowing down the peace process with the politics of stasis, which in turn provides cover to those refusing to resolve remaining contentious parades in nationalist areas, or others violently opposed to the peace process,” he said.

The Sinn Féin chairperson criticised the tactic and encouraged unionist leaders to adopt a new approach.

“It is a wrongheaded strategy,” he said, adding that political unionism had to think bigger than that.

“Ordinary Protestant, unionist and loyalist citizens deserve and should ask for, better than that from their leaders. Republicans, unionists, loyalists and nationalists need to create common ground. Collectively we can start by agreeing on core issues of equality, rights, and mutual respect,” he added.

The county Derry man, who has been tipped to contest the forthcoming Mid Ulster by-election to find a replacement for Martin McGuinness, warned that unionist refusal to fully engage in a process of reconciliation “fetters the peace process, and normalises sectarianism, division and fear”.

The senior republican also said that unionists who are sceptical about Sinn Féin’s motivation “are locked in a tired narrative of ‘what aboutery’”.

He also acknowledged the suffering of both unionists and nationalists during the Troubles.

Mr Kearney is currently leading Sinn Féin’s process of engagement with unionist political leaders, as well as Protestant church leaders. He has also previously called for republicans to have “uncomfortable conversations” with unionists in an attempt to address the legacy of the Troubles.

Last night’s panel discussion was titled ‘Reconciliation in the process of nation building - Vision of a new Ireland’. It also featured former RUC inspector and ‘Derry Journal’ columnist Norman Hamill, and local author and Vice-Chair of the Bloody Sunday Trust, Julieann Campbell, who is a ‘Journal’ reporter. The event was chaired by journalist and security expert, Brian Rowan.