By Jim Gibney (for the Irish News)
In his failed attempts to undermine Sinn Féin’s growing popularity, SDLP leader Mark Durkan hit a new low in his party conference speech a few weeks ago.
Claiming his party are champions for truth and justice for the relatives of those killed by the crown forces, he turned the truth upside down to score a cheap political point against Sinn Féin.
He claimed Sinn Féin and the British government cobbled together legislation which delivers an amnesty for members of the crown forces involved in killings during the conflict.
Why let the facts get in the way of a good jibe is the order of the day for the SDLP leader.
In his speech, Mark Durkan called for the past to be dealt with on a “moral basis”, then ignored his own advice.
He manufactured a self-serving version of events dealing with those known as ‘on the runs’.
The SDLP leader ignored the British government, the architects of the legislation, and criticised Sinn Féin.
He failed to consider the impact his misleading comments would have on the relatives of those killed by the crown forces.
This is a constituency of vulnerable people numbering in their thousands living out their lives traumatised by the death of loved ones.
Loosing a relative is difficult to come to terms with. To have to campaign for truth and justice and be met with indifference by the agency responsible, the British government, adds to the trauma.
Did Mark not pause for reflection on how his comments would be received by relatives of those killed?
Of all the parties Sinn Féin is most publicly identified with the relatives’ cause.
The unionist parties, the British government, the SDLP show little interest in the issues raised by the relatives.
To attack Sinn Féin on the very ground where the party has built up a credible reputation with the relatives is bad enough. To base the attack on false claims is disgraceful.
I can only conclude his broadside against Sinn Féin is an attempt to drive a wedge between the party and relatives’ organisations.
Why else would he use the very word ‘collusion’ which emotionally means so much to relatives and pervert it by accusing Sinn Féin of collusion with the British government?
‘Collusion’, in case Mark Durkan does not know, is where the state at arms-length assassinates individuals. Here the British government used loyalists to kill Catholics.
His monstrous proposition is that Sinn Féin is siding with the British government to deny or prevent relatives from getting the truth about the deaths of their loved ones.
At a time when relatives need support and solidarity the leader of the SDLP is playing with their emotions, trying to instil doubt in their minds about Sinn Féin, the one organisation they can rely on.
The indisputable facts surrounding this situation are as follows.
In 2001 the British and Irish governments agreed to address the issue of people ‘on the run’.
In 2003 the British government published its proposals.
These proposals did not include members of the crown forces.
The British government, unknown to Sinn Féin, added a clause into the legislation which covers their forces.
This only became known two weeks ago when the detail of the legislation was revealed in Westminster.
At no stage in the last four years did the British government mention their armed forces.
In fact the British government protect their armed forces and refuse to accept they did wrong.
By including them in this legislation the British government are admitting for the first time they ran death squads, a startling admission, which must not be lost in this controversy.
The reality is that the British government is responsible for the policy of collusion.
They are responsible for covering it up and for denying justice, truth and closure to the relatives.
In his speech Mark Durkan mentioned Sinn Féin 15 times, the IRA six and the British government twice.
The emphasis should have been the other way around.
The relatives need Sinn Féin and SDLP support to achieve justice.
Mark Durkan knows this.
He should set party politics aside and help force the British government to come clean on their covert war, state murder and collusion.