Historic peace move in Derry

Sinn Féin and representatives of the unionist paramilitary UVF have taken part in ground-breaking talks in Derry.

The parties have also confirmed that more talks are planned in an effort to end “sectarian division” in the city.

Sinn Féin and the loyalist Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), which represents the UVF politically, came together last year for exploratory talks.

Insiders said these failed to progress but the parties have been meeting again more recently and plan future dialogue.

In a joint statement - issued by former Sinn Féin mayor of Derry Lynn Fleming and Leslie Mitchell of the PUP - the parties said they wished to build a better future.

“We are a society that is moving away from conflict and who share a common humanity,” they said.

“Conflict has no place in our future - a shared future that is based upon equality for all our people and a genuine process of reconciliation between differing traditions and cultural identities.”

Mr Mitchell and Ms Fleming said the parties hoped the future would bring an end to both sectarian division and poverty.

“We must show leadership and not be afraid to take risks. In this regard our two parties have committed to and embarked upon a sustained dialogue to develop initiatives based upon common and agreed community issues that will function within and between our communities,” they said.

It is understood the parties also discussed interface violence in recent months around Derry’s Fountain estate and Irish Street areas.

PUP representative Lexie Mitchell said the initial meetings were extremely difficult for both sides but he felt real progress had been made.

He said loyalism realised that enemies must talk as part of moves towards peace.

Last week, the speaker at the shadow Assembly, Eileen Bell, ruled that the PUP’s recent political alliance with the Ulster Unionists was against Assembly rules.

Mrs Bell said that the UUP Assembly Group, recently joined by PUP leader David Ervine, did not conform to the definition of a party as laid down in legislation.

Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey had been heavily for hypocrisy in linking up with the PUP while denouncing Sinn Féin links to the IRA.

Despite the ruling, Empey said he would “continue to reach out” and work with loyalists.

Meanwhile, David Ervine has disclosed he has “never resigned from the UVF”.

The East Belfast assembly member also revealed that 11 years after his release from jail in 1980, he still had an active role inside the paramilitary group.

“I’ve never been asked to resign from the UVF but then that would apply to pretty much thousands of people,” he said.


Catholic school children returning home from Ballymena to Ahoghill in County Antrim have had to be given police protection as they get on and off the school bus.

A gang of loyalists had earlier were gathering last week close to the bus stop where a dozen or so post-primary students arrive to and depart from the village.

A police squad car was present when the school bus travelling from Ballymena stopped in Ahoghill on Wednesday.

Few Catholic families still live in the area after a loyalist campaign of petrol and paint-bomb attacks in the summer of 2005. The PSNI was accused of aiding the intimidation of Catholics from the area when it handed out fire blankets and smoke alarms to the residents.

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© 2006 Irish Republican News