One of the most senior figures in the Sinn Féin leadership has challenged members of the organisation to “say sorry for the human effects of all actions during the armed struggle”.
Writing in a party magazine, Sinn Féin national chairman Declan Kearney said an apology for the effects of the Provisional IRA’s campaign would help ease unionist suspicions and serve the interests of reconciliation.
“Regardless to the stance of others, we should recognise the healing influence of being able to say sorry for the human effects of all actions during the armed struggle,” he wrote.
“The political reality is those actions cannot be undone, or disowned.”
But he said “a deep suspicion” remains within unionist communities towards republicans due to the legacy of the armed struggle.
And he argued: “This is a time for republicans to free up our thinking, to carefully explore the potential for taking new and considered initiatives in the interests of reconciliation.”
The article went well beyond the arguments previously advanced in Sinn Féin’s ‘unionist outreach’ program. But unionists responded harshly nevertheless.
In a television debate this week, DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said unionists saw his statement as “a hollow publicity stunt”.
“Whilst truth is important, Mr Kearney should recognise that justice is central to dealing with the past,” he said.
“No one should be above the law.”
He pointed to Gerry Adams denials of IRA membership.
“It is a simple fact that you cannot apologise for something which you won’t admit you were actually involved in,” he said.
In a related development, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness has said he will soon attend his first ‘Northern Ireland’ soccer international, a team traditionally supported by loyalists and shunned by nationalists.
Mr McGuinness’s was speaking after a visit to the team’s Windsor Park stadium, a return gesture for the move by the DUP’s Peter Robinson’s to attend a Gaelic hurling game in late January. But he said he still wished for an all-Ireland soccer team.
“I think soccer would be much better served if we had a dynamic, All Island league and one team to represent us the international stage,” he said. “Until that day comes I think in terms of being in an important position in government it is very important to hand out the friendship.”
Both Sinn Féin and its traditional rivals in the SDLP have competed with each other recently in attempting to improve their credentials with unionists.
SDLP leader Mark Durkan created a controversy this week when he saluted the “bravery” of British troops in Afghanistan -- including members of the Parachute regiment, which was responsible for the Bloody Sunday massacre.
The SDLP MP signed a motion at the Westminster parliament in London, just days after the 40th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, which “salutes the bravery of the armed forces serving in Afghanistan” and records the names of those who died in British Army uniform.
Linda Nash, sister of 17 year-old Alex Nash who was shot dead by British paratroopers on Bloody Sunday, strongly condemned the former SDLP leader.
“I am totally shocked,” she said. “I will tell you who the brave men were; my father and the other brave men who went on that march and then went to the aid of the dying. I would never say that any soldier could be classed as brave,” she said.