by Democrat reporter
NORTHAMPTON LABOUR MP Tony Clarke recently expressed concern that support for the Good Friday agreement could ebb away and that the six-counties could witness a return to levels of violence seen in the past.
Mr Clarke, who represents the Northampton South constituency and is a member of the Northern Ireland Select Committee, made his comments at a public meeting in the town’s Guildhall sponsored by the local branch of the Connolly Association.
The select committee was in the process of finalising a report into the funding of ‘terrorism’ in Northern Ireland. The report would not make good reading, he insisted. The committee had heard evidence of how some of those previously involved in paramilitary activity were now involved in smuggling, especially cigarettes and diesel.
Unless normal politics was established and those paramilitaries withdrew from criminal activity the functions of the Northern Ireland Assembly could be put in question, he said. He also called upon paramilitaries to allow excluded persons to return to Northern Ireland.
Referring to the call by Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble for a border referendum, Mr Clarke said that, in his opinion, this would be used as a sectarian stick to divide people and reinforce the extremes. Besides, only the British and Irish governments could instigate a referendum, he said.
However, he stressed that, for the first time in some 40 years, there was a real chance of resolving the long-standing conflict in Northern Ireland. The assembly was working and its members were beginning to get the feel of each other.
Sectarianism would slowly fade, he said. The various groups would have to live with each other and would have to find an accommodation for each other’s political beliefs. The Good Friday Agreement was a vehicle for this and all outstanding issues in the due course of time could be resolved.
He proposed that those who accepted the Good Friday Agreement and who were ‘on the run’ should be allowed to report to the police, be formally detained for a short period and then let out on the same licence as the other former prisoners.
The conflict in Northern had had a detrimental effect on both the British and Irish people. Injustice had been inflicted on all those involved. The Bloody Sunday Inquiry would not show the British government in a good light, he said.
Other outstanding issues, including the killing of solicitors Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson and Portadown Catholic Robert Hamill case required investigation, however public inquiries were too expensive and cumbersome, he claimed.
r. Clarke proposed that a peace and reconciliation committee should be set up to look at all outstanding cases -- including ‘selected assassination’ cases where stateinvolvement is suspected. This had worked in South Africa, he said.
However, a member of the audience pointed out that in South Africa the system of government was changing and those who killed for the state could ‘relieve their guilt’ by confession.
Responding to an assertion that, outside the obvious Bloody Sunday massacre, it was unlikely the British government would accept responsibility for its misdeeds, Mr Clarke replied that perhaps many British soldiers also needed to clear their conscience and a truth and reconciliation committee could facilitate this. Outstanding issues must be resolved. A line must be drawn on the past so that we can move on, he insisted.
The next task of the Northern Ireland Select Committee was to look at the number of legally held weapons in Northern Ireland. There were over 100,000 legally held weapons in the area. It was a scandal that post Dunblane nobody had looked onto and addressed this issues. Decommissioning meant all weapons not only those carried by illegal paramilitary groups, he insisted
Thanking the MP for his contribution Peter Mulligan, Northampton Connolly Association secretary, stressed the Association would continue to work for peace unity and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.
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