McGuinness rounds on unionists over Belfast violence

NI Deputy First Minister condemns DUP’s withdrawal of support for Maze Centre

Martin McGuinness has hit out at unionist politicians for failing to condemn attacks on police officers in Belfast in recent weeks.

Speaking in Co Leitrim last night, Mr McGuinness said the failure of Unionists to condemn attacks on "56 police officers and the Mayor of Belfast" had implications not just for law and order, but for the peace process itself.

“I have never been selective in condemning and challenging violent attacks on the peace process from whatever quarter,” he told a gathering of around 400 people in Ballinamore.

Speaking at a commemoration in honour of former Sinn Fein TD and IRA chief of staff John Joe McGirl, who died 25 years ago, Mr McGuinness said political unionism needed to realise that nothing could be gained "by continually feeding the insatiable appetite of those who see life through a red, white and blue prism".


The Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister also condemned the DUP's withdrawal of support for the construction of a peace centre at the former Maze Centre. The decision was "a mistake" not only because it jeopardised much needed investment and jobs, but also for the message it sends to the vast majority of people – nationalist and unionist – who support the peace process, he said.

“Some in the extremes of political unionism believe that they can unpick the Good Friday Agreement. Moves like this give them succour,” added Mr McGuinness.

The reality was that the vast majority of unionists want to see the peace process succeed, he said. “They are embarrassed by the antics of the thugs who attacked the police in recent weeks in Belfast while wrapped in the Union flag.”

With US diplomat Richard Haas due in Northern Ireland next month to chair all-party talks, Mr McGuinness warned: "The Haas talks are not about replacing the Parades Commission to satisfy the demands of the Orange Order."

Sinn Fein would approach the talks with the objective of advancing the peace process and further underpinning the political institutions, he said.

“I am entirely comfortable with unionists seeking to express a British identity in a sensible and non-confrontational fashion,” said Mr McGuinness. “Likewise I expect them to acknowledge and recognise my Irishness in the same spirit. I do not believe that is too much to ask or expect.”

He added that the Haas talks could succeed if everyone approached them in this spirit.

Earlier, Mr McGuinness had led about 200 local people in a parade through the town before giving the oration at a monument dedicated to McGirl.

Among those in attendance were local Sinn Fein TD Michael Colreavy, and Owen Carron who in 1981 was director of elections for hunger striker Bobby Sands when he won the Fermanagh and South Tyrone byelection.

After the ceremony, a function was held in McGirl’s pub in Ballinamore, which is run by the former IRA leader’s son Liam.

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports from the northwest of Ireland