McCrea defends show of support for Wright


IN THE face of nationalist outrage, the Rev William McCrea, the Democratic Unionist MP for Mid Ulster, has defended his decision to share a platform with Mr Billy Wright, the militant loyalist, in Portadown on Wednesday.

Nationalist and Alliance politicians reacted angrily to the attendance of the Mid Ulster MP at the rally. The SDLP deputy leader, Mr Seamus Mallon, said that both nationalists and unionists would have been "appalled" by Mr McCrea's presence at the rally in Portadown.

Nationalists, who are in the majority in Mid Ulster, should ensure that Mr McCrea was not re elected to Westminster, Mr Mallon said. Hitherto, Mr McCrea has held the seat because of a split in the nationalist vote between Sinn Fein and the SDLP.

A leading SDLP representative, however, said that this was not tantamount to the SDLP suggesting an electoral pact in the constituency with Sinn Fein. Rather, it was a call for nationalists to unite behind the SDLP candidate in the next general election, he said.

Mr McCrea, however, was unrepentant about his decision to appear in Portadown with the dissident loyalist. He was standing up for the democratic principle of free speech, he said yesterday.

"The Democratic Unionist Party gives the people the right and the freedom to articulate a point of view, as every democratic party should. Within unionism and loyalism, a person should be allowed to differ without the threat of having to leave your country, or being told you Bill be put in a coffin", he said.

Mr Patsy McGlone, an SDLP representative in Mid Ulster, accused Mr McCrea of "crass hypocrisy", while Sinn Fein said that he should immediately resign his Westminster seat.

"When John Hume entered dialogue with Sinn Fein to help bring an end to IRA violence, McCrea was among the first to spew sanctimonious condemnation of our party's actions. Crass hypocrisy saw to it that he had no problem sharing a platform with Mr Wright", said Mr McGlone.

Mr Tom Campbell, of the Alliance Party, said that the DUP should dissociate itself from Mr McCrea because of his attendance at the "extremist loyalist rally".

Mr Billy Hutchinson, a representative of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), criticised the media for their coverage of Mr Wright. "It is very surprising that all of a sudden he has become `Prince Charming'," he said.

Mr Wright, who is facing a death threat from the Combined Loyalist Military Command, has on numerous occasions justified the sectarian killings of Catholics by loyalist paramilitaries. He has been critical of the leadership of the loyalist fringe parties and has expressed opposition to the loyalist ceasefire.

Mr McCrea's stance was supported by the DUP justice spokesman, Mr Ian Paisley jnr, who accused nationalists of deliberately and mischievously misinterpreting Mr McCrea's presence at the rally.

"Willie McCrea was morally and politically justified in expressing a personal opinion. The DUP was not officially asked to attend anything. Individuals from within the party were asked to attend and show their support, not for a person, but for a principle, and Willie McCrea adequately spelt out what that principle was, the principle of freedom" Mr Paisley said.

"I hope his attendance will have made it more difficult for bloody murder to be carried out against any loyalist in Northern Ireland by other people purporting to be loyalists", Mr Paisley added.

Mr Francie Molloy, a Sinn Fein representative in Mid Ulster, said that Mr McCrea should immediately resign his seat. "Willie McCrea and his party refuse to talk to Sinn Fein because they claim we `support violence'. And yet Mr McCrea shares a platform and defends the right of someone who, at the very least, has publicly asserted the right of loyalists to kill Catholics.

Mr Molloy added: "There is a clear contradiction in Willie McCrea lending his support to one faction in the current loyalist in fighting and his party calling for the loyalist parties to be expelled from the Stormont talks. The DUP appears content to stir the loyalist pot."

Ms Brid Rodgers, the SDLP representative in Portadown, said that Mr McCrea was exploiting community tensions by appearing on the same platform as Mr Wright. He had participated in a rally which "clearly supported the murderous activities" of the UVF in Mid Ulster.

Ms Rodgers emphasised that the SDLP unambiguously opposed the death threat made against Mr Wright, but she said that Mr McCrea did not need to attend a rally, where support was being voiced for the UVF, to make that point.