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Villiers involvement unhelpful, partisan and provocative – Ní Chuilín

25 September, 2013 - by Carál Ní Chuilín


In an opinion piece in this morning’s Irish News, Sinn Féin MLA and Minister for Culture, Arts & Leisure Carál Ní Chuilín slams British Secretary Teresa Villiers for her partisan and unhelpful involvement in local politics.

The North Belfast MLA said that while the British Government had adopted a disengagement attitude to the Peace Process, the British Secretary of State had sought to involve herself in an unhelpful way in the flags issue, parading and in dealing with the past.

Carál Ní Chuilín said:

“ A benign interpretation of her remarks could be nothing more than the careless consequence of an administration and NIO, which has chosen to step back from its co-equal responsibility for guaranteeing the Peace and Political Processes.

“However, I don’t accept the benign in this instance. The alternative is that her interventions represent a policy change with regard to stewardship of the Process. 

“Her recent political interventions have been partisan, provocative and unhelpful. They represent a calculated attempt by the NIO to set the parameters and influence the outcome of the Haas talks to favour a unionist bias.  This is unacceptable.”

The Sinn Féin MLA also said that Teresa Villiers had been silent when it came to the Orange Orders insistence to parade at Ardoyne and at the same time attempted to exonerate British State forces from their role in the conflict.

Ms Ní Chuilín said:

“I know what it is like to live and work in an area picking up the pieces from the Orange marching season and the on-going loyalist agitation on the interface at Ardoyne.  And this community knows very well the impact of the actions of those who were charged with the responsibility of ‘upholding the law’ during the conflict

“She has also directly interfered in the work of my own Department by attempting to use court injunctions to prevent the release of inquest papers to bereaved families.

“The British Government needs to clarify whether its priorities have shifted from entrenching Agreements, to acquiescing to extreme right wing unionism.” CRÍOCH/END

*Below is the full text of Carál Ní Chuilín’s article:

“The present difficulties in our Peace Process sit against a backdrop of British government disengagement over an extended period. 

Ironically in recent times Theresa Villiers has sought to involve herself in the flags issue, parading and in dealing with the past.  Her interventions have been as unhelpful as they have been partisan.

 A benign interpretation of her remarks could be nothing more than the careless consequence of an administration and NIO, which has chosen to step back from its co-equal responsibility for guaranteeing the Peace and Political Processes.

However, I don’t accept the benign in this instance.

The alternative is that her interventions represent a policy change with regard to stewardship of the Process.  If that is the case then she should come clean, and make that explicit.  Then we will all know where we stand.

Her recent political interventions have been partisan, provocative and unhelpful.  They represent a calculated attempt by the NIO to set the parameters and influence the outcome of the Haas talks to favour a unionist bias.  This is unacceptable.

It may be too much to expect Theresa Villiers to take a leaf out of the book of Mo Mowlam, the only other woman to hold the position of British Secretary of State.

 During her tenure at the NIO, Mo Mowlam built her reputation on her non-partisan approach and her commitment to inclusivity.

 Not so Theresa Villiers. Following nine months of countless, and often illegal, demonstrations by unionists against a democratic decision by Belfast City Council on the flying of the Union Flag over City Hall, and after the disgraceful scenes as loyalist bands blatantly breached Parades Commission determinations, playing music outside St. Patrick’s Church and after the violence of the Orange Order in Ardoyne, Theresa Villiers felt the need to politically ‘intervene’.  

 She told republicans to call off a peaceful commemoration in Tyrone, apologised for not being ‘tougher’ a year ago in response to a query about the naming of a park after Raymond McCreesh. She has also directly interfered in the work of my own Department by attempting to use court injunctions to prevent the release of inquest papers to bereaved families.

Like everyone, she is entitled to her views. But that doesn’t make them acceptable.  She is not entitled to lecture republicans on the need for sensitivity when planning a commemorative march in Tyrone and yet have nothing to say about the impact on the community of the insistence by the Orange Order to parade at Ardoyne.

At the British Irish Association in Cambridge she asserted that any agreement on flags and parades, which might emerge from the Haas talks would require approval of her government.  Then in a telling addendum, crudely she attempted to exonerate British State forces from their role in the conflict insisting that those who upheld the law can never be put at the same level as those who opposed it. 

I represent the community of North Belfast.  I know what this community has endured during the conflict.  I know what it is like to live and work in an area picking up the pieces from the Orange marching season and the on-going loyalist agitation on the interface at Ardoyne.  And this community knows very well the impact of the actions of those who were charged with the responsibility of ‘upholding the law’ during the conflict

 The British government and its agencies were party to and participants in the conflict, Theresa, they were not bystanders!  Throughout the conflict they organised, armed and directed the UDA and UVF in their murder campaigns against Catholics, Nationalists and Republicans. Dealing with the past includes addressing that reality.

The Haas talks will present another opportunity to resolve some very difficult issues. This is a huge challenge to us all.  We need to approach these talks with an open mind and in listening mode, 

Standing faithfully by agreements that have been made, as Theresa Villiers claims her Government intends to do, requires equality, mutual respect and parity of esteem for all. Regrettably, we see no evidence to this effect from either her or her government.

Nevertheless, if we could agree these as underpinning principles for the all-party talks, we could be more confident of success than ever before.

 In the meantime the British Government needs to clarify whether its priorities have shifted from entrenching Agreements, to acquiescing to extreme right wing unionism.

Theresa Villiers could usefully address that key question when she next decides to make a political intervention.” CRÍOCH/END 

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