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Proposal to legalise IRA criticised by politicians and victims campaigners

Jonathan Powell, former chief of staff to Tony Blair, has been criticised for proposing that the IRA be legalised. Picture by Mal McCann
John Monaghan

A PROPOSAL to legalise the IRA by a former key member of Tony Blair's inner circle has been criticised by politicians and victims campaigners.

Jonathan Powell, Mr Blair's chief of staff during his time as prime minister, told the BBC: "I don't think it matters whether the IRA has gone away. If the IRA is there as a veterans organisation why does that matter? Why not legalise it?"

Mr Powell was in Belfast for the launch of the Loyalist Communities Council, an umbrella group representing the UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando.

Asked whether loyalist groups should also be made legal, Mr Powell, a key negotiator in the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent talks, added: "I don't see any difficulty in doing that."

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson described the proposal as "a step too far" and said the party would not sign up to any deal aimed at "wiping the slate clean."

The Lagan Valley MP said: "The DUP believes that too many victims have suffered at the hands of paramilitary groups across the spectrum and it would be grossly insulting for those victims to see the organisation responsible effectively legitimised through such a move."

The proposal was also attacked by SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell, who said there "never was and never will be any need for a paramilitary group."

He said: “We will not pretend that the PIRA is not currently involved in drug dealing, extortion, fuel laundering and coercion in communities across the north. Jonathan Powell’s idea displays a naivety of the impact such a move would have on those people."

Sinn Féin MLA and former PIRA prisoner Gerry Kelly claimed the debate was "a bit irrelevant."

"There are a number of organisations claiming to be the IRA so we are not dealing with one organisation. The UDA was legal for a long time and when it was legal it was responsible for sectarian killings on a wide scale," he said.

Victims campaigner Kenny Donaldson also hit out at the proposal saying the IRA had murdered "2,000 men women and children" during its campaign in the Troubles.

He added: "What next, that this State should provide pensions for former IRA 'soldiers' and the families of those heroics who died on "active service" or maybe it's the expunging of the criminal records of these individuals?"

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