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Former Alliance leader: I was from working-class background in west Belfast but chose not to join the IRA

John Cushnahan, former leader of the Alliance Party. Picture by Pacemaker Press

A FORMER Alliance leader who grew up in a deprived area similar to Martin McGuinness during the Troubles said it was "no excuse for joining the IRA".

John Cushnahan said eulogies about how the Sinn Féin politician's background had led to him joining the paramiltary organisation "did not provide any moral justification for the violent path he chose to follow".

Mr Cushnahan, who was also a Fine Gael politician, described how growing up as a "working-class Catholic" in the lower Falls area, he followed a "campaign for civil rights" rather than violence.

He said following Mr McGuinness's death, he has become "annoyed" that figures have "attempted to excuse his (McGuinness) use of violence because he came from a deprived Catholic background whose community had been badly treated by the unionist majority since the foundation of the Northern Ireland state".

"While this is a factual description of his origins, it did not provide any moral justification for the violent path he chose to follow," he told the News Letter.

"I shared the same background as McGuinness and Adams. I was a working-class Catholic who was born in the 'pound Loney' in the lower Falls area of west Belfast.

"I lived in west Belfast through the 1960s and early 1970s when the Troubles began. I was involved in the campaign for civil rights.

"While some of my peers also joined the IRA, many supported the SDLP and others such as myself chose the politics of reconciliation and together with Protestants of similar views we supported the Alliance Party. We all made our respective choices.

"As several weeks have elapsed since his untimely passing, people should now be able to take a more detached view of Martin McGuinness's actual legacy, including analysing the actions of the Provisional IRA in which he was a central figure.

"Those that founded the Provisional IRA in 1969 claimed that they had done so to protect the Catholic community from sectarian attack by loyalist extremists at the beginning of the Troubles - yet by the end of the Troubles, the IRA had murdered more Catholics than any other party to the conflict."

Mr Cushnahan added: "To justify or commemorate or gloss over the atrocities carried out by the IRA while Martin McGuinness was a key figure is not only a barrier to reconciliation, it is dangerous as the glorification of violence and those who espoused it could influence future generations to resort to using it if there was another constitutional crisis".

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