Northern Ireland

Lord Alderdice urges Irish unity advocates to acknowledge impact of IRA campaign

Lord John Alderdice was appearing before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (Niall Carson/PA)

Republicans advocating a united Ireland need to be cognisant of the lasting impact of the IRA’s violent campaign on unionists, Lord John Alderdice has said.

The former Alliance Party leader was speaking ahead of an event at Westminster discussing the future of the union.

The Tuesday evening Irish Border Poll ‘Welcome to the United Kingdom of England and Wales?’ event will also feature contributions from Sinn Féin MP John Finucane, SNP MP Richard Thomson and author Kevin Meagher.

Lord Alderdice last year wrote a blog that was deeply critical of the DUP. In it, he also argued that the English public’s attitude to Northern Ireland has “changed profoundly” and there is “no emotional attachment” to the region.

Ahead of what is though to be his first appearance on a panel debating Irish unity since publishing his remarks, the former assembly speaker said historically many people in Northern Ireland grew up with the belief that “they would be socially, economically, religiously, politically and culturally disadvantaged in a united Ireland”.

“Those who want to build a new united Ireland will have to persuade a majority of them that whether or not it was true in the past, it will not be so in the future,” he said.

But the Liberal Democrat peer also challenged republicans to acknowledge the lasting legacy of the IRA’s 25-year campaign of violence.

The Shankill bombing killed 10 people, including an IRA bomber and two young girls after it exploded prematurely on October 23, 1993. Pacemaker
The aftermath of 1993's Shankill bomb. PCITURE: PACEMAKER

“If the callous treatment of Irish people during the nineteenth century potato famine still resonates with nationalists, they should not be surprised that the much more recent late twentieth century IRA campaign of terrorism continues to create a negative emotional reaction amongst Protestants and Unionists many of whom still carry the emotional and in some cases the physical scars of that conflict,” he said.

“Republicans should think about this in all they do and say about building a new and inclusive Ireland.”

Irish Border Poll’s Kevin Rooney said he was “particularly excited” that Lord Alderdice had agreed to join the panel.

“I always thought of him as a moderate unionist when he was Alliance leader but after his excoriating attack on the DUP accusing them of damaging the union, perhaps irreversibly,” Mr Rooney said.

“I think he may have warmed a little to Irish unity, so I’ll be asking him straight if my hunch is correct.”