Opinion

Jeffrey may be in no hurry to restore Stormont, but ask striking public sector workers, those on waiting lists, or Troubles victims – Mary Kelly

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill ahead of a meeting a year ago at Erskine House in Belfast in an attempt to resolve issues at Stormont
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill ahead of a meeting a year ago at Erskine House in Belfast in an attempt to resolve issues at Stormont DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill ahead of a meeting a year ago at Erskine House in Belfast in an attempt to resolve issues at Stormont

IT’S beginning to look a lot like Christmas. But it seems less and less likely that the DUP will unwrap a fantastic deal from the British government which will simultaneously save their face, re-enact the Act of Union to the delirious satisfaction of Jim Allister et al, and pave the way for a joyous return to Stormont in the New Year.

It might well be a turkey.

Even Peter Robinson’s kite-flying exercise. when he took time out from plugging his joke book, didn’t have the desired effect for Sir Jeffrey, who’s now telling colleagues he’s not “fixated with time lines”.

Meanwhile the country is in tatters, with public sector workers, bus drivers, teachers and school staff having to take to picket lines to remind the government that they’re struggling to keep their families fed.

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But Jeff’s in no hurry. He’s still getting paid a nice MP’s salary, plus expenses. Maybe people on ever lengthening waiting lists for operations are a tad more fixated on time lines than him.

Maybe the family of Sean Brown, who’ve waited 26 years for a proper inquiry into his murder by loyalists, are also fixated on time lines. Like the hundreds of other bereaved relatives of Troubles victims, they are being denied a right to justice by the government’s shameful legacy legislation which was passed in September.

Peter Sheridan, a former senior PSNI officer and chief executive of Co-operation Ireland, is commissioner for investigations at the new Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery. PICTURE: LIAM MCBURNEY/PA
Peter Sheridan, a former senior PSNI officer and chief executive of Co-operation Ireland, is commissioner for investigations at the new Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery. PICTURE: LIAM MCBURNEY/PA Peter Sheridan, a former senior PSNI officer and chief executive of Co-operation Ireland, is commissioner for investigations at the new Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery. PICTURE: LIAM MCBURNEY/PA

It was pretty strange to hear Peter Sheridan last month address a meeting in Harvard, at which he said the British government only introduced the legislation to protect former security forces members from ending up in court.

Pretty strange, given that Sheridan is actually the new commissioner for investigations at the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery, which was set up as part of the disputed legacy act.

There must have been an awkward moment in the ICRIR office while they quickly drafted a statement saying Mr Sheridan was speaking in “a personal capacity”.

He’s at least in agreement with relatives who’ve known from the start that this was never about truth recovery, but saving the government the embarrassment of veterans being prosecuted.

His candour is laudable, though he may find it difficult persuading families that it will give them the answers they want.

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The funerals of three IRA members shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar in 1988
The funerals of three IRA members shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar in 1988 The funerals of three IRA members shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar in 1988

Back in 1988, I was one of the large press posse from Britain and Ireland covering the inquest of three IRA members shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar earlier that year.

There was a large group of photographers outside in the narrow side street where the court was held. We had to queue every day to take our seats, and as I walked inside, chatting to another Nordie journalist, my accent was obviously overheard by the snappers.

Next morning I saw the pair of us photographed in several British newspapers under the caption: “Relatives of the IRA trio arrive in court."

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I was naturally more than a little gob-smacked, but never at any stage did I consider suing the publications that carried the photo, despite suggestions that I should, given that the Troubles were still in full flight.

The reason was simple. It was a mistake. It wasn’t meant maliciously, and I wouldn’t have felt comfortable as a journalist taking legal action against the press, even when it was wrong.

I feel politicians should largely adopt the same approach unless the defamation is massive and clearly injurious. I don’t think Sinn Féin does itself any favours by calling in m’learned friends every time they smell an insult.

The party has already lost two recent cases, and unless its real aim is to create a chill factor to deter journalistic inquiry, it should grow a thicker skin. There are really much bigger things for them to worry about in Ireland, north and south.

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The Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan died last week
The Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan died last week The Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan died last week

Wasn’t it fitting that Shane MacGowan’s last gift to us was to overshadow the headlines created by the death of war-monger Henry Kissinger earlier the same day. The good die young. Kissinger was 100.