By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — The IRA has taken the unprecedented step of apologizing to all its “non-combatant” victims and acknowledging the grief and suffering of all victims, combatant and noncombatant.
The latter would include all the police officers, soldiers, politicians and others formerly called “legitimate targets,” as well as the civilian victims that the IRA killed over its 30-year campaign.
The move is being described by republican sources as “huge” and intended to be a contribution toward the peace process and recognition of the IRA’s part in the misery caused to thousands.
Unionists have already dismissed the IRA statement as “crocodile tears” and said the statement is insulting and insufficient to justify the continuation of Sinn Fein ministers in government through the power-sharing executive.
In a statement issued on Tuesday afternoon, using its traditional pen name, “P. O’Neill,” and made through the pages of An Phoblacht/Republican News, the IRA said that this Sunday, July 21, marks the 30th anniversary of an operation in 1972 that resulted in nine people being killed and many more injured.
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The day became known as “Bloody Friday” in Belfast, and the IRA said that it had never been its “intention to injure or kill non-combatants.” But, it said, “the reality is that on this and on a number of other occasions, that was the consequence of our actions.”
The statement went on, “It is, therefore, appropriate on the anniversary of this tragic event, that we address all of the deaths and injuries of non-combatants caused by us.”
The IRA also offered “sincere apologies and condolences” to the families of those killed.
Responding to the statement, Lord Kilclooney, formerly John Taylor, said it was “not sufficient.”
“It is not sympathy that Ulster Unionists want from the IRA but an assurance that the war is over,” Taylor said, adding that there has been “absolutely no such assurance from the IRA. Instead, the statement is words, words and more words.”
“It provides for the IRA to continue, as in recent years, with more purchases of illegal arms, more murders, more beatings of innocent Catholics and more international adventures,” he said.
“I say to the IRA/Sinn Fein, more is needed from you. Certainly on this basis, Sinn Fein is not welcome into the membership of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.”
Fred Cobain, a UUP assemblyman, also derided the IRA statement, saying it did not help the peace process.
“For those people who suffered on Bloody Friday, this is not much condolence for them,” he said. “If you lost your mother, brother or sister, to people who planted bombs in the center of Belfast and then gave the police the wrong information, this isn’t accepting much responsibility.
“Clearly, those bombs were planted to kill civilians and security force people on Bloody Friday. We have been through 30 years of killing and what the Provisionals need to do is not pick out individual events, they need to say that those innocent people who were killed, we apologize unreservedly. . . . The Provisional IRA are not committed to the peace process. They have murdered 17 or 18 people over the last three to four years, they continue to mutilate children in Catholic areas day and daily, they deal in drugs, they are not totally and absolutely committed to peace.
“The guns are not silent. They are importing arms from Florida; they are working with Colombian terrorists. We could go on and on. These people are not committed to this process.”