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Paisley claims disputed

17 January 2014

PA

A FORMER deputy leader of the Social and Democratic Labour Party (SDLP) in Northern Ireland, Seamus Mallon, has challenged Lord Bannside, the retired First Minister the Revd Ian Paisley (below), over his claim that he had supported the Civil Rights Movement. Mr Mallon disputed Lord Bannside's claim that political leaders from the Republic bear responsibility for the bombings in Dublin and Monaghan in 1974 by the terrorist group the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), which killed 33 people died in one day.

Lord Bannside, in the first of a two-part series on BBC Northern Ireland television, said on Monday night that the treatment of Roman Catholics in the province, which had prompted the Civil Rights Movement, had not been fair. "A fair government is that every man has the same power to vote for what he wants. No, it wasn't justice at all."

Of the UVF bombings in the Republic, Lord Bannside expressed shock, but said that Irish political leaders had "brought it on themselves".

He said that he was "very much shocked that there was anyone going to be hurt in that way", but "the attitude of the Southern Government on Northern Ireland was ridiculous". He denied being involved, and said that he had spoken against it, and other contentious issues, at the time.

"I not only had nothing to do with it, but I'd said I had nothing to do with it, and denounced the people who had done it. What more could I do? I took my stand. I denounced what was wrong, but I could not say to the people 'Just sit down and letthem put a rope around your neck.'"

He also denounced the British Prime Minister of the time, Margaret Thatcher, for what he termed the "betrayal" of her signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement with then Taoiseach, Dr Garret Fitzgerald. He said that, when she had been elected, he had had great hopes for her leadership as a friend of Ulster, but this turned out not to be the case.

Lord Bannside, who is 87, rejected suggestions that his public protests on the streets of Belfast in the 1960s had been the cause of serious rioting. He said that those who rioted would have to answer for their actions.

Reacting on RTÉ radio, Mr Mallon, who was deputy leader of the SDLP until his retirement in 2001, said on Tuesday that there was nothing on the record of those times which he could recall to substantiate the claims of Lord Bannside that he condemned either the Dublin bombings, discrimination against Roman Catholics, or his alleged abhorrence of the 1972 "Bloody Sunday" massacre by the British Army in Derry, which left 14 unarmed civilians dead.

"Some researcher will try to track down the record of what he said at that time," Mr Mallon said. He recalled, with regard to the 1974 bombings in the Republic, that the country's government at the time had been spending £1 million every day trying to protect people on both sides of the Border.

He said that "the snarl of sectarianism" which he recalled from those years had deeply scarred the psyche of Northern Ireland, and was far removed from the "smiles of recent years".

The second programme, understood to be Lord Bannside's last TV interview, is due to be broadcast next Monday.

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