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Wednesday, 17 July, 2002, 17:34 GMT 18:34 UK
IRA apology a 'building block'
The IRA statement apologising to some of its victims has been described as a "building block" towards a more peaceful future by the Secretary of State, John Reid.

Dr Reid said it would be one of the factors that matter when the prime minister weighs up how to build confidence in the process.

The IRA apologised to the civilian victims of its campaign of violence in a statement on Tuesday marking the anniversary of one of Northern Ireland's worst atrocities.

In a statement in the republican newspaper An Phoblacht (Republican News), it said it offered "sincere apologies" to the families of those killed on Bloody Friday, when nine people were killed after 20 bombs exploded across Belfast on 21 July 1972.


I think it would be welcome if unionists and their leadership recognised that progress

Richard Haass

Dr Reid said more must be done but recent moves by the paramilitaries should not be ignored.

"The fact that the loyalist commission have gone some way towards easing the situation by their declaration of no first strike, the fact that we have had one of the quietest weekends of the 12th of July that the police could go out of their way to congratulate those in the communities for diminishing that violence, the fact that we have had last night's statement of regret and acknowledgement of pain from the IRA, all of these things matter," he said.

"All of them are stepping stones and inch by inch we help to create a better atmosphere."

'Right direction'

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster, President Bush's special advisor on Northern Ireland welcomed the IRA's apology.

Richard Haass urged unionists to look on it as a positive development.

NI secretary John Reid
John Reid: "Inch by inch we help to create a better atmosphere"

"This is yet another example that the glass is half full, that Northern Ireland is in better shape today than it was before the Good Friday Agreement, and that despite the steps backwards there are far more steps in the right direction," he said.

"I think it would be welcome if unionists and their leadership recognised that progress when in fact it materialised as it did yesterday."

However, the Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble warned the government it would create a dangerous situation if it used the IRA apology statement as an excuse not to fulfil its undertakings.

Mr Trimble said the statement did not absolve Prime Minister Tony Blair from making clear what the government would do in the event of IRA ceasefire breaches.

A spokesman for the prime minister described it as "useful" and said it underlined Mr Blair's statement on Tuesday that "IRA violence is further away than ever".


This apology definitely carries weight, although it can do little to heal the wounds of victims' families
Paul Sims, UK

To read more of your comments, click here

But Sinn Fein MP Martin McGuinness said people should accept the IRA statement at face value.

The party's chief negotiator, on a visit to the United States, told BBC News the statement was a "powerful contribution" to the peace process by the republicans.

In an unprecedented move, the IRA apologised and offered its condolences to families of all the civilians who died as a result of its campaign of violence.

The IRA used the term "non-combatants" in the statement, to mean those who are not members of any paramilitary organisation, members of the police, Army or anyone connected with the security forces.

The group said there had been "fatalities amongst combatants on all sides".

"We also acknowledge the grief and pain of their relatives. The future will not be found in denying collective failures and mistakes or closing minds and hearts to the plight of those who have been hurt.

"That includes all of the victims of the conflict, combatants and non-combatants."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Denis Murray
"In the statement the IRA acknowledges the hurt and pain it caused to others"
Former member of the IRA, Sean O'Callaghan
"This statement is really a political exercise"
BBC NI's Martina Purdy:
"The IRA said there could not be a hierarchy of victims"
BBC NI's Mark Devenport
"The apology has been welcomed by some relatives of IRA victims"
Find out more about the latest moves in the Northern Ireland peace process

Devolution crisis

Analysis

Background

SPECIAL REPORT: IRA

TALKING POINT

AUDIO VIDEO
See also:

17 Jul 02 | N Ireland
16 Jul 02 | N Ireland
17 Jul 02 | N Ireland
16 Jul 02 | N Ireland
16 Jul 02 | Politics
17 Jul 02 | N Ireland
16 Jul 02 | N Ireland
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