Page last updated at 22:15 GMT, Thursday, 4 March 2010

David Ford apology to families over Saville e-mail

Alliance leader David Ford is widely tipped to take on the justice post
Alliance leader David Ford is widely tipped to take on the justice post

David Ford has apologised to the families of Bloody Sunday victims after he was criticised for calling the Saville Inquiry "pointless".

The Alliance Party leader, tipped to be NI justice minister, made the comment last November in a briefing note which was leaked to the BBC.

He met with some of the families in Londonderry on Thursday night.

"It's clear in that e-mail I used a clumsy and inappropriate phrase which caused significant offence," he said.

"I have told the families that I regret I caused offence."

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Ford said the inquiry had "enriched lawyers but not necessarily achieved anything for the families".

Speaking on Radio Ulster, he said: "I personally don't think that I am the only individual in Northern Ireland who feels the spending of £200m on enriching lawyers rather than dealing in a different way with the needs of the victims is a fairly ineffective way of dealing with the problem."

But he said he would withdraw his use of the word pointless - which he said was "unfortunate and hastily written" - if he felt it was inappropriate after talking with the relatives.

FROM BBC RADIO ULSTER

But victims' families and nationalist politicians have rounded on Mr Ford since his comment became public.

Liam Wray, whose brother Jim was killed, said he would not meet the Alliance leader.

He added: "Let me tell Mr Ford that although I am not a great advocate of the inquiry, it certainly was not pointless - it certainly scored points.

"This inquiry exposed quite clearly the fraudulent forensics that damned my brother's and others' reputations."

Sinn Fein MLA for Foyle Raymond McCartney said the "gratuitous" remarks would be received "with disdain by the vast majority of citizens of Derry".

'Grievous'

SDLP MP for Foyle Mark Durkan accused Mr Ford of insensitivity.

He said: "One thing he doesn't know is the importance of the Saville Inquiry and the significance of Bloody Sunday, not just to the families who lost loved ones but also to the community in Derry and many people beyond."

Mr Durkan said the "grievous" wrongs of Bloody Sunday had been compounded by the subsequent Widgery Inquiry which nationalists have condemned as a whitewash.

He added: "The Alliance Party does not care a jot about that issue."

But Mr Ford stressed that he had never been disparaging about the victims themselves. He also accused the SDLP of leaking the e-mail to the BBC.

He said: "Is it insensitive to use an unfortunate, hastily written word in a private e-mail or is it insensitive to make an issue of it to upset people four months later by making it public?"

The Saville inquiry was set up in 1998 to re-examine the events of 30 January 1972, when British soldiers shot dead 14 people in Londonderry's Bogside.



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