Northern Ireland debate

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A unionist MP has called for a change in the law so that IRA terrorists killed or injured by their own terrorist acts are not granted the same status as victims.

Jeffrey Donaldson told the Commons that the IRA bombers responsible for the 1993 Shankhill Road blast were defined as victims "in just the same way as the nine innocent people who died that day".

The Democrat Unionist Party MP said this was an "outrage" and "an affront to decency", as he opened an opposition debate on dealing with Northern Ireland's past on 23 November 2013.

Mr Donaldson, who represents Lagan Valley, has introduced his own private members' bill to enact a change in the law, which is due to be debated by MPs in November.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers told the Commons that the government "will never treat" those who acted to uphold the rule of law "as equivalent to those who use terrorism to try to further their political ends".

She said Westminster supported Northern Ireland's efforts to deal with its legacy issues, but warned that there was "no guarantee of success".

Labour's spokesman for Northern Ireland, Ivan Lewis, said victims and their families should be put "centre stage".

He went on to assert that the country's greatest challenge "is the corrosive cycle of poor educational attainment, worklessness and inter-general deprivation which continues to afflict far too many families and communities".

Sinn Fein were not present to speak in the debate. The party's MPs do not take up their seats in the Commons as they refuse to make the mandatory oath of allegiance to the Queen.

Laurence Robertson, chairman of the Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, said their permanent absence meant "almost a third of the province is not represented here in this chamber".

"They should be coming here to argue the case. They do travel to Westminster, they do have meetings here in this building.

"But they won't come here to this chamber to discuss the issues. I would suggest that is a tragedy," he said.

The leader of the Social Democrat and Labour Party, Alasdair McDonnell, said "our failure" to grasp key issues such as flags, parading and the past "has cost us dearly".

He welcomed negotiations led by US diplomat Dr Richard Haass, who is trying to broker a deal on the issues like flags and parade, and hoped it would lead to a comprehensive agreement that can "aspire hope and create ambition for the future".

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