Belfast City Council row over corporals' murders commemoration

The corporals were dragged out of their car by a crowd, before being beaten and shot in March 1988

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The DUP and Alliance have clashed at Belfast City Council over a motion marking the 25th anniversary of the murders of two British soldiers.

Corporals Derek Wood and David Howes were dragged out of a car and killed after they drove into an IRA funeral in west Belfast in 1988.

The DUP motion recognised what it called the bravery and restraint of the soldiers.

Alliance proposed an amendment condemning all murders in the Troubles.

The amended wording was suggested by Alliance Councillor Mervyn Jones, who said he believed the council needed to take "a holistic approach which can get agreement from all sides instead of looking at individual incidents".

Mr Jones said his party wanted to move away from a constant blame culture and claimed the DUP motion was part of a campaign to ratchet up tensions at Belfast City Council.

Analysis

Some observers at Belfast City Hall would say this row is rooted in electoral tensions and an attempt by unionists to reinforce their message to voters that there is a difference between Alliance and traditional unionism.

The Alliance Party, particularly in east Belfast, is competing for unionist votes.

The DUP, having lost a Westminster seat to Alliance, is determined to see off competition.

That's politics.

So, is the DUP looking for touchstone issues such as flags and victims that will have resonance with unionist voters?

I think we know what Alliance would say to that.

However, the DUP's Christopher Stalford accused Alliance of having "lost its moral compass".

"The Alliance Party decided to remove completely any reference to the corporals from our motion and proposed a form of words that placed innocent soldiers on the same level as terrorists," Mr Stalford said.

The murders of the two soldiers were among some of the most notorious and disturbing attacks during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, particularly because of the presence of TV cameras which recorded their abduction.

'Bland words'

Footage of the corporals being dragged out of their car and beaten by a crowd was shown around the world. The men were later stripped and shot dead by the IRA, and their bodies were dumped in waste ground.

In a statement, Mr Stalford said: "Our motion was very simple in its intent. It was designed to show respect for Corporals Wood and Howes, to praise their bravery and restraint in the face of a violent mob and to assure their families that their sacrifice would never be forgotten."

He accused Alliance of choosing instead "to ride to the rescue of Sinn Fein by tabling a bland form of words as an amendment".

However, Mr Jones said that he had condemned the murders of the two soldiers in his speech but added that a motion condemning all murders "would help us move forward us a society".

'Progress'

"With many anniversaries coming up in the next couple of years, I believe it is important for the council to have direction in how we deal with the past by condemning violence from all quarters.

"If we are to work towards a shared society then we must have an agreed comprehensive method of dealing with the past, instead of concentrating on specific cases.

"We could have motions each month that brought up every incident which would not lead to progress in how we deal with the past," Mr Jones said.

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