Sinn Fein’s chairman and newly-elected MLA for South Antrim has been challenged to reconcile his apparent expression of regret for the deaths of police officers with his leader’s continued glorification of the IRA.
Mr Kearney was speaking after soaring ahead of all other contenders to take the first South Antrim seat of the evening on Friday.
He won a seat along with two DUP MLAs, one UUP man and an Alliance candidate.
In 2015, he had given a speech in which he had said: “I am sorry for the pain experienced by the RUC family during the war”.
He also said sorry for “the suffering caused to the unionist section of our community”.
Speaking to the News Letter at the Valley Leisure Centre counting station on Friday, he was asked about how he could reconcile such language with the fact new Sinn Fein leader in Nothern Ireland Michelle O’Neill had recently spoken at a vigil honouring an IRA gang which had attacked a police station with a heavy machine gun mounted on a lorry.
See here for details of that vigil.
Mr Kearney said: “We’re at a very advanced stage of our peace process. It’s now neccessary to move the political process into a phase of reconciliation and healing.
“And all political leaderships must now take responsibility for working together in addressing that challenge.
“Sinn Fein has taken huge initiative to advance the project of reconciliation in our society by making very, very significant gestures.
“Those gestures have yet to be reciprocated by political unionism.
“And the British government is in absolute default of its responsibilities in assisting – along with the rest of us – in the work of helping to deal with the past.”
He was asked how Ms O’Neill’s tribute to the Co Tyrone machine gun attackers helped with reconciliation.
“There are multiple narratives of our political conflict, and there is disagreement in relation to all of them,” he said.
“Now what we need to do is move to a stage where we can mutually accept the reality and legitimacy of those different narratives.”
He said when it comes to legacy-related Sinn Fein demands regarding the creation of any new Executive, he said the UK government should remove the “blockage” to ensuring “maximum information disclosure” relating to the Troubles.
It was put to him that the IRA discloses next to no information about its own crimes.
“I speak on behalf of Sinn Fein,” he said.
“Sinn Fein’s position is we’d much prefer to see an international, neutral, independent truth and reconciliation commission established.”
However, in the absence of that, he said there are “mechanisms” for dealing with the past under existing agreements, but that the UK government is not fulfilling its role in implementing these.
Pressed on when he could see the Assembly re-established, he said that ultimately rested on the DUP, unionists in general, and “in particular the British government”.
Mr Kearney was speaking on Friday night, at a time when the full election results were not known.