The IRA says sorry

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The Independent Online

The IRA today apologised for the killing of all "non–combatants" who died during its campaign of terror.

The IRA today apologised for the killing of all "non–combatants" who died during its campaign of terror.

In an unprecedented statement, the republican terror group offered its "sincere apologies and condolences" to the families of victims during 30 years of violence.

At the same time it said it acknowledged the grief and pain of the families of the combatants – police, soldiers and loyalist paramilitaries – killed during the violence.

Records show the IRA killed nearly 1,800 people during its terror campaign, close on 650 of them civilians.

The apology came ahead of the anniversary this week of one of the IRA's worst acts, the killing of nine people and injury of over 130 when terrorists blitzed Belfast with 27 bombs on the afternoon of July 21, 1972, – a day which became known as Bloody Friday.

It is the first time the leadership of the terror organisation has offered a straight apology for any of its acts.

The statement came as MPs prepared to debate a Conservative motion on the state of the Northern Ireland peace process and ahead of a response from Prime Minister Tony Blair to a demand from Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble for action against Sinn Fein's position in Government because of continuing IRA activity.

Mr Trimble wants details of action from Mr Blair by July 24, when Parliament rises.

The IRA statement said Sunday, July 21, marked the 30th anniversary of an operation in Belfast which resulted in the nine people being killed and many more injured – Bloody Friday.

Those who died included seven civilians and two soldiers.

The statement, signed by P O'Neill, as in all statements from the IRA leadership, said: "While it was not our intention to injure or kill non–combatants, the reality is that on this and on a number of other occasions, that was the consequence of our actions."

It added: "It is, therefore, appropriate on the anniversary of this tragic event, that we address all of the deaths and injuries of non–combatants caused by us.

"We offer our sincere apologies and condolences to their families.

"There have been fatalities amongst combatants on all sides. We also acknowledge the grief and pain of their relatives."

The IRA said the future would not be found in "denying collective failures and mistakes or closing minds and hearts to the plight of those who had been hurt. That includes all of the victims of the conflict, combatants and non–combatants.

"It will not be achieved by creating a hierarchy of victims in which some are deemed more or less worthy than others."

It said the process of conflict resolution required the equal acknowledgement of the grief and loss of others.

"On this anniversary, we are endeavouring to fulfil this responsibility to those we have hurt."

The statement said: "The IRA is committed unequivocally to the search for freedom, justice and peace in Ireland.

"We remain totally committed to the peace process and to dealing with the challenges and difficulties which this presents. This includes the acceptance of past mistakes and of the hurt and pain we have caused to others."

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