Unionists have blasted Sinn Fein “hypocrisy” after the party leadership held a private meeting with Prince Charles just one day after Michelle O’Neill said she would never stop attending IRA commemorations.
During his tour of the island of Ireland, the Prince of Wales also shook hands with former IRA bomber and Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly.
That event in Belfast took place 24 hours before Mr Kelly led a Sinn Fein delegation to meet the Parades Commission, calling on a new Orange lodge to withdraw their application for a parade through what the party said is a mixed area of north Belfast.
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said Sinn Fein’s “gesture politics” were meaningless until the party flatly condemns the IRA’s campaign of violence during the Troubles.
The Upper Bann MLA told the News Letter: “If republicans are trying to spin this by saying they are reaching out to unionists then they are well wide of the mark, because their actions don’t meet their words.
“As long as they continue to commemorate the murderous IRA who butchered men, women, and children, then these stunts amount to nothing.”
Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald and vice-president Mrs O’Neill held a 30-minute meeting with Prince Charles during his visit to Cork on Thursday.
Speaking after the meeting, Ms McDonald said it was “an opportunity to extend the hand of friendship not just to Prince Charles or to the British Royal family but to those on our island who identify as British and who are British”.
On Wednesday, Mrs O’Neill said she did not foresee a day when she would stop attending IRA commemoration events.
“We all have a right to remember our dead. I will never fail to stand beside a mother who has lost her child in the conflict,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.
And while Mr Beattie said he did not disagree with Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader on that point, he added: “These commemoration events glorify and romanticise terrorism.
“If I as a political representative went to a commemoration of a UVF man for killing Catholics, people would be rightly outraged.
“So Sinn Fein need to understand why unionists, and indeed some nationalists, are outraged when they go and commemorate terrorists in this way.”
DUP MP Jim Shannon, whose cousin was murdered by the IRA, said Sinn Fein were guilty of “double standards”.
“Sinn Fein need to take a good hard look at themselves”,” the Strangford MP told the News Letter.
“While it is good to see them reaching out and meeting with a member of the Royal family in this way, we need a lot more than these gestures.”
Meanwhile, TUV leader Jim Allister branded Sinn Fein’s meeting with Prince Charles as “hollow and transparent”.
He added: “This meeting came on the same week that Michelle O’Neill boasted that she will continue to glorify the actions of the IRA. It is utter hypocrisy.
“Sinn Fein can claim all they want they are seeking to reach out to the unionist community, but the real test is in their actions.
“Any member of the Royal family is in a most invidious position in that they are expected to meet all sorts of dubious people around the world. Charles has had his fair share this week.”
The News Letter reached out to Sinn Fein for comment, but we received no response at the time of going to press.