Mervyn Gibson: 'Collusion' has been misinterpreted

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Rev Mervyn Gibson with Talkback presenter William Crawley
Image caption,
Rev Mervyn Gibson (left) told Talkback presenter William Crawley seized guns were sometimes put back into circulation "for intelligence purposes"

A senior Orangeman who was a member of RUC Special Branch has said the word "collusion" has been misinterpreted.

Rev Mervyn Gibson said police officers who were caught passing information to paramilitaries "were thrown out".

The order's grand secretary said the word collusion was used to imply that the whole police force was involved.

He said that seized guns did sometimes go back into circulation but "that was for intelligence purposes".

Mr Gibson, who retired from the police after 18 years' service and is now a Presbyterian minister, said safeguards were put in place regarding the weapons, but "sometimes those safeguards went wrong".

Speaking in a wide-ranging interview on BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme, he criticised what he called the "greening" of Queen's University Belfast.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President Bill Clinton at the QUB Good Friday Agreement event, which was criticised by Mervyn Gibson

"They celebrated it big style," he said. "For a lot of people in Northern Ireland, it wasn't such a Good Friday Agreement."

Mr Gibson, a former Queen's student, called on the university to engage in dialogue with unionists.

"I believe they need to talk to the unionist community more," he said.

"I think there is an opportunity coming up in 2021, when we celebrate the centennial of Northern Ireland."

A spokesperson from the university said it rejected "any suggestion that it is biased towards or against any group".

"The university is proud of its reputation as a place for public debate and discourse on matters of social importance. It has held a number high profile events to facilitate this in recent times and intends on continuing to do so in the future," she added.

Image source, Pacemaker
Image caption,
A UDA mural close to Rev Mervyn Gibson's church in east Belfast. He told BBC's Talkback programme that he could easily have ended up in the ranks of the paramilitaries

Mr Gibson told Talkback presenter William Crawley he always wanted to be a policeman, but could easily have joined the ranks of the paramilitaries.

"I could have joined any of them - UVF, UDA. I remember having my notebook at school with all the various organisations - 10 or 11 protestant paramilitary organisations."

He credited his parents with having kept him "on the straight and narrow".

Mr Gibson, who is minister of Westbourne Presbyterian Church in east Belfast, made no apologies for peacemaking efforts that have included sitting on platforms with representatives of paramilitary groups.

"I will talk and try and work with anybody to make the community a better place," he said.

Asked if this was still his position in 2019, he said he did not see the current position changing "at the moment".

The grand secretary said his official position within the order now meant he had to be neutral.

"These things come from the floor of the institution, from the membership," he said.

However, he added that he did not think the Orange membership was ready to make the change "for a whole variety of reasons".

Image caption,
The rerouting of an Orange parade at Ardoyne in north Belfast led to this loyalist protest in 2013

He welcomed the return of a more traditional role for the order's Twelfth of July celebrations with the passing of the era of clashes around rerouted parades, and a renewed emphasis on community.

Regarding the current political scene, Mr Gibson was critical of those he saw trying to set the agenda for unionists.

"The whole talk at the minute is: 'You need to negotiate your place within the new united Ireland.'

"I'm afraid I don't, because I don't want to be part of a united Ireland, so I don't need to negotiate anything."