Justice Minister Naomi Long calls on Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly to reaffirm commitment to non-violence after Maze IRA tweet

Justice Minister Naomi Long has called on Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly to “reaffirm his commitment to non-violence”.

Tuesday, 29th September 2020, 12:51 pm
Updated Tuesday, 29th September 2020, 8:29 pm

She also warned that it is not acceptable to “glorify acts of terrorism’ in light of his recent comments about the mass IRA escape from the Maze Prison.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis branded Mr Kelly’s tweet “disgraceful and shameful”.

The North Belfast MLA, who sits on the Policing Board, tweeted on Friday about the anniversary of the escape from the maximum security prison in 1983.

Justice Minister Naomi Long

He tweeted: “37 yrs ago 38 Irish Republican prisoners were getting into a lorry at H7 and heading to the front gate of Long Kesh and freedom. One of Big Bob’s best ops! I had the privilege of the front passenger seat. Well someone had to check we were taking the right route out!!”.

Yesterday UUP Policing Board member Mike Nesbitt wrote to Mrs Long asking her to remove Mr Kelly from the Policing Board. He said that under the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 she could do so if she is satisfied that i) he is not committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means; and ii) he is otherwise unable or unfit to discharge his functions as a member of the board.

Mr Nesbitt added: “In his tweet, Mr Kelly described the escape as ‘One of Big Bob’s best ops!’ This clearly implies Mr Kelly continues to take pride in being part of a serious criminal act, the biggest break-out of prisoners in British penal history, which saw a prison officer lose his life, suffering a fatal heart attack after being stabbed, while another officer was shot in the head. I believe it is your duty to act and urge you to remove Mr Kelly from the Policing Board with immediate effect.”

Mrs Long responded: “I have already said publicly that I found Gerry Kelly’s tweet about the Maze escape offensive and thoroughly inappropriate, and that it is not acceptable to try to make light of the incident in question or to glorify acts of terrorism.

“I would call on Mr Kelly to reaffirm his commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means, consistent with his responsibilities both as a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board and as a Member of the Legislative Assembly.”

However, a Sinn Fein spokesperson responded that it would “take no lectures from Mike Nesbitt” whom it said was “a member of a political party which presided over a one-party, apartheid state for over 50 years and which used special powers to murder, detain and torture citizens, which censored and banned political opposition, attacked peaceful protestors and denied citizens their fundamental rights.”

Mr Nesbitt added later: “The secretary of state described Gerry Kelly’s tweet as ‘incitement’. Victims of terrorism have described the hurt he has caused; Naomi Long could and should consider whether the glorification of the criminal act of the prison escape means he is not a fit person to serve as a member of the Policing Board.”

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