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'Stop using me as a political pawn' Sean Kelly tells First Minister

Sean Kelly says he is being used as a 'political football' and has received death threats from "criminal elements"
Connla Young

The only man convicted of the Shankill bomb has launched an attack on first minister Peter Robinson after he called for his early release licence to be revoked.

In his first major interview, former IRA man Sean Kelly repeated his support for the peace process and claimed he has been used as a "political football".

He also said he has received death threats from "criminal elements" since the murder of former republican prisoner Kevin McGuigan last month.

Kelly was released from prison under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement after being jailed for life for his part in the Shankill Road bomb in October 1993 which claimed the lives of nine people.

Thomas Begley, an IRA man who was with Kelly when the bomb they were carrying went of prematurely, also died in the blast.

Kelly spoke out after it was reported that first Minister Peter Robinson asked British Prime Minister David Cameron to revoke his early release licence and that of another former republican prisoner during a meeting earlier this week. Both men were released early under the Good Friday Agreement under licence.

Mr Robinson did not name the men but the Belfast Telegraph reported yesterday that the DUP had confirmed it was referring to Sean Kelly and 47-year-old Mark McDowell, who was also arrested in connection with the murder of Kevin McGuigan but also released without charged.

Kelly is one of 12 people who have so far been questioned by police about the murder of Kevin McGuigan in east Belfast last month in what is believed to be a revenge attack for the killing of former IRA commander Gerard ‘Jock’ Davison three months earlier.

Police later blamed members of the Provisional IRA and Action Against Drugs for the murder.

Kelly denies any involvement in the attack and says he was on a break in Co Donegal at the time.

"I put it to Peter Robinson, who does he think he is, the first minister or the chief constable?"

He believes the DUP are focusing on him because they are under pressure form the UUP, who earlier this week pulled out of the executive over claims that the Provisional IRA remains active.

"Who do you think you are to use me as a political pawn or any ex-republican prisoner as a pawn?" he said.

"I am a firm supporter of the peace process and have been since I was released from jail."

The Ardoyne man said he has worked with former prisoner groups and the local community in recent years.

"It is a big step for me to do this (giving an interview)" he said.

"But there comes a time when you have to stand up for yourself and tell people to stop treating you as a political football when they know my stance on the peace process."

Kelly said he was "proud to be a republican and will always be a republican."

He said that his views on the Shankill bomb are well known.

At a commemoration for Thomas Begley in Ardoyne in 2013 he said: "I am truly sorry for the loss of life and the injuries that were suffered that day and for the suffering the families have endured."

He claimed the IRA had not intended to target civilians during the attack.

"It was an IRA operation that went tragically wrong - gone wrong in the sense that civilians that were not the target tragically lost their lives and many were injured."

In June 2005 Kelly was returned to jail by then secretary of state Peter Hain after claims that he was involved in rioting.

He was released weeks later just days before the Provisional IRA ended their campaign.

The father-of-five said he is rarely able to leave Ardoyne because of the publicity he receives.

"It affects my family, my children and my partner, I can’t even leave my kids to school," he said.

His solicitor Seamus Delaney last night claimed that no evidence was put to his client during ten interviews and two days at Antrim police station last month.

He also revealed his client is set to take legal action against the PSNI for wrongful arrest and unlawful imprisonment and branded the arrest "a demonstration of political policing."

"From the first interview to the last interview I was asking them, ‘put the evidence to Sean Kelly’," he said.

"There was not a pick of evidence, not one scintilla to connect him with the killing," he claimed.

Mr Delaney believes the first minister was merely reacting to political developments by raising the subject of his client at this time.

"Peter Robinson had plenty of time to set out his position and it is not coincidental that the Ulster unionists up the ante and he is trying to take a harder stance."

Sinn Féin justice spokesman Gerry Kelly also criticised Mr Robinson's call.

"The fact that Peter Robinson has asked David Cameron to revoke the licences of individual republican ex-prisoners is not acceptable," he said.

"The DUP have quite deliberately chosen to ignore the fact that both of these men have been released unconditionally by the police.

"It is also unacceptable that these individuals have had their identities revealed in the public arena by the media. This is clearly an attempt by unionists to subvert the justice system."

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