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MLA Kelly defends intervening over 16-year-old's arrest

Published 24/06/2013

John Manley Political Reporter




GERRY Kelly last night defended his decision to intervene in the arrest of a youth at Friday night's Tour of the North despite mounting criticism that he obstructed police.

The Sinn Fein politician and Policing Board member came under fire from unionists and the Alliance Party after challenging police who apprehended a 16-year-old for provocative conduct.

The teenager was released later on pending a report from the Public Prosecution Service.

A 20-year-old man arrested for disorderly behaviour was served with a fixed-penalty notice.

Former Stormont junior minister Mr Kelly was pictured hanging on to the bonnet of a police Land Rover after it drove towards him despite him asking the driver to stop.

The North Belfast MLA said he had been carried along for a "considerable distance".

Culture minister Caral Ni Chuilin, left, sustained injuries to her shoulder during the same incident.

She was discharged from hospital on Friday night.

According to the PSNI, no charges have been brought and the matter has been referred to the police ombudsman.

DUP Policing Board member Jonathan Craig described the two Sinn Fein assembly members' behaviour as "completely unacceptable".

He said the march had "passed off peacefully" and he accused republicans of trying to attack bandsmen.

"It is disappointing that rather than condemn such behaviour Sinn Fein seemed to defend it," the Lagan Valley representative said.

Mr Craig said he would seek to establish whether Mr Kelly's actions had contravened the Policing Board's code of conduct and also whether Ms Ni Chuilin had breached Stormont's ministerial code.

"Anyone obstructing the police should be the focus of investigation instead of lodging complaints with the police ombudsman," Mr Craig said.

Ulster Unionist Roy Beggs said Mr Kelly should be subjected to the "same rigours of the law" as other people.

Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle said it was "entirely inappropriate" for any elected representative to behave as Mr Kelly had done.

"Respect for the rule of law and the operational independence of the police are key principles that were supported by all political parties present at recent discussions in Cardiff," Mr Lyttle said.

Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister called on Chief Constable Matt Baggott to investigate the incident.

Mr Allister said Mr Kelly's behaviour raised questions about Sinn Fein's commitment to the rule of law.

"Weekend events when Gerry Kelly in particular sought to decide who should and shouldn't be arrested in north Belfast - and his resulting obstruction of the police and apparent control of a mob attacking police property - raise serious questions about Sinn Fein's supposed commitment to the rule of law," he said.

"I think on Friday night the Sinn Fein mask on policing slipped and we saw just how conditional their supposed support for policing is."

SDLP policing spokesman Conall McDevitt raised concerns about Friday night's policing operation.

"The policing of the Tour of the North in the Carrick Hill and Peter's Hill areas of Belfast have left many people annoyed," he said.

"My own party has expressed deep concern about aspects of the police operation directly to very senior officers and we will continue to do so through the Policing Board."

Mr McDevitt called for an end to the "political point-scoring or tit for tat over parades and policing".

"We all need to show leadership and step back from seeking selfish partisan gain from parading or specific incidents," he said.

"That means, as the Cardiff

statement says, respecting the PSNI's duty to uphold the rule of law at the same time as holding them robustly to account through the Northern Ireland Policing Board."

Responding to the criticisms last night, Mr Kelly accused unionists of hypocrisy.

He said many unionist elected representatives had taken part in "illegal roadblocks and protests over the flag issue".

"There was no attack on Friday's parade and for them to claim there was is blatantly untrue and will do nothing to calm the situation," he said.

"At the same time they refused to even mention the clear breaking of the law when bands broke the Parades Commission determination."