Northern Ireland news

Orange Order grand secretary Mervyn Gibson defends attending Michael Stone art event

Robin Stewart from the Reach Project, Michael Stone, Karen Stone, DUP councillor George Dorrian and former DUP MLA Sammy Douglas pictured at the Milestones 2018 art launch
Marie Louise McConville

THE Grand Secretary of the Orange Order has defended a decision to attend a Belfast art exhibition opened by convicted killer Michael Stone.

Mervyn Gibson was among public figures pictured at the event last month.

Stone, who was convicted of killing six people during the Troubles, opened the exhibition - which included a number of his paintings - while out on an unsupervised temporary release day from Maghaberry Prison.

'Milestones 2018', exhibiting works by "east Belfast artists Michael and Karan Stone", was opened on July 9 at the Reach Project on the Newtownards Road.

Among others who attended were former DUP assembly member Sammy Douglas and DUP councillor George Dorrian.

Mr Gibson said he went as a "local minister and also a community activist who has been involved in peace building for many years".

 Ian Knox's cartoon of August 10 2018

He told BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme that he supported an Orange Order decision not to meet with Sinn Féin and there was "no inconsistency in me, as an individual, going to such an exhibition".

"Over the years I have met many senior Sinn Féin officials who were terrorists, and I do so in the interests of progress and building peace."

The DUP also said "Councillor Dorrian, like all DUP representatives, condemns all acts of terrorism, including the evil deeds committed by Michael Stone".

Roddy Hackett, whose 37-year-old brother Dermot was murdered by Stone in Co Tyrone in 1987, said his family should have been informed that he was on temporary release.

Stone was restrained by security staff during a botched attack at Parliament Buildings in 2006. Photo by Mal McCann

"I would hate to think that some of my immediate family happened to walk up the street in Belfast and see him walking towards them," he said.

"I think it would be an awful shock for them, especially Dermot's family.

"It is only right that they should have let us know."

Bread server Dermot Hackett was found dead in his van between Drumquin and Omagh in 1987

The Prison Service said victims have to register with a special scheme before they receive information about a prisoner's release date or any periods of temporary release.

In 1988, Stone made headlines around the world when he murdered mourners Thomas McErlean, John Murray and Kevin Brady during a gun and grenade attack on republican funerals at Milltown Cemetery.

The killings came after he the killings of Mr Hackett in 1987, Kevin McPolin in Lisburn in 1985, and milkman Patrick Brady in south Belfast in 1984.

He was given a 30-year jail sentence for the six murders and freed on licence under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, but was returned to jail after a botched attack at Parliament Buildings in 2006.

Armed with explosives and other weapons, he tried to get inside and kill Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams.

In 2013, it was ruled that would have to serve a minimum of 30 years for the Milltown killings.

Money raised as result of last month's exhibition had been due to be donated to Muscular Dystrophy UK.

However, the charity yesterday said it would not be accepting the donation as it was "not aware that Mr Stone had work on show at the Milestones exhibition".

Jim Wilson, chairman of the Reach Project, said Stone "has had a past, he is now hoping to have a different future".

"I think it was (David) Trimble who said, if you have a past it does not mean that you can't have a future. If this man is moving into a new phase in his life, he should be allowed to do so."

He added: "I understand the hurt and pain Michael may have foisted on other families, but it happened on our side as well."

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