Northern Ireland news

Naomi Long calls for Gerry Kelly to `reaffirm commitment to non-violence' amid calls for Policing Board removal

Sinn Fein policing spokesman Gerry Kelly speaking to the media following a meeting of the NI Policing Board in February. Picture by David Young/PA Wire

JUSTICE Minister Naomi Long has responded to calls to remove Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly from the Policing Board by asking him to "reaffirm his commitment to non-violence" after he posted a controversial tweet about a prison break.

UUP Policing Board member Mike Nesbitt wrote to Mrs Long asking her to remove the North Belfast assembly member from the oversight group "using the powers vested in her under the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000".

Mr Kelly was one of 38 IRA prisoners who escaped from the Maze in 1983 which saw prison officer James Ferris die of a heart attack after being stabbed while attempting to stop the breakout.

He described it as "one of Big Bob's best ops" (a reference to senior republican Bobby Storey), saying "I had the privilege of the front passenger seat. Well someone had to check we were taking the right route out!!"

Mr Nesbitt pointed out Mrs Long has "powers vested in you by the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000... to remove a person from office as a member of the Policing board if you are satisfied that he is not committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means; he is otherwise unable or unfit to discharge his functions as a member of the Board".

He said Mr Kelly's words "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."

The minister said: "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."

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