Northern Ireland

Justice minister Naomi Long ‘considering decision’ over Gerry Kelly tweet

Gerry Kelly, pictured right, with Robert Russell, pictured left, and Bobby Storey, pictured centre. All played a prominent role in the 1983 Maze escape. Picture by Hugh Russell
Gerry Kelly, pictured right, with Robert Russell, pictured left, and Bobby Storey, pictured centre. All played a prominent role in the 1983 Maze escape. Picture by Hugh Russell

Stormont Justice Minister Naomi Long is considering whether to remove Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly from the Policing Board over a tweet.

Mr Kelly was accused of “glorifying IRA terrorism” in September when he tweeted about anniversary of a mass breakout from the Maze prison.

The North Belfast MLA was one of 38 republican prisoners who escaped from the Maze in 1983.

Prison officer James Ferris died of a heart attack after being stabbed while attempting to stop the breakout.

Mr Kelly described the breakout in his tweet as “one of Big Bob’s best ops”, referring to senior republican Bobby Storey, adding “I had the privilege of the front passenger seat.

Ulster Unionist MLA Alan Chamber challenged Ms Long on what action would be taken against Mr Kelly, a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

He said the Policing Board has “exhausted its investigation” into the “outrageous tweet”, “without reaching any conclusion”.

“It now falls to the minister to decide whether to remove him from the board,” he put to Ms Long during Justice Minister questions in the Assembly.

Ms Long responded: “I am aware that this has been exhausted by the Policing Board and they have taken a look at whether or not as under their procedures, informal resolution could be reached. None of those who were complainants were willing to seek an informal resolution.

“I said at the time that I found Mr Kelly’s comments both offensive and thoroughly inappropriate. I asked that he reaffirm his commitment to non violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means consistent with his responsibilities both as a member of the Policing Board and a member of this legislative Assembly.”

Ms Long said she took the view at the time of the incident that any investigation into whether Mr Kelly had breached the Policing Board code of conduct was a matter for the board to consider in the first instance.

“That investigation by the board is now concluded without resolution and has been referred to me for consideration under the powers available to me in the Police Northern Ireland Act 2000 to remove a member from the board,” she said.

“I am currently considering, based on legal advice which action I should take, and I am not in a position to make any further comment in that regard at this time.”

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly. Picture by David Young/PA Wire
Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly. Picture by David Young/PA Wire