A one-time IRA prison leader is to step into the most senior Sinn Fein role on Belfast City Council.
Jim McVeigh — jailed twice on bomb charges — was the IRA officer commanding (OC) when the Maze was closed after the prisoner releases that followed the Good Friday Agreement.
Now he is to become leader of the Sinn Fein councillor group at the City Hall.
“Sinn Fein has a policy of not double-jobbing,” McVeigh said in an interview. “I was one of those people who was asked to come into the council to replace, in this case, Fra McCann.
“I’ve been involved in Sinn Fein for some time. I’ve been a supporter of the current (peace) strategy, and it was a natural progression for me to say yes.”
He expects to join the council within weeks.
The party is the largest in the City Hall with 14 councillors.
“I’ll be co-opted before the end of this month,” he said.
“Between now and Christmas six councillors will be replaced.
“I’ll be here certainly no later than early December,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.
McVeigh’s move into council politics follows Sinn Fein’s decision to replace Gerry Adams at the Assembly with Pat Sheehan — one of the IRA hunger strikers.
The Sinn Fein president gave up the seat after announcing he would stand in the next Dail elections.
“The armed struggle is over,” Mr McVeigh said.
“It’s now the place of Sinn Fein to lead the struggle.
“Our objectives haven’t changed.
“We’re still absolutely wedded, committed, to not only achieving a united Ireland, but working within, in this case Belfast City or wherever we are, obviously to advance the interests of the communities that we come from.
“We’re absolutely committed to equality, to the rights of citizens.”
The Belfast republican freed from the Maze in July 2000 made no attempt to hide his IRA background.
“I’m not ashamed, not in the least bit ashamed about it,” he said. Asked was he proud of it, he responded: “Yes, I am proud of it.
“I’ve no problem whatsoever saying that I’m proud of my involvement in the republican struggle.”
But he emphasised that the IRA armed campaign is over.
“Of course it’s over,” Mr McVeigh said.
“And hopefully people, including people in the unionist community, might look beyond the headline and see the fact that people like myself and Pat (Sheehan) and others are heavily involved in the political arena in whatever institution in giving some leadership — that they’ll see that as an indication of our commitment to that process.”
The 46-year-old served two jail terms from 1983 to 1991, and later from 1991 to 2000.