Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Kelly goes back to prison to endorse £1m Crumlin facelift

A junior minister in the new power-sharing executive went behind bars yesterday to endorse a £1m refurbishment scheme at an old jail where he was once a prisoner.

Gerry Kelly returned to the Crumlin Road in Belfast as a Sinn Fein member of the Assembly nearly 30 years after he was detained there as an IRA man.

With money spent on weatherproofing and restoration - including getting rid of anti-terrorist bomb blast walls, razor wire and bullet proof glass as well as repairing the hanging cell area - the jail is to become the city's latest tourist attraction.

The first visitors are due through the repaired main gates for twice-weekly conducted tours on Thursday.

Mr Kelly has a prison record which stretches back nearly 35 years after being jailed for life for his part in the IRA bombing of the Old Bailey in London in 1973.

He was later transferred to the Maze, from which he and 18 other republicans escaped in 1983. Three years later, he was recaptured in Amsterdam, spending two years inside the Crumlin Road.

The prison is notorious for jail breaks, riots and even murder.

DUP leader Ian Paisley is also a former inmate: he spent six months in the jail in 1966 for public order offences.

Yesterday, Mr Kelly was inside the prison walls to announce the start of a violence- free era on the 27-acre site.

He said: "The regeneration is a huge opportunity for this part of north Belfast, which has suffered so much. It represents, in a physical sense, the progress we are achieving on a daily basis."

The jail will be opened to visitors every Thursday and Saturday until mid-December and will host a production of Macbeth as part of the Belfast Festival at Queen's.

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