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Anger as Sinn Fein MEP Anderson says she's proud of 1983 Maze jailbreak

Former IRA bomber is slammed for tweet on break-out where a prison officer died

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 27/09/2016

Martina Anderson
Martina Anderson
The lorry the prisoners escaped in
Martina Anderson's tweet triggered criticism and Aaron Dowey’s response

A Sinn Fein politician has sparked outrage after a celebratory message marking the 33rd anniversary of the Maze Prison breakout.

Martina Anderson posted a montage of the 38 escapees' mug shots on her Twitter account on Sunday afternoon.

It showed a fist, clenched in supposed triumph, emerging from the old Maze H-blocks.

The image was accompanied by the message: "And what a Sunday it was - #Proud".

Anderson, a former IRA bomber, is a Member of the European Parliament and a former MLA for Foyle.

She was jailed for her part in a series of explosions in the 1980s.

Her post about the 1983 Maze escape, in which one prison officer survived being shot in the head, sparked fury.

Aaron Dowey, whose father, Keith, was murdered by the IRA, responded on Twitter: "Are you proud of all acts of murder?

"Are you proud of the murder of my father, a civilian, who left two kids (under age of three)?"

Mr Dowey senior, a civil servant from Lurgan, was one of four men killed in an IRA gun attack at Castor Bay on the shores of Lough Neagh in November 1990.

The Maze escape took place on Sunday, September 25, 1983.

Thirty-eight prisoners fled in the biggest jail break in British penal history.

Prison officer James Ferris died of a heart attack after being stabbed during the chaos.

Among those who escaped was Gerry Kelly, now a Sinn Fein MLA.

Anderson's tweet was condemned by Finlay Spratt, the head of the Prison Officers' Association. "I certainly believe it is inappropriate," he said. "She is an MEP, she was an MLA, and it is all about moving forward, but I don't think that by raking up the past we are moving forward."

Ulster Unionist justice spokesperson, Doug Beattie, said he was stunned.

"The fact that Martina Anderson uses the hashtag 'proud' to describe her view of those who took part in the 1983 Maze Prison escape says more about her than any words I can offer," the MLA told the Belfast Telegraph.

"How can any democrat be proud that 38 terrorists, responsible for barbaric crimes including murder, should escape lawful custody?

"Is she really proud that one prison officer died as a result of the escape, that two others were shot, a further 18 injured or that an unspecified number are still suffering mental health issues due to this incident?

"Is it any wonder that people question the integrity and respect for others from those in Sinn Fein's leadership when it comes to issues of the past?"

TUV leader Jim Allister said it was firm evidence that Sinn Fein was clinging to the violence of the past.

"This demonstrates that Sinn Fein remain wedded to the violent republican view of life," he commented.

"The fact that they can glorify the terrorist acts of all these individuals who were lawfully incarcerated, by celebrating their escape from lawful custody with no regard to the violent attacks on the prison staff, is disgusting but not surprising."

Anderson spent 13 years in prison for IRA activity before her release under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

She became involved in politics for Sinn Fein and was MLA for Foyle from 2007 to 2012.

The 54-year-old served as a Junior Minister, before becoming an MEP in 2012, and was re-elected in 2014.

A Sinn Fein spokesperson said: "In the late 1970s and early 1980s republican prisoners in Long Kesh were subjected to a brutal regime of beatings and oppression, culminating in the deaths of 10 republicans in the 1981 hunger strike.

"The escape from Long Kesh by 38 republicans in 1983 is remembered with pride by many republicans as it is the internationally recognised duty of prisoners of war to attempt to escape.

"The escape lifted the morale of the republican community.

"We regret any loss of life during the course of the conflict."

In 2013 Gerry Kelly sparked fury after tweeting: "La Breithe shona daoibh. Happy 30th anniversary of the Great Escape 1983 from Long Kesh H Blocks to all those involved."

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