Warders' disgust as Kelly offers signed Maze escape book as Valentine's prize
A move by Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly to offer a copy of his book on the 1983 Maze breakout as a Valentine's competition prize has been criticised as "very distasteful" by the Prison Officers' Association.
The Escape tells the story of the mass IRA jailbreak in which he took part and that led to the death of a warder.
In a statement to the Belfast Telegraph last night, the prison officers' union said there was "nothing romantic" about the death of one of their own.
Thirty-eight republican inmates fled the maximum security facility in September 1983 in the biggest prison break in British or Irish history.
Nineteen were recaptured within a short period, but the rest got away.
Warder James Ferris died of a heart attack after being stabbed.
Two others were shot but survived.
"As the author of this book, it's Mr Kelly's right to promote it as he pleases," said the POA's Adrian Smith.
"However, as a Valentine's gift, the Prison Officers' Association would find it very distasteful, as there is nothing romantic about the death of a prison officer."
Ulster Unionist MP Danny Kinahan said he was unsurprised by Sinn Fein's attitude.
He said: "It's shameless. It's sad they feel they have to do that, but I don't expect anything different.
"I look forward to the day Sinn Fein make an effort to work with everybody.
"I find that a slightly odd use of Valentine's - if I gave my wife a book on unionism on Valentine's Day she would laugh at me. I find it a very odd thing to do."
The mass escape was described at the time by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as "the greatest incident in British prison history".
A film adaptation based on the book is currently in post-production but its makers have been accused of "romanticising the violence" of the breakout.
The Irish-Swedish co-production is being funded by the Irish Film Board (IFB), Film Vast and RTE, with Cork County Council and Cork County Council Arts Offices providing regional support. It was shot in the decommissioned Cork Prison and around Cork city, and stars Tom Vaughan-Lawlor and Barry Ward.
Mr Kelly previously described his book as "a good yarn".
But in 2013 there was anger after it emerged he planned to hold a signing session in Antrim, close to where Sappers Mark Quinsey and Patrick Azimkar were shot dead in 2009 by dissidents.
He cancelled the event, saying he was doing so "as not to feed the book-burning wing of unionism".
The DUP's Paul Givan said Mr Kelly's social media post showed "new depths of insensitivity".
He said: "Sinn Fein have gone out of their way to romanticise the terrorism and violence they engaged in, but it plumbs new depths of insensitivity and offence to suggest that a tale of prison officers being shot, beaten and stabbed could in any way be considered an appropriate Valentine's Day gift. That Gerry Kelly would see his book as some romantic gift speaks volumes about the bizarre world that Sinn Fein representatives inhabit. We have heard Sinn Fein recently talk about a lack of respect.
"There is no respect for people traumatised by IRA violence when Sinn Fein glorify their terrorist, and in this case an incident which resulted in the death of a prison officer.
"Less than three weeks ago Michelle O'Neill talked about wanting to 'heal the wounds of the past'. Far from healing wounds, it seems Sinn Fein will continue to exacerbate pain and trauma."