Belfast Telegraph

Watchdog throws out complaint that Kelly speech glorified terrorism

BY MICHAEL McHUGH

Complaints that a senior Sinn Fein Assembly Member glorified terrorism during a speech last summer have been dismissed by a standards watchdog.

Unionists claimed Old Bailey bomber Gerry Kelly's language during a speech at a republican commemoration in Castlederg, Co Tyrone, broke Stormont's code of conduct.

Mr Kelly addressed a republican demonstration marking the deaths of two IRA bombers killed by their own device near the town.

One DUP member alleged his remarks could encourage dissident republicans to commit further violence.

Scotland's Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life Stuart Allan was tasked with investigating as an independent acting commissioner.

"The acting commissioner has concluded that Mr Kelly was entitled to express his opinion on the matters dealt with in his speech and that no aspect of that speech could reasonably be taken to conflict with the principles and duties set out in the code or to amount to the encouragement of terrorism," a Stormont committee report said.

"The acting commissioner has concluded that – taking account of all the circumstances relating to the organisation of the parade and the unveiling of the memorial – there is no evidence that Mr Kelly was acting in his official capacity as a Member of the Assembly on that day.

"The acting commissioner therefore concludes that Mr Kelly was not in breach of the code of conduct."

The North Belfast Assembly Member had denied glorifying terrorism.

DUP MLA Tom Buchanan alleged his remarks "rang in the ears" of dissidents during a speech at Stormont.

Mr Allan's report said the right to free speech was protected under the code and European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

"Neither of these authorities protects it unconditionally, but the ECHR, with which the code must be consistent, allows for it to be limited only in exceptional circumstances, for reasons of public safety or the prevention of disorder or crime, most notably," the Assembly's Committee on Standards and Privileges said.

It added: "He does take the view, however, that the speech will have caused distress and hurt to those within the Protestant or unionist tradition, particularly those living in the Castlederg area.

"As for the suggestion that Mr Kelly is responsible for irregularities on the part of other marchers, the acting commissioner judges it unreasonable to construe his mere presence as an unqualified endorsement of their behaviour."

Mr Buchanan said he was disappointed with the committee ruling.

"There is no doubt that the vast majority of the public in Northern Ireland were appalled by the gross insensitivity displayed by republicans in Castlederg," he said.

BACKGROUND

The Tyrone Volunteers Day Parade commemorated republicans who died during the Troubles, including IRA men Gerard McGlynn (18) and Seamus Harvey (22).

On the anniversary of their deaths last summer, Gerry Kelly said: "They were ordinary young men in the extraordinary circumstances of the early 1970s who rose to the challenge of the time."

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