Fury as moves to sanction Gerry Kelly are thwarted by SDLP
Unionists have reacted with fury after the SDLP joined Sinn Fein in frustrating efforts by the Assembly to punish Gerry Kelly for blocking a PSNI Land Rover during disturbances following an Orange march last summer.
The Stormont Standards Commissioner found Mr Kelly had broken his duty to uphold the rule of law and to provide leadership when he confronted the driver last June.
The majority on the Stormont committee recommended Mr Kelly be excluded from the Assembly for five days.
"Gerry Kelly committed a criminal offence. There is no argument about that, he acknowledged it himself when he accepted an informed warning from the PSNI," said Sandra Overend of the DUP after a debate in the Assembly yesterday.
She and fellow unionists were enraged that nationalists tabled a petition of concern, which effectively means that a motion to censure him couldn't be passed without their support.
"Over recent times there have been a number of worrying examples of senior Sinn Fein representatives trying to put their own interpretation on what it means to support the rule of law.
"Whether it is Gerry Kelly thinking he can stop PSNI vehicles at will or Bobby Storey literally roaring in Belfast about 'how dare' the PSNI arrest Gerry Adams, they need to accept that abiding by the rule of law cannot be conditional," Ms Overend said.
Douglas Bain, the Assembly's Commissioner for Standards, had found that Mr Kelly had breached the MLAs' code by committing a criminal offence. He accepted that the MLA had acted "on the spur of the moment" and had been trying, overall, to calm tensions.
At the committee for standards Ms Overend had proposed that Mr Kelly be asked to apologise to the Assembly and be suspended for five days. That motion was debated for 90 minutes yesterday and will be voted on today.
The petition of concern was signed by Sinn Fein MLAs, as well as Pat Ramsay, Colum Eastwood and Dolores Kelly of the SDLP.
Yesterday Mr Kelly did not apologise. He said he would "reserve my right" to act as seemed appropriate if a similar situation arose again. He suggested that other MLAs do the same.
He said he had been trying to calm unrest in Peter's Hill after a disputed Orange parade when the police arrested a nationalist youth, something which he felt only inflamed the situation.
He said a police officer in the Land Rover carrying the teenager said he would pull over to discuss things with the boy's mother, but instead drove on. "Was I annoyed? Yes I was annoyed because a police officer had given an assurance he didn't keep," Mr Kelly said.
He claimed he only grabbed onto the grille to avoid being pushed under the moving vehicle. He accepted he was "technically in breach of the code".