Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly has come under fire after barracking a BBC reporter asking whether IRA commemorations send “mixed messages” to young people.
The clearly disgruntled Stormont junior minister insisted the questions should be put instead to the Orange Order, British politicians and the Army.
Uncharacteristically tetchy, he told BBC NI political correspondent Martina Purdy her questions were disingenuous and unfair — and at one point she accuses him of “turning on her”.
In the Evening Extra interview Ms Purdy went on: “But do you think it’s wise to continue with these kind of commemorations?”
Mr Kelly replied: “I am not turning on you... have you ever asked that question of the Orange Order?
“Have you ever asked the question of the British Army?
“It’s a simple question, have you ever done it? Have you ever asked the question of a British politician? Now we’re very clear, I am very proud of my history, I am very proud of it, I will always be proud of it, I will die a republican. And people in this area have suffered massively...”
Ms Purdy said: “I didn’t ask you that, I asked you should you rethink it.” Mr Kelly responded: “And you think that I should not come here and praise the people who stood against sectarianism?”
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said: “I think that Gerry Kelly and Sinn Fein need to recognise that this is an issue they have to address if they are to clearly differentiate themselves from the dissidents, particularly after the very provocative and dangerous display we had this week in Londonderry, then they need to be much more sensitive about this.”
Traditional Unionist Party leader Jim Allister said: “In spite of what Gerry Kelly says, and his attempts to bully journalists, terrorism is never justified and there is absolutely no difference between what the Provisional IRA did and what so-called dissidents are doing today.
“If republicans truly have changed they would recognise the wickedness of the IRA’s campaign which resulted in 30 years of misery, over 1,800 deaths and countless injured. He needs to do better than try to shout down journalists. Kelly’s comments demonstrate that he remains wedded to violence and would justify its use again if republicans didn’t get what they want.”
Ms Purdy ‘tweeted’ after the interview that Mr Kelly had been “exceptionally annoyed” with her, but did not want to comment further yesterday.
A Sinn Fein spokesperson said: “Martina Purdy chose to take this opportunity to insult Ireland's patriot dead as republicans across the island were commemorating the sacrifice that these men and women have made. Sinn Fein will always, strongly and robustly, defend this sacrifice against those who attempt to demean their memories, or the families and friends of Ireland's patriot dead.”
A BBC statement hit back: “Our BBC Northern Ireland correspondent was asking a legitimate question about the impact of commemorations of this nature on young people in the context of current events.”
The heated radio exchange in full
Transcript from Evening Extra, BBC Radio Ulster, Tuesday April 26, 2011:
BBC political correspondent Martina Purdy had been speaking to Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly.
He said dissident republicans should stop their violence as they are only hurting their own people.
She asked him if he thought his party was sending out mixed messages on violence by commemorating the IRA dead.
GK: Have you ever in your life, with respect to you, said to the Orange Order the same thing?
MP: Well, I’m asking you.
GK: Have you, no, well I’m asking you.
MP: I’m asking you.
GK: Because you’re, no, with respect, with respect.
MP: Well I’m talking to you.
GK: Have you ever, I’m asking you a question, have you ever asked that question of the Orange Order? Have you ever asked it of a unionist? Have you ever went to the British Army and asked them why they have a homecoming group? So what you’re doing is, with respect to you, you’re taking something which is a small group, these small groups who are putting out these statements and you’re trying to throw it back on Sinn Fein.
MP: Well now your party has often accused the Orange Order...
GK: It is a completely disingenuous question.
MP: ...of living in the past, so I’m putting it to you as a republican politician.
GK: It is a completely... we’re not living in the past, we’re not living in the past.
MP: There is no need to turn on me.
GK: I know what you’re going to do.
MP: ...but do you think it’s wise to continue with these kind of commemorations?
GK: I am not turning on you, it is fair of me to say to you that you are asking a completely unfair question, right. You’re asking a question which you would not, so I am attacking the fact that you are not being...
MP: Well you don’t know that.
GK: Well I do, well you tell me have you ever asked that question, have you ever asked that question of the...
MP: We should really get the Orange Order in front of the microphone, but I’m asking you.
GK: Have you ever asked the question of the British Army? It’s a simple question, have you ever done it? Have you ever asked the question of a British politician? Now we’re very clear, I am very proud of my history, I am very proud of it, I will always be proud of it, I will die a republican. And people in this area have suffered massively and you think that I should not come here and praise...
MP: I didn’t ask you that, I asked you should you rethink it.
GK: ...and praise. And you think that I should not come here and praise the people who stood against sectarianism? And the people whose families, now there’s 148 names there, you think that I’m doing something wrong in doing that?
MP: No, I’m asking you are you sending out mixed messages to young people?
GK: I am not sending out mixed messages. What are you going to do? You’re going to go through all this. I’ve been talking to you now for 10 minutes and you’re going to go through it all and do what? Pick out whatever suits you?
MP: Can I ask you whether you think that it’s time for Sinn Fein to take the justice job, and someone like yourself with a background in the republican movement, it’s time for you to face down the dissidents?
GK: I have faced the dissidents.
MP: Through the justice job.
GK: I face down the dissidents.
MP: ...through the justice job would...
GK: I would face, I would face down the dissidents whatever job I am in.
MP: Do you think that your party will seek it in the next term?
GK: I would face down the dissidents in whatever job I am in, and the party will make up its own mind, collectively, what ministries it wants to go for.