DUP red faces over former ‘INLA’ man in picture - MP Shannon and councillor not told republican robber was in frame for photo op
DUP politicians have been left red-faced after they posed for a picture with a convicted criminal and former republican paramilitary.
Strangford MP Jim Shannon and councillor Billy Walker said they had no clue that standing next to them in the photo was Gerard Forward – who was jailed for five years for his role in an INLA robbery bid.
The DUP men, along with Alliance MLA Kieran McCarthy, were snapped next to the former hardline republican at a recent meeting of the Killyleagh District Youth Forum.
The shaven-headed 41-year-old was there in his capacity as leader of the PSNI-backed Streetsafe programme in the neighbouring town of Ardglass.
He wants to establish a similar project, which promotes community safety, in Killyleagh and looked to have the support of politicians until revelations about his past emerged.
After last week’s meeting Forward beamed: “We are happy to come over to Killyleagh and assist in the setting up of this model of community activity, if that is the direction the new forum wants to go in.”
But the ex-INLA man’s plan to see Streetsafe set up in Killyleagh appears to be in jeopardy after the politicians he was cosying up to learned of his past.
DUP councillor Billy Walker said: “I represent everyone in my area. A group of young people invited me to attend a meeting to speak up for my constituents. I will always do that regardless of who is there.
“Every political party bar Sinn Fein was represented at the meeting.”
Last weekend Gerard Forward’s ex-wife Lorraine and pregnant 18-year-old daughter Sarah Louise O’Neill told Sunday Life how he made their lives hell.
The mother and daughter, from the Short Strand area of east Belfast, described him as an “embarrassment”.
“The idea that he is a role model and hero makes me feel sick,” said Sarah Louise, who revealed her father once threatened to kill her for looking at the police.
Before moving to Ardglass from Belfast around five years ago, Forward was a spokesman for the IRSP – the political wing of the INLA.
He took on the role after serving a five-year prison stretch for his role in a robbery plot involving members of the terror gang.
Forward, along with 47-year-old Gerard Mallon, broke into a house in west Belfast and took a family hostage believing their 16-year-old daughter worked in the local post office.
Wearing masks and brandishing imitation firearms they told their victims that they were from the “republican movement”.
The pair took a polaroid photo of the teen with a pistol pressed against her head. They then ordered her to take it to the post office and relay their demands for ransom money.
But when the schoolgirl got there she told staff what had happened and they called the police.
Forward and Mallon were arrested a short time later and jailed for five years.
After being released from Maghaberry Prison in 2003 Gerard Forward, who spent his time in the jail as an INLA inmate, took on the role with the IRSP.
Appearing on stage at an INLA event in Dublin in 2006, which was attended by masked paramilitaries, he told a cheering crowd: “We do not accept the offers or the proposals of the British.
“We do not accept their police force, regardless of uniform, name or otherwise.
Forward then said: “We demand the complete withdrawal of the British from this land, both militarily and economically.
“We warn you, until that day, if you strike at, imprison, or kill us, out of our prisons or graves we will still evoke a spirit that will thwart you, and perhaps, raise a force that will destroy you. We defy you. Do your worst.”