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Fears growing over Shankill bomber Sean Kelly's influence on New IRA after he's linked to three shootings

By Sarah Henderson

Shankill bomber Sean Kelly has been settling personal scores down the barrel of a gun.

But rather than risk being returned to jail the mass murderer — who is out on licence for the rest of his life — is using dissident republicans to do his dirty work.

Intelligence files on Kelly, who is a Sinn Fein member and publicly supports the peace process, highlight just how mired in violence he remains.

Sunday Life can reveal that the PSNI is continuing to link him to two gangland-style killings and one attempted murder carried out by armed republican gangs in the past four years.

They include:

• The fatal New IRA shotgun attack on drug addict Conor McKee at his parents home in north Belfast last year;

• The 2015 execution of ex-Provisional IRA prisoner Kevin McGuigan by members of the terror gang;

• The multiple shooting of criminal Padraig McAleenan in 2013 near his former Ardoyne home.

Revelations about Sean Kelly’s links to dissident republicans form part of the PSNI’s growing concerns about the alliance between the New IRA and former members of the Provisional IRA.

Central to this is the relationship between the Shankill bomber and violent dissident republicans in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast.

Although still with Sinn Fein, police intelligence documents indicate that Kelly may have been involved with the New IRA’s shooting of Conor McKee, 31, last year. The popular dad-of-two died in the botched punishment attack after being blasted in the thigh with a shotgun.

Kelly (right, on his release from prison in 2000) was arrested in connection with the horrific killing, but later released without charge.

Despite this, detectives investigating the shooting are convinced that Kelly pushed for Conor to be shot by the New IRA. Security sources point to this as evidence of the ongoing working relationship between dissidents and mainstream republicans, particularly in the Ardoyne area.

Publicly Sinn Fein is heavily criticised by hardline groups like Saoradh and Republican Network for Unity (RNU) — which provide political advice to the New IRA and ONH. But behind closed doors members of all three groups continue to be friends and socialise together.

Save for a handful of youngsters who were at primary school when the Troubles ended, almost the entire membership of the New IRA and ONH in north Belfast is made up of ex-Provos.

A security source revealed: “These are people who have been friends for years, and because some have left the Provos to join other groups it doesn’t mean these relationships have suddenly ended.

“Dissident republicans, especially in Ardoyne, are being advised by figures still connected to the Provisional IRA. These conversations and meetings aren’t sanctioned at a leadership level, but there is no doubt that they are taking place.”

The most striking example of this occurred last year when Conor McKee was gunned down at his family home in the Oldpark area.

Police say Sean Kelly was unhappy that the heroin addict had moved back into the area and is believed to have encouraged dissident republicans to force him out. A short time before his death Conor was arrested on drug dealing charges.

In January last year dissident gunmen watched as Conor walked into his parents’ empty home on Glenpark Street, working out that he was in a back bedroom when they saw the light go on.

They then crept into the property through an open back door, bursting into the room and firing three shotgun blasts at their target who was lying on top of the bed.

One of the rounds hit Conor in the thigh and despite his best efforts — he managed to ring 999 on his mobile phone — he bled to death unable to summon the energy to speak to the operator.

A security source explained: “Conor was killed by a shotgun slug, not pellets. Rounds like this are normally used to kill animals like horses and cows.”

Kelly was later arrested in connection with Conor McKee’s murder and questioned for a day before being freed without charge. After his release he approached the dissident murder victim’s family to insist he had nothing to do with the killing.

Although not directly involved in planning the shooting, or pulling the trigger, PSNI detectives are convinced the Shankill bomber may have badgered his friends in the New IRA to have Conor kneecapped.

An insider said: “Kelly was unhappy that Conor was back living in the Oldpark as he was known to be involved in heroin.

“When Conor was arrested at the end of 2015 and charged with supplying heroin we know from intelligence reports that Kelly wanted him out.”

It was around that period, at the end of 2015, that Sinn Fein member Kelly was keeping increasing company with New IRA members.

Earlier that summer he had been arrested in connection with the Provisional IRA murder of republican Kevin McGuigan in the Short Strand.

The dad-of-nine was shot dead in revenge for his alleged role in the May 2015 killing by criminals of the Provo’s former Belfast commander Jock Davison.

As part of their investigation into the McGuigan execution detectives took all of Sean Kelly’s clothes for forensic testing. After he was freed without charge the Shankill bomber lost his job as a delivery driver at an Ardoyne supermarket. Seeing that Kelly had no clothes or cash sources say local dissident republicans did a whip round for him which raised around £500.

In appreciation of this act of generosity, he has apparently been on very good terms with the New IRA since.

However, Kelly remains a Sinn Fein member and someone who has the full support of the party and senior Provisional IRA figures in Ardoyne, who are assessed by police as being ‘semi-retired’.

Last Easter he laid a wreath at a Sinn Fein commemoration at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast having earlier complained to the media that he is the victim of “political policing”.

As well as being arrested in connection with the murders of Conor McKee and Kevin McGuigan, Sean Kelly was also held by police probing the 2013 shooting of criminal Padraig McAleenan in Ardoyne.

As in the other cases, he was freed without charge.

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