Gerry Kelly eulogy for IRA terrorists at Castlederg sparks a bitter bust-up on day one of new term
As Assembly gets back down to business after summer recess parties immediately resume divisive bickering
Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly has defended a controversial speech made at a republican parade during which he praised two IRA bombers blown up by their own bomb as leaders.
Mr Kelly was accused of "going through the base of the barrel and into the sewer" yesterday as the opening day of the new Assembly term was dominated by bitter clashes over last month's commemoration at Castlederg.
Several hundred people took part in the event on August 11 to remember dead republicans, including Seamus Harvey and Gerard McGlynn.
The pair died when the bomb they were transporting into Castlederg exploded prematurely in 1973.
During the event, Mr Kelly said he was there to honour "comrades who gave their lives in the struggle for Irish freedom and equality", adding that the dead men "were leaders, people who led from the front".
A DUP Assembly motion accused Mr Kelly of giving "succour to dissident republican groups" and of helping "indoctrinate a new generation down the path of violence".
The motion called on the Assembly to confirm its continued support for the ministerial pledge of office and the code of conduct.
DUP West Tyrone MLA Tom Buchanan claimed Mr Kelly's remarks "rang in the ears" of dissidents.
"Mr Kelly's comments tell those republicans if you believe you have a vision of equality and freedom and if you know the risks you are taking you cannot stand idly by or leave it to others," he said.
Mr Kelly insisted his support for the terms of the ministerial pledge of office and the code of conduct for members is unquestionable.
The North Belfast MLA read extracts from his Castlederg speech, telling the Assembly that no republican would be stopped from "honouring our comrades who gave their lives in the struggle for Irish freedom".
"They played their part in our long struggle with dedication and commitment using the tools available to them in the 1970s," he said.
DUP minister Nelson McCausland described the speech as "a eulogy, a praising of those who died when they set out to destroy or murder but ended up dying themselves".
Party colleague Gregory Campbell said Mr Kelly's comments had gone beyond scraping the barrel.
"Mr Kelly talked about their actions being a struggle for Irish freedom. He then exceeded that by saying that they gave their lives so that we could be free," he said.
"That comment is not going to the bottom of the barrel; it is going through the base of the barrel and into the sewer."
Sinn Fein's Caitriona Ruane accused the DUP of "playing to lowest common denominator politics" and "whipping up sectarianism".
"What we need in our society is parity of esteem and respect. That does not mean we all have to agree with each other. However, what we do need is respect," she said.
SDLP MLA Alban Maginness said the events in Castlederg were a disaster for local community relations and politics in the region.
"For Sinn Fein to have commenced a march in commemoration of two of its members was totally misconceived," he said.
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said people would not welcome the fact that three of the four main debates on the first two days of the new Assembly term are linked to the past.
Mr Nesbitt said Sinn Fein, the IRA and the republican movement had an "ambivalence to violence".
"We believe terrorist violence is absolutely wrong. Move off that and say there are conditions that justify it and you have the terrorist campaign of the Provisional IRA," he said.
An amendment brought by Sinn Fein was defeated on a vote division.
The DUP motion was passed by 52 votes to 24.