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Unionists join condemnation of New IRA car bomb threat to Sinn Fein members

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Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill and Gerry Kelly with Arlene Foster, PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne and Anne Connolly, chair of the NI Policing Board, at the launch of the PSNI recruitment drive earlier this year

Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill and Gerry Kelly with Arlene Foster, PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne and Anne Connolly, chair of the NI Policing Board, at the launch of the PSNI recruitment drive earlier this year

Dolores Kelly

Dolores Kelly

Mervyn Storey

Mervyn Storey

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Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill and Gerry Kelly with Arlene Foster, PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne and Anne Connolly, chair of the NI Policing Board, at the launch of the PSNI recruitment drive earlier this year

A New IRA threat to car bomb a Sinn Fein member has been widely condemned, with unionists branding it an attack on the democratic process.

The warning was issued on Monday night, a week after the PSNI told the republican party that dissidents were planning to attack its vice-president Michelle O'Neill and North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly.

That came after they both attended a PSNI recruitment event on February 4, a move which Chief Constable Simon Byrne hailed as "seismic and historic".

It was the first time a senior Sinn Fein figure had attended a recruitment launch for the police.

Ms O'Neill said the party was informed by the PSNI that the attack could happen anywhere across Northern Ireland and urged Sinn Fein members to be vigilant.

Mr Kelly branded the threat "stupid".

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DUP Policing Board member Mervyn Storey said that threats made against those who support the PSNI, as well as those who threatened police over the last 40 years, "were all wrong".

"The unfortunate reality is there are those who are prepared to use any opportunity to slay people who want to give their support to the police," he said.

"There is no justification for this type of behaviour and it shouldn't deter the members of Sinn Fein from stepping up to the plate and continuing to show support for the police.

"Many of us have had to live with this type of activity over the years but it hasn't deterred us from doing what is right against those who are determined to try and do what is wrong."

Ulster Unionist MLA Alan Chambers said any attack on politicians or political parties is an attack on the democratic process.

"There was never any excuse for targeting politicians or political parties in the past, and there is no excuse for targeting them now," he said.

"We condemn them unreservedly, we always have and we always will.

"Those who use or threaten to use violence must be defeated."

Upper Bann's SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly believes a concerted effort by the police and people in the community is needed to put the dissidents "out of business".

The Policing Board member called on those with information to bring it to the PSNI or use the confidential Crimestoppers helpline.

"We would want to condemn this threat," she said.

"Our party suffered threats from both republicans and loyalists over the years so we know exactly the feeling and the concern that people would have.

"Everyone in society should take the responsibility in putting these people out of business to let us all move on."

Alliance MLA John Blair described the threats as wrong at "every level" and said they are a thing of the past.

"It is abundantly clear that the moving on happened because it was the will of the people of Northern Ireland and all of its people should work together to overcome these threats and keep moving on," he said.

"Therefore, anybody with any information should forward that information to police immediately."

Speaking yesterday, Gerry Kelly explained that a senior police officer made Sinn Fein aware of the threat at 8pm on Monday.

He confirmed that the New IRA threat against all of the party's members was directly linked to his and Ms O'Neill's attendance at the PSNI recruitment event earlier this month.

"They are a very active organisation," Mr Kelly told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster. "They are a small organisation but can be dangerous.

"However, it was envisaged that it was an attack that was going to be a car bomb and that it could be anywhere at any time and the fact that it could be anywhere at any time means that they are deliberately trying to intimidate members of Sinn Fein and indeed their families.

"Is it serious? The police are taking it very seriously and I am taking it very seriously. If they intend to put it on a car then families are in danger as well."

Despite describing the bomb threat as "stupid", Mr Kelly said that the New IRA are capable of killing members of the public but he was confident that Sinn Fein's members will not be deterred from pursuing a united Ireland.

"We have called on them to disband and Michelle O'Neill directly called on them to disband," he said.

"I don't think anyone understands [the threat].

"However, because they are dangerous and because they do this stuff which has no logic in it whatsoever - they also have no strategy and no politics frankly - then let them explain it."

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