Northern Ireland

Gerry Kelly did not breach MLA code during Castlederg parade

Gerry Kelly
Image caption Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly made the speech at the republican parade in Castlederg last August

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly has been cleared of breaching Stormont's code of conduct after he took part in a controversial IRA commemoration.

Two IRA bombers were among republicans honoured during the parade in Castlederg, County Tyrone, last August.

Mr Kelly was accused of "glorifying terrorism" when he addressed the event.

Stormont's Committee on Standards and Privileges was asked to investigate but found Mr Kelly was entitled to free speech and did not breach MLA rules.

During the Castlederg commemoration, tributes were paid to two IRA men who were killed by their own bomb in 1973.

'Insult'

Seamus Harvey and Gerard McGlynn died when the device they were transporting exploded prematurely.

Unionist politicians said the event was an insult to the victims of terrorism and three official complaints were lodged with the committee, alleging that Mr Kelly had glorified the activities of the IRA.

The investigation was carried out by Scotland's Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life, Stuart Allan.

Mr Allan said he believed Mr Kelly's speech "will have caused distress and hurt to those within the Protestant or unionist tradition, particularly those living in the Castlederg area".

'Gross insensitivity'

Image caption The Castlederg event commemorated republicans who died in the Troubles, including two IRA bombers

However, he concluded that the Sinn Féin representative had a right to express his political point of view.

"I have concluded that Mr Kelly was entitled to express his opinion on the matters dealt with in his speech and that no aspect of that speech could reasonably be taken to conflict with the principles and duties set out in the code or to amount to the encouragement of terrorism."

Democratic Unionist Party MLA Thomas Buchanan, who was one of the three people who lodged the complaints, said he was disappointed by the ruling.

"Whilst the Assembly Standards Commissioner or the committee may not have been able to find against Gerry Kelly, there is no doubt that the vast majority of the public in Northern Ireland were appalled by the gross insensitivity displayed by republicans in Castlederg," he said.

Mr Buchanan said it was "right" that Mr Allan had "recognised the huge hurt and distress caused to victims by this speech and the entire event in Castlederg last August".

'Costly antics'

Mr Kelly welcomed the findings of the report but said the complaints against him and the resources it took to investigate them were a waste of time and public money.

"The right to free speech is protected by the European Convention on Human Rights and unionist MLAs should cease these fruitless and costly antics," the Sinn Féin MLA said.

In his 98-page report, Mr Allan said the code of conduct of the Northern Ireland Assembly "provides that members are entitled to legally express any political opinion that they may hold".

"In doing so, however, members should have regard to the principles of conduct and should not express opinions in a manner that is manifestly in conflict with these principles."

The principles of conduct that MLAs are required to uphold are public duty, accountability, equality, promoting good relations and respect.

The rules of the code state that MLAs must "base their conduct on a consideration of the public interest, avoid conflict between personal interest and the public interest and resolve any conflict between the two, at once, and in favour of the public interest".

More on this story