A Sinn Féin Stormont minister has stood by his party colleague Gerry Kelly over a tweet which has been described as “glorifying IRA terrorism”.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis was among those who blasted a tweet by Mr Kelly over the weekend marking the anniversary of a mass breakout from the Maze prison as “disgraceful and shameful”.
Mr Kelly, now a Sinn Fein MLA, was one of 38 IRA prisoners who escaped from the Maze in 1983.
Prison officer James Ferris died of a heart attack after being stabbed while attempting to stop the breakout.
The North Belfast MLA described the breakout as “one of Big Bob’s best ops”, referring to senior republican Bobby Storey, adding “I had the privilege of the front passenger seat.
“Well someone had to check we were taking the right route out!!”.
On Monday, Mr Kelly asked a question of the Executive Office of work towards designing an anti-sectarianism pledge for each MLA to commit to.
DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley put to Junior Minister Declan Kearney (Sinn Fein), who was responding to Mr Kelly’s question, that his party colleague was “involved in crass hypocrisy”.
“Mr Kelly not only glorified but gloated in a terrorist escape at the Maze … does he accept that this stands in stark contrast towards building a united community,” Mr Buckley said.
“This is a shameful action from a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.”
TUV leader Jim Allister put to Mr Kearney that Sinn Féin should “put an end to tweeting the glorification of terrorism”.
“Would he like to give a lead by indicating his party will now eschew such glorification of terrorism or will we be subjected to more of the same,” Mr Allister said.
Mr Kearney responded: “We all have narratives around our past, the conflict that we’ve lived through the last hundred years.
“Those narratives are in conflict with each other.
“We need, particularly in the context of this mandate of renewed power-sharing, to come together on the basis of respecting different narratives, to agree to disagree.
“We will not agree on the past but we can do our level best collectively, inclusively to try and build a united future for everyone in this society.”
Mr Kearney also warned that the centenary of the formation of Northern Ireland next year “throws up the prospect of a very very contested year where we disagree vehemently in relation to what happened in the past”.
“But perhaps … one of the things that we should actually try and do next year is rather than descend into the vortex of continually and relentlessly fighting over issues of the past that we look towards the centenary of partition as an opportunity to develop a new dialogue and discourse within our society about how in fact we can build for the future.”