THE pressure on Sinn Fein has intensified for appointing former IRA convict Ian Milne to replace Francie Molloy as MLA for Mid Ulster, after the Sinn Fein man won the race for Martin McGuinness’s seat at Westminster.
The DUP’s Ian McCrea and UUP’s Sandra Overend – who both backed unionist unity candidate Nigel Lutton last month in the Westminster by-election – have condemned the move to promote a politician, once dubbed one of ‘three most wanted men’, to Stormont.
Jailbreaker and convicted terrorist Milne was lauded in republican newspaper An Phoblacht in March 2006 as one of the wanted trio, along with Francis Hughes and Dominic McGlinchey.
The paper reported: “Fortunately, Milne was part of the massive escape from Portlaoise Prison a couple of months later (that was in 1974). After the escape Ian Milne, Francis Hughes and other IRA volunteers formed a new military unit – they were very active in the six counties.
“British Army and RUC posters announcing that Ian Milne, Francis Hughes and Dominic McGlinchey were the ‘three most wanted’ were soon in circulation.
“In 1977, Ian was arrested in Lurgan and charged with killing a UDR soldier. He was sentenced to life in prison and on arrival in H4 in the H-blocks of Long Kesh, joined the blanket protest.”
Mr McCrea described the appointment of “a convicted murderer like Ian Milne as Sinn Fein’s latest MLA” as offensive to innocent victims.
He said: “In the Maze prison, he was a leading republican during many protests. Despite being involved in murder, Milne still maintains he was ‘not a terrorist’.
“Such arrogant comments offend innocent victims. There is no difference between the dissident terrorism of 2013 and the PIRA terrorism of 1977.
“Only a matter of months ago, Sinn Fein’s chairman Declan Kearney said he wanted to lead a campaign for reconciliation.
“The appointment of a convicted murderer like Ian Milne demonstrates that Sinn Fein is not interested in reconciliation for innocent victims but rather want to write their version of the past.”
Mrs Overend said it was particularly hard for Mid Ulster to stomach that such a wanted terrorist was now thrust into the democratic process – “especially when you mix in the fact that the IRA murdered the father of the agreed unionist candidate Nigel Lutton”.
Frederick Lutton, 40, a former RUC Reservist, was gunned down in May 1974 as he locked the gates of National Trust property The Argory near Moy, where he worked.
“It makes a mockery of Sinn Fein’s double talk about a shared future,” said Mrs Overend. “And it makes it very difficult to work with them.”
The criticism of the two MLAs echoes the anger of East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell, who was scathing after Mr Milne was appointed chairman of Magherafelt District Council two years ago for the second time.
Homing in on the escape of 18 convicts from Portlaoise and the Maze blanket protest, Mr Campbell described the appointment as “reprehensible”.
At the time, Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly said former prisoners are “entitled to employment rights”, adding: “Almost half our Assembly team are former political prisoners.
“Many more ex-prisoners have played critical and positive roles in bringing the political process to where it is now.”