An off-duty soldier who survived a gun attack more than 30 years ago in Northern Ireland to launch a political career is a hero, Peter Robinson said.
DUP councillor Sammy Brush, then a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment, suffered horrific injuries in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone, in June 1981.
He was shot by ex-IRA man Gerry McGeough, who was convicted of attempted murder and jailed for 20 years in 2011. Sinn Fein said McGeough’s war was now over and his incarceration unjustified.
Mr Robinson said: “Today we will each decide who the real victim is. Is it Gerry McGeough, a bloody and evil terrorist who, with murder on his mind and in his heart, sought in a cowardly fashion to take the life of a public servant or is it Sammy Brush, who while doing his job serving a rural community was shot twice in the back, once in the chest and again in the shoulder, who spent weeks in hospital and still receives treatment and medication to this day?”
He added: “The motion I have moved asks each of us to choose between victim and perpetrator...for my part I will stand with Sammy Brush, to me he is not just a victim, he is a hero.”
Mr Brush was working as a postman at the time he was attacked and was making a delivery near Aughnacloy. McGeough was convicted of his attempted murder, possession of a firearm and ammunition, and IRA membership.
Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement he is expected to serve only two years of his sentence and is due for release in April next year.
Sinn Fein MLA Mitchel McLaughlin said Mr McGeough was opposed to his party.
“It is a matter of record and indeed long before he was rearrested he made clear his support for the peace process, he made clear that his war was over and that we were in a post-conflict scenario so his entitlement under the Weston Park Agreement (2001) was quite flagrantly set aside,” he said.
Last month Dungannon and South Tyrone Council, of which Mr Brush is a member, passed a Sinn Fein motion that called for Mr McGeough’s release.
DUP Lord Maurice Morrow said: “Sinn Fein sank to a new low in Dungannon when they penned this motion.
“Consequently, without hesitation I and my fellow MLA for Fermanagh South Tyrone Arlene Foster, with the emphatic support of First Minister Peter Robinson proposed the Assembly Motion, to show solidarity to our colleague Sammy Brush.
“It’s time, he as the real victim in this matter was supported and afforded the respect he deserves. He is both victim and hero. McGeough is neither.”
*Full reports in Tuesday’s News Letter