A tweet from senior Sinn Féin figure Gerry Kelly about a book he penned on the infamous Maze prison escape shows “how far they have to travel”, the UUP’s Doug Beattie has said.
Mr Beattie added his voice to criticism of Mr Kelly’s tweet, which he described as “tasteless”.
Mr Kelly, a convicted IRA bomber, was one of 38 inmates to flee during the Maze escape, the biggest jail breakout in UK history.
Warder James Ferris died of a heart attack after being stabbed. Two other warders were shot but survived while a total of 20 prison officers were injured.
HMP Maze was, at the time, considered one of the most secure prisons in Europe.
Gerry Kelly went on to write a book about the breakout.
His tweet suggested the book would make a good St Valentine’s Day present.
Mr Kelly’s tweet read: “With St Valentine’s Day just a few days away, I’ll be giving away a free signed copy of my book.”
Mr Beattie said: “In one tasteless tweet, Gerry Kelly manages to encapsulate the difficulty Northern Ireland faces in moving forward.
“When Sinn Fein talk of truth and reconciliation, it is clear they have a major struggle with both concepts. This tweet indicates how far they have to travel regarding reconciliation, and understand the huge legacy of hurt caused by the IRA’s terrorist actions.
“When it comes to the truth, at least Gerry Kelly can admit he was actually in the IRA – which is a step further than Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has ever managed.
“The Maze escape saw one prison officer die of a heart attack and 20 others were injured, two of whom were shot. My thoughts are with the men and women in the Prison Service, who did their duty that day, and tried to prevent criminals from breaking out of jail.
“It is a sad indictment that almost 34 years on, the staff of the Northern Ireland Prison Service still face a deadly threat from violent republicans. Mr Kelly would do well to ponder the fate of David Black and Adrian Ismay the next time he seeks to make light of the Maze escape.”
The Prison Officers’ Association also criticised Mr Kelly’s tweet, saying his book would be a “distasteful” Valentine’s gift.
“As the author of this book, it’s Mr Kelly’s right to promote it as he pleases,” said the POA’s Adrian Smith. “However, as a Valentine’s gift, the Prison Officers’ Association would find it very distasteful, as there is nothing romantic about the death of a prison officer.”