‘Grave consequences’ after former IRA bomber’s arrest

Sean Kelly
Sean Kelly

The arrest of a notorious former IRA bomber over a shooting in Belfast could have “grave consequences” for the political process, the First Minister warned.

Sean Kelly, 39, was once jailed for life for an attack at a fish shop on the loyalist Shankill Road which killed 10 people.

He was detained by police at his home in the republican Ardoyne area yesterday, close to where an 18-year-old was wounded three times in his legs following a so-called punishment shooting.

Democratic Unionist leader Peter Robinson is seeking talks with Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable Matt Baggott but Sinn Fein deputy First Minister and Stormont power-sharing partner Martin McGuinness said members of the DUP should keep their nerve.

Mr Robinson said: “This connection raises potentially grave consequences for the process and we will want to meet with the chief constable to establish the background of this case and how the police are able to conclude that it is not paramilitary-linked.”

The suspect was arrested yesterday and remains in custody but has not been charged. Police are treating the incident as a shooting but not a paramilitary-style attack.

The victim had emergency hospital treatment but his condition is described as stable.

Mr McGuinness said: “The assertion that this shooting in north Belfast, which I unreservedly condemn, and the facts of which are at this stage under PSNI investigation and are unclear, should threaten the political process is frankly ridiculous.

“The DUP should keep their nerve.”

Kelly received nine life sentences for an attack at Frizzell’s fish shop in the loyalist Shankill Road area in 1993. A second IRA man who was with him was among those killed when a 5lb bomb exploded prematurely.

The intended targets were loyalist paramilitary leaders who had been expected to hold a meeting in a room above the shop.

Kelly was pulled from the rubble of the collapsed building. He lost an eye and the power of his left arm. There were 60 other survivors.

He was jailed for life two years later, but as part of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement peace agreement he was freed with hundreds of other loyalist and republican prisoners.

He became an immediate hate figure among loyalists, especially in Belfast.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has the power to consider his early release licence. Kelly was sent back to jail in 2005 when his licence was revoked by the then Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain amid allegations the top republican had become involved again in terrorism. He was held for a month at the top-security Maghaberry Prison in Co Antrim.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds called for Ms Villiers to act quickly to assess whether to revoke Kelly’s early release licence and return him to prison.

He said: “People such as Sean Kelly should never have been released from prison in the first place and all those who supported such measures in 1998 bear a heavy responsibility.”

A Northern Ireland Office (NIO) spokeswoman said the department could not comment on individual cases.