Unionists have branded Sinn Fein “insenstive” and “hypocritical” after it emerged the party has been using Shankill bomber Sean Kelly as an election activist.
There were heated scenes during a televised debate on Monday night between general election candidates, after the DUP’s Sir Jeffrey Donaldson claimed that Kelly, who was convicted of murdering nine people in the IRA’s 1993 Shankill Road bomb, has been canvassing for Sinn Fein.
Sir Jeffrey was responding to a claim by Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd that the DUP and UDA were jointly attempting to dominate the political scene in Northern Ireland.
Mr O’Dowd was commenting on the endorsement of a number of unionist candidates by the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) - an umbrella group representing the three main loyalist paramilitary groups in the region.
“The DUP use the UDA for elections, the UDA use the DUP in government,” said Mr O’Dowd.
During the live BBC One Northern Ireland election debate, Sir Jeffrey denied the accusation, insisting his party rejected the backing of the LCC.
He then produced a picture of Sinn Fein candidate Mairtin O Muilleoir standing with UDA leader Jackie McDonald.
The DUP man added: “Sean Kelly the Shankill bomber who was responsible for the murder of nine innocent people on the Shankill Road is out campaigning for Sinn Fein in this election. Can you imagine Sean Kelly the Shankill bomber arriving on your doorstep?”
Mr O’Dowd responded: “Sean Kelly is out canvassing to promote politics and the peace process.”
Kelly has reportedly been seen visiting homes and handing out leaflets for the party in North Belfast — doors away from the home of a man whose murder he was questioned over last year.
Sir Jeffrey told the News Letter on Tuesday: “We recognise that because someone has past involvement in paramilitary activities does not mean they can’t renounce violence and become involved in the political process.
“But there is no indication that Shankill bomber Sean Kelly has shown any remorse for the lives he destroyed.
“At a time when we are thinking about the families of victims of the terror attacks in Manchester and London, and also families of IRA violence, it is insensitive to have someone like Sean Kelly arriving on your doorstep.”
Responding to Sir Jeffrey’s remarks, a Sinn Fein spokesperson told the News Letter: “Former republican prisoners who support the peace process have the right - and should be encouraged - to engage in democratic politics.
“Jeffrey Donaldson would better serve loyalist communities and wider society by exposing the loyalist parmilitary murderers and criminals who prey on their own people.”
Former Lord Mayor of Belfast, DUP Councillor Brian Kingston has also condemned Sinn Fein’s actions, posting on Twitter: “What does this say about Sinn Fein’s attitude to innocent victims of terrorism? Unbelievably poor taste! This is their reality”.
UUP MLA Doug Beattie told the News Letter: “It is hugely hypocritical for Sinn Fein to attack unionist parties for engaging with loyalists who have moved away from conflict and are doing good in their communities, while at the same time they have a convicted murderer out canvassing for them.”
Sean Kelly (43) was part of a two-man team who carried out the Shankill bombing on October 23, 1993, one of the most notorious atrocities of the Troubles.
The IRA’s intention was to assassinate the UDA leadership, due to be meeting in a room above Frizzell’s fish shop.
Instead, their bomb exploded prematurely killing nine people in the shop and wounding 50 more.
It later emerged the UDA meeting above the shop had been cancelled.
Kelly was convicted for his role in the bombing but was released in 2000 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
He has been arrested on a number of occasions since then, most recently last year as part of the investigation into the murder of father-of-two Conor McKee.
He was found shot dead at his home off the Oldpark Road in north Belfast in January last year.
It has been reported that his family still live in the area where Kelly has been seen canvassing.