Donaldson: Fundamental flaws of the GFA were exploited by Sinn Fein

Lagan Valley DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson outside Dromore Cathedral in County Down, Northern Ireland
Lagan Valley DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson outside Dromore Cathedral in County Down, Northern Ireland

A former IRA bomber who killed nine people served less than a year’s imprisonment following the Good Friday Agreement for each life destroyed, a senior Democratic Unionist has said.

A device exploded prematurely at Frizzell’s fish shop in Belfast’s Shankill Road in 1993 as the IRA targeted the leadership of the loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA), who were to be meeting above the shop.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson rejected the 1998 peace deal because paramilitary prisoners would be released without terrorist weapons being decommissioned.

The IRA destroyed arms in 2005.

Sir Jeffrey told the Press Association: “Sean Kelly was to be released from prison having served less than one year for each life that he destroyed with that fatal bomb on the Shankill Road.

“I find that morally difficult to accept.”

Kelly had been told he would serve nine life sentences in prison, one for each life he took.

Sir Jeffrey later left the UUP to join the DUP and is Lagan Valley MP.

He was a senior Ulster Unionist under former leader David Trimble; part of a group of dissenters who vowed they would not touch the peace accord with a barge pole.

Sir Jeffrey said failure to link the prison releases to decommissioning was a “fundamental flaw”.

“Actually the failure to require the IRA to decommission their weapons before the prospect of Sinn Fein being in government was also a very significant failure in the agreement.

“Those were going to result in serious problems with the implementation of the agreement.

“Reaching an agreement is only the end of the beginning; implementation of that agreement is often more challenging than the process of negotiating the agreement.

“Peace processes can unravel.”

He said constructive ambiguity can delay implementation of deals; addressing the legacy of Northern Ireland’s violent past awaits resolution.

He said it was important to get right what was agreed or face serious problems with implementation and undermine confidence in the capacity to resolve outstanding issues.

Sir Jeffrey’s objections to the agreement included:

l That the British government was agreeing early release of paramilitary prisoners, reducing the time frame to two years.

l The link to decommissioning had been “watered down”, with Sinn Fein only required to use its “best efforts” to persuade the IRA to destroy arms.

l Proposals on reforming policing were vague, with no guarantees that the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) would be protected.

l Sinn Fein could form part of a devolved power-sharing coalition at Stormont without the IRA destroying weapons.