17 September 2005

Hain sticks to his guns over release of IRA man Kelly

Belfast Telegraph

By Chris Thornton, Political Correspondent
17 September 2005

Freeing Shankill bomber Sean Kelly has contributed to the sense of grievance among loyalists, Secretary of State Peter Hain has admitted - but he says he couldn't have handled Kelly's imprisonment and release any other way.

The Secretary of State also defended the length of time it took him to drop recognition of the UVF ceasefire, saying he didn't want to jeopardise attempts behind closed doors to end the feud with the LVF.

But he said he was not specifically attacking unionist politicians yesterday when he accused unionists of becoming fellow travellers with "thuggery and gangsterism" in the wake of this week's loyalist rioting.

"Nothing I have said since the riots and gangsterism of last weekend has in anyway suggested that unionist politicians either incited or condoned the violence," he said.

"I have a good relationship with all unionist politicians and leaders and respect for them as we work together on the forward agenda. I well understand how difficult the present situation is for them."

Yesterday the Belfast Telegraph reported Mr Hain's remarks - which concerned a failure to react strongly to the violence against police - applied to unionist politicians. He has now indicated the remark applied generally to some unionists.

At the same time, SDLP leader Mark Durkan attacked unionist politicians for sitting alongside the UVF and UDA on the North and West Belfast Parades Forum.

After UUP and DUP councillors decided to boycott the Belfast Police Partnership, Mr Durkan said: "Clearly the UUP and DUP prefer to work with gunmen than the police.

"They prefer to work with people who shoot at the police than with the men and women whose job it is to enforce the law."

Mr Hain had returned Kelly to prison in June over suspicion he had again become involved in terrorism. But he released him in July the day before the IRA declared an end to its armed campaign.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Hain said: "There was no forward plan to let him out.

"I locked him up because he was breaching his licence. I had a report that arrived in my red box one night from the PSNI and it would have been irresponsible of me not to have acted on that.

"Equally it would have been wrong of me to ignore the fact that the IRA statement was of a historic and completely different kind from anything that had come before and opened up a new era in Northern Ireland, a statement to which he was signed up.

"Given that sequence of events, I don't think any other Secretary of State could have taken any different decisions.

"Is it the decision I'm most proud of? No, of course not. But given the circumstances I don't think any of those decisions could have been different."

In the wake of last week's rioting, Mr Hain said the Government would no longer recognise the UVF ceasefire.

UVF violence has been an issue for several months, but Mr Hain said he delayed the decision because of ongoing attempts to stop the group's feud with the LVF.

"There were other reasons why I delayed making a decision, in terms of other moves that were going on in an attempt to bring the feud to an end and attempts at dialogue - not by me, obviously," he said.

"And actually a premature specification could have got in the way in that.

"I don't have any regrets about the specification, either, but would it have changed anything on the ground over that weekend? I rather doubt it.

"And in a way there was a whole political hullabaloo around it, as if this was the be and end all. Now people are saying what difference has it made and that was my point all along."

Mr Hain said it would be "unreasonable" to exclude republicans - as distinct from IRA members - from joining the police.

"This is very simple," he said. "Anybody joining the Police Service, whatever their personal political position, whatever community they come from, have to conform to the same very high recruitment and vetting standards. Full stop, end of story.

"In a sense I don't want to know what their political views are. But I do want a Police Service, as it has increasingly become, that is representative of the community.

"And I do want republicans who have signed up for the democratic and peaceful future, I do want them to be supportive of the police and engage with the police.

"If people are saying that a 19-year-old from a family that has had republican connections is barred from joining the police straight out of school as a young recruit, despite satisfying all the standards, then obviously not. Obviously that's unreasonable."

But he said he was not saying "you can demobilise paramilitaries and integrate them". "Absolutely not," he added.

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