Provisional IRA founding member and former Sinn Fein assemblyman John Kelly has died.
Born in Belfast, Mr Kelly joined the IRA in the early 1950s and was leader of the Provisional IRA during the 1970 Arms Trial that implicated senior members of the 26-County Government.
He was jailed three times for his part in the armed struggle, serving a total of 15 years in prison on both sides of the border.
Mr Kelly left politics in 2003 amid a disagreement over Sinn Fein’s political direction, describing the party as a “control dictatorship”. Although de-selected for his assembly seat in Mid-Ulster, he remained politically active and determinedly republican.
He strongly criticised Sinn Fein’s decision to embrace the PSNI police and issued statements and letters calling for an alternative republican strategy alongside other prominent republicans, including former hunger strikers Brendan ‘The Dark’ Hughes.
“The people’s desire for peace has been cynically exploited,” one such statement read.
“We have always desired peace. We reject the logic of the proposition that the interests of peace can be in any way served by our young people signing up to join the British Crown forces such as the RUC/PSNI.”
Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness extended his condolences to Mr Kelly’s family.
“John Kelly was originally from Belfast and had an involvement with the Republican struggle over many decades including time spent in prison. For many he first came to prominence during the arms trial in Dublin in the early 1970s at a time when the nationalist population in the north was under huge pressure.
“Much later he was elected as a Sinn Fein MLA for Mid-Ulster and served in the first Assembly following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
“In recent years at a political level John clearly had a different view to ourselves on the political process.
“However when I heard the news of John’s passing last night after a long illness I was genuinely saddened and I would like to extend my condolences and those of the Sinn Fein leadership to John’s wife Philomena and family.”