A prominent former IRA Volunteer has spoken out for the first time to defend himself after unionists called for him to be returned to prison by the British authorities.
Sean Kelly, who was injured in an IRA attack on a UDA death-squad in the Shankill Road in 1993, repeated his support for the peace process and said he has been used as a “political football”.
The prominent republican spoke out after it was reported that DUP leader Peter Robinson had asked British Prime Minister David Cameron to revoke his early release licence and that of another former republican prisoner.
Kelly is one of 12 people who have so far been questioned by the PSNI amid claims that individual members of the Provisional IRA were involved in the ‘revenge’ killing of Kevin McGuigan in east Belfast last month.
Kelly denies any involvement in the attack and says he was on a break in County Donegal at the time.
“I put it to Peter Robinson, who does he think he is, the first minister or the chief constable?”
He believes the DUP are focusing on him because they are under pressure form the UUP, who have pulled out of the Six County Executive over claims that the Provisional IRA still exists.
“Who do you think you are to use me as a political pawn or any ex-republican prisoner as a pawn?” he said. “I am a firm supporter of the peace process and have been since I was released from jail.”
The Ardoyne man said he has worked with former prisoner groups and the local community in recent years.
“It is a big step for me to do this (giving an interview)” he said. “But there comes a time when you have to stand up for yourself and tell people to stop treating you as a political football when they know my stance on the peace process.”
Kelly said he was “proud to be a republican and will always be a republican.”
In June 2005 Kelly was returned to jail by then British Direct Ruler Peter Hain after claims that he was involved in rioting. He was released weeks later just days before the Provisional IRA formally announced an end to their armed campaign.
His lawyer Seamus Delaney said that no evidence was put to his client during ten interviews and two days at Antrim police station last month.
He also revealed his client is set to take legal action against the PSNI for wrongful arrest and unlawful imprisonment and described the arrest as “a demonstration of political policing.”
“From the first interview to the last interview I was asking them, ‘put the evidence to Sean Kelly’,” he said. “There was not a pick of evidence, not one scintilla to connect him with the killing.”
Mr Delaney believes the first minister was merely reacting to political developments by raising the subject of his client at this time.
“Peter Robinson had plenty of time to set out his position and it is not coincidental that the Ulster unionists up the ante and he is trying to take a harder stance.”
Sinn Fein justice spokesman Gerry Kelly criticised Mr Robinson’s call.
“The fact that Peter Robinson has asked David Cameron to revoke the licences of individual republican ex-prisoners is not acceptable,” he said.
“The DUP have quite deliberately chosen to ignore the fact that both of these men have been released unconditionally by the police.
“It is also unacceptable that these individuals have had their identities revealed in the public arena by the media. This is clearly an attempt by unionists to subvert the justice system.”
Another republican, Sean Clinton, is also suing the PSNI chief for false arrest, false imprisonment and unlawful detention after he was arrested and released without charge.
The father-of-four said that during the 36 hours he was held at Antrim Interrogation Centre, no evidence was put to him either.
“The PSNI arrived at my door around 6am on August 19, they said they were arresting me in connection with the murder of Kevin McGuigan and took me to Antrim. The house was then searched for a further 12 hours. Two cars were taken, one belonging to me, one belonging to my eldest daughter, who is pregnant. They took phones, they took two laptops, one belonging to my daughter who is about to start her A-Levels, and they took the memory sticks with my daughter’s work.”
Mr Clinton says he believes he was arrested simply because he is a republican and knew both Kevin McGuigan and Jock Davison.
“I’m a republican and my name, my face, suits to be thrown into the middle of this and I just don’t believe I should’ve been arrested...
“I’m trying to redress this for my family. We have strong connections in the Short Strand and I feel this has put me back out there when I have been trying not to be. I’m just a pawn in the middle of this whole game.”