Gerry Kelly

gerry kellyGerry Kelly (1953- ) is a Sinn Fein politician and a former Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteer. Gerard Kelly was born in Belfast, the son of a labourer with 11 children. He was educated in a Catholic primary school on the Falls Road. After completing his secondary education Kelly obtained work as a clerk with the local electricity board. As a teenager Kelly became caught up in the sectarian unrest of the late 1960s. He supported the civil rights movement, joined the Republican youth league Fianna √Čireann and participated in urban rioting. In August 1971 Kelly was arrested by Republic of Ireland police while in possession of weapons; he was convicted and sentenced to two years in Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison. In January 1972 Kelly escaped from Mountjoy and returned to Northern Ireland, where he joined the Provisional IRA.

In 1973 Kelly travelled to London, along with sisters Marian and Dolours Price, to initiate the Provisional IRA’s Mainland Campaign. They planted four car bombs in London, two of which exploded, killing one person. Kelly was arrested in November, convicted and sentenced to two life sentences. He went on a hunger strike after being denied Special Category Status (SCS); the strike failed after Kelly was force-fed by prison guards. Kelly was subsequently transferred to HM Prison Maze. He is perhaps best known for orchestrating a mass escape in September 1983. Using smuggled handguns, Kelly and 36 Republican prisoners hijacked a prison truck and burst out of the Maze, shooting a prison guard in the process. Kelly returned to active service with the IRA. A British intelligence report described him as “an extremely dangerous, resourceful and dedicated terrorist”. Kelly remained at large until January 1986 when he was arrested by Dutch police in the Netherlands. He was extradited to Belfast and returned to the Maze until his release in mid 1989.

During the 1990s Kelly became a prominent figure in Sinn Fein. He was an important negotiator, participating in secret talks with the British government and during the Good Friday negotiations in 1998. The following year he visited Republican inmates in the Maze to discuss disarmament and early release. Kelly was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1998, representing North Belfast; he still holds this seat today. He also served as a junior minister in the Northern Ireland Executive between 2007 and 2011. In 2015 it was revealed that in 1986 Kelly was given a secret royal pardon for his paramilitary offences. Maze, a motion picture about the 1983 prison breakout, is due for release in late 2017.

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