Friday 23 February 2018

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly facing calls to quit after footage emerges of him cutting off wheel clamp

Victoria Leonard

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly has said "no one is above the law" following a police interview in which he was questioned about using bolt cutters to remove a wheel clamp in Belfast.

The North Belfast MLA is facing calls to resign and could be reported to Stormont's standards watchdog after he was filmed taking off the clamp following a visit to a gym.

Last night, Mr Kelly tweeted: "No one can be above the law. I made a voluntary arrangement to meet the police and met them today for interview.

"I want to get the issue resolved as soon as possible."

Sinn Fein leader-in-waiting Mary Lou McDonald appeared lost for words when quizzed on the matter by reporters yesterday.

She said Mr Kelly's solicitors were dealing with the issue, and she did not yet have "the facts of exactly what happened".

Asked why Mr Kelly was carrying a set of bolt cutters, Ms McDonald laughed: "I have absolutely no idea.

"I have absolutely no clue why Gerry has a bolt cutter in his car."

TUV leader Jim Allister, who is calling for former Policing Board member Mr Kelly to resign, said he would "explore" lodging a complaint with Stormont's Office for the Commissioner for Standards.

However, with no commissioner in place, it is unclear what action, if any, can be taken.

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly outside Antrim Police station in 2014
Pic:Mark Condren
Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly outside Antrim Police station in 2014 Pic:Mark Condren

Video footage of the incident, which occurred last Friday, shows Mr Kelly coming out of a silver car in Exchange Street, behind the Metropolitan Arts Centre.

On the driver's window of the car is a large 'Stop' sign warning of the clamp.

The MLA is seen bending down to lift a set of bolt cutters, before appearing to work at a chain under the car. He then appears to remove the orange clamp from the vehicle's right-hand wheel, before resting it against a nearby wall.

The maximum sentence for criminal damage in Northern Ireland varies from a community order to 12 months in custody and a compensation order.

Mr Kelly's actions were reported to the PSNI by the company that fitted the clamp, the Parking and Enforcement Agency (PEA).

A spokesman for the MAC said the area was "clearly marked as a no parking zone" with "signage in the area".

Last night the PSNI said it had spoken to Mr Kelly. It said: "Police have interviewed a 64-year-old man at Musgrave Police Station in relation to an allegation of criminal damage which occurred at Exchange Street, Belfast, on Friday."

Mr Allister said the Sinn Fein MLA "had no right" to remove the clamp and must not get away with it.

"His audacious taking of the law into his own hands must not go unchallenged by the law enforcement agencies," he said.

"Sinn Fein's spokesperson on policing seems to think that he is above the law.

"A complaint can still be made to the Assembly's Commissioner for Standards, even though it wouldn't be activated until there was a commissioner is in place. I will be exploring putting in a complaint.

"I think he should do what Mr McElduff did and exit the public stage."

Posting on the South East Fermanagh Foundation Facebook page, victims' campaigner Kenny Donaldson described the incident as the "latest two fingers to law and order".

Meanwhile, North Belfast DUP MP Nigel Dodds called for the Sinn Fein leadership to "finally take action" over Mr Kelly, after its handling of the recent Barry McElduff controversy.

"The Gerry Kelly incident is symptomatic of a wider pattern of behaviour by leading Sinn Fein figures," he said.

"They regard themselves as not being bound by the same rules as the rest of society.

"They preach respect but show little or no respect for people, rules or laws which they disagree with. They preach equality but, to them, some are more equal than others.

"This is another significant test for the Sinn Fein leadership."

Sinn Fein said that Mr Kelly had "returned to his car after an early morning gym session to find that his car had been made immobile by a clamp just after 7.20am".

It added: "He removed the clamp from the front wheel.

"He left the device nearby and drove off to pre-arranged meetings. His solicitor is dealing with the matter and he will be making no further comment at this time."

The Office of the Commissioner for Standards' website says all complaints will be passed to the next commissioner "as soon as one is appointed by the Assembly".

It's only the start of February, but already 2018 is proving to be an annus horribilis for Sinn Fein.

Last month, its West Tyrone MP Barry McElduff resigned under pressure after posting a tweet with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head on the anniversary of the IRA’s Kingsmill massacre in 1976.

At the weekend, the party said it had suspended a Dublin councillor following a complaint from another Sinn Fein representative.

The party’s claim to pay representatives the average wage also came under scrutiny after it emerged one TD was given a “special deal” in 2011 to allow him to claim the full €90,000 (£79,400) Dail salary.

And allegations of a bullying culture inside the party have continued to emerge regularly.

Belfast Telegraph

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