What ever people may think about the late John Kelly, above all else he was an indefatigable and unbowed Irish Republican. Born in Belfast in 1936 his families Republicanism stretched back to the beginning of the 20th century, when his uncle Billy acted as James Connolly’s Election Agent. He was an active Volunteer from his teens, serving 15 years in jails, both north and south of a border he was committed to destroy.
Due to the comparative success of the NICRM the then leadership of the IRA attempted to move the movement away from armed struggle towards a Stalinist form of left politics. When the northern State-let descended into sectarian loyalist violence, after the Stormont Government decided to crush the fledgling Civil Rights movement with political repression, the policeman’s baton and water cannon, Kelly was amongst a number of northern Volunteers who resigned from the IRA and went on to form the Provisional IRA.
Along with others, John Kelly was sent south in an attempt to obtain arms and money for the new organization from the southern Irish government. What ever the truth of this matter, Kelly was later arrested and charged with conspiracy to acquire the weapons, along with leading southern politician’s Charlie Haughey, Neil Blaney and southern Irish Army Intel officer Capt James Kelly,[no relation] a Belgian arms dealer Albert Luykx was also charged. After the first trial collapsed, all of the defendants were eventually cleared in a second trial.
After his acquittal in the Arms Trial John Kelly reported back to the Provisional Republican Movement, receiving another sentence for membership of the PIRA in 1974. He was to eventually settled in Maghera, Co Derry, in 1996 he won a seat for Sinn Féin on Magherafelt District Council. After the signing of the Good Friday Agreement he was also elected as an MLA to the new power sharing Assembly at Stormont, representing the constituency of Mid-Ulster. After a bout of ill health he stood down as an MLA in 2003, although it soon became apparent that John Kelly was not a man to take to a pipe and slippers and in retirement he became further disillusioned with the direction Gerry Adams was taking the PRM in.
He could not understand Mr Adams continued denial of his membership of Óglaigh Na hÉireann. For men and women like John, membership of the IRA was not only a national duty but something to be proud of and to deny membership in the way Mr Adams has, when he had no need to go beyond a “no comment” was to deny ones past deeds and fallen comrades. In a 2004 interview with the Irish News John Kelly said he was “”disappointed and flabbergasted” with the vehemence with which Gerry Adams has rejected persistent allegations that he was once an IRA member.
From that day on Mr Adams acolytes attempted to do their masters bidding by smearing John Kelly, which only reinvigorated the veteran republican, who believing the best form of defense is attack came out fighting. At the time of his standing down as an MLA there was much speculation that he had certain differences with the Adams leadership clique. At the time Kelly refused to speculate but once he found himself under attack he went into some detail. He lifted the lid on just what an undemocratic and top down outfit he believed SF had become under the leadership of Gerry Adams. For this alone many former members of SF who had experienced similar treatment at the hands of the Adams leadership will be eternally grateful to John Kelly, for unlike some he put the truth before mockney reputations that can be created and obliterated at the will of a vainglorious Party leader. John Kelly is survived by his wife Philomena and daughter Bronagh.
*The full text of John Kelly’s interview with the IrIsh News can be read here,