Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Kelly defies SDLP ban to accept OBE in New Year’s honors list

Dearbhail McDonald:

A PROMINENT member of the SDLP spent last night smashing plates in Greece. While the locals were saying goodbye to 2005, Tom Kelly was celebrating the OBE that he received in the New Year’s honours list.

Even though the nationalist SDLP bans its elected representatives from receiving gongs, the party said yesterday it was “delighted” that Kelly, a public relations executive and the party’s representative on the Northern Ireland policing board, received the honour.

“I am delighted for Tom and wish him well,” said Alasdair McDonnell, the deputy leader of the SDLP. “His work on the policing board has been superb. He deserves any award that he receives in recognition for his work in the community. Whether he chooses, as a party member, to accept his award is his decision, but I accept it. If Tom is comfortable with it, so am I.”

McDonnell’s stance suggests his party’s view on the British honours system has changed significantly.

The SDLP’s official position has always been that these awards endorse the British state and the royal family. The party has criticised nationalist honours recipients in the past, including Lord (Gerry) Fitt, its founder, who was knighted after leaving the party in 1983. John Hume, another former leader, refused a gong in 1998, the year he won the Nobel peace prize.

The party almost split 12 years ago when Mary McSorley, a councillor in Londonderry, accepted an MBE.

Kelly said yesterday he was conscious that his decision to accept the award could be controversial. He did not consult the SDLP about the nomination, telling only one party colleague beforehand. He informed Eddie McGrady, the South Down MP whose election agent he was last year, about the OBE last Friday.

Speaking from Athens yesterday, Kelly said: “I’m really happy. We’re going to celebrate it tonight (New Year’s Eve) by smashing plates. We’ve been in Greece for all of Christmas and I’ve been dying to break plates all week, but I haven’t had the chance yet.

“I was surprised, to be honest, because I am a fairly stringent critic of the government in my column in the Irish News. I wasn’t sure I should accept it, but I was persuaded to do so after talking to my dad and other members of my family.”

Michael Kelly, Tom’s father, said: “Why wouldn’t he accept it? Tom has worked very hard in everything that he has done, including all his charity, business and policing work. He deserves it and we are very proud of him.”

Kelly’s accolade was listed on the official Number 10 Downing Street website, but not by the Northern Ireland Office, leading to speculation that he had exercised his right not to have his name identified on the official Northern Ireland list. But Kelly, who joins the broadcaster Terry Wogan, businessman Allen McClay and Ken Newell, the former moderator of the Presbyterian Church, on the honours list, said he is happy to go public.

The SDLP should just merge with the Ulster Unionist Party and get it over with. No one who knows anything about politics in the north of Ireland seriously believes that the SDLP is a nationalist political party.

Sinn Féin challenge SDLP over OBE decision

All that glitters....


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