Gerry Kelly, the Old Bailey IRA bomber turned Sinn Féin minister in Northern Ireland, has won his libel action against Sir Tony O’Reilly’s, the Sunday World newspaper in Ireland.
The tabloid claimed that he had been the Provisional IRA’s chief of staff and had conducted an affair with Martha Pope, Senator George Mitchell’s senior aide who was also close to President Bill Clinton .
Mitchell and Pope had been sent by Clinton to Northern Ireland to help progress the peace process.Pope played a major behind the scene role.
However, Pope and Mitchell’s credibility was deeply damaged by newspaper reports in 1996 alleging an affair between her and Gerry Kelly a top level Republican, with a long IRA history who was also a Sinn Fein negotiator.
The allegations came to a head at a Democratic Unionist conference, when Reverend Ian Paisley created a sensation by declaring that "people in Senator Mitchell's office are not to be trusted for they're friends of leading members of the IRA".
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It is now believed that Pope and Kelly, who had actually never met, were victims of a British intelligence ‘dirty tricks’ effort to undermine the peace process.
Next day, two newspapers published headlines including "Dangerous Liaison", and "Sex Scandal Perils Peace Talks".
The stories claimed that M15 had warned both then British Prime Minister, John Major and President Clinton of the "close friendship", and its impact on the process.
Martha Pope promptly sued both newspapers for libel and within days received apologies and libel costs of pounds $300,000
Speaking to the BBC after the ruling was announced Kelly said the case should have been dealt with sooner.
He said “This case could have been settled 15 years ago with a simple apology from the Sunday World but they consistently fought to keep the case from going to court…I felt I should pursue the case in order to combat the view in some elements of the media that republicans, and particularly ex-prisoners are fair game and easy targets."
Oisin Quinn, the lawyer representing the paper read out the apology. According to reports in the Guardian the newspaper “acknowledges that both articles were wrong" and "apologizes to Gerry Kelly for the upset the articles caused".
They added that they accept “that Mr Kelly had played an important part in ending the violence in Northern Ireland and made a positive and significant contribution to the peace process."
The Sunday World apologized to the minister over false allegation made against him 15 years ago. The Minister who was in court to hear the results also received an undisclosed sum of money.
Kelly sued the newspaper after they claimed he was the chief of the staff for the IRA in 1996. The newspaper also falsely claimed that he was romantically involved with Martha Pope, an American diplomat.
The first article, from February 25th, 1996 stated that Kelly was in the IRA. The second from December 1st, 1996 claimed Kelly was involved with Pope, who worked with US President Bill Clinton and Senator Mitchell.