Jim Allister has said that the TUV election agent who has a criminal record “recognises the folly” of an incident where he put a deactivated gun to the head of a Catholic man and pretended to fire.
Gary McDonald, the election agent for Mid Ulster candidate Gareth Ferguson, spent a year in jail for his part in a roadblock involving masked men in Portglenone on July 12, 2003, where they pretended to shoot a Catholic driver.
The victim, Thomas O’Hara, told the Irish News that during the incident Mr McDonald had put the barrel of a deactivated AK47 to his head “and I heard them fire two shots at me”.
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When asked about the issue by the News Letter, Mr Allister disputed that Mr McDonald had pulled the trigger, saying that he could not have done so because “it was, in fact, welded; it was incapable of firing”.
When Mr Allister was asked if Mr McDonald has apologised to his victim, he said: “It has emerged that when this person was a young man, I think he was 19 or maybe 20...he was involved in an incident at the protection of an Orange arch which apparently had previously been attacked and there was the use of what was a lawful weapon on his licence, a deactivated weapon.”
But he added: “The use it was put to was unlawful; he faced that in his plea; he paid his penalty for that in the eyes of the law, and I think that now – being much older, wiser and regretful for what he did – he’s [as] entitled to get on with his life as many other people.”
Mr Allister said that this stood in contrast to those who “have justified multiple murder in this Province and today walk the corridors of Stormont”.
When asked again if Mr McDonald had apologised to his victim, Mr Allister said: “I don’t know if he’s personally apologised to the victim. I know that in discussions with me since this came to light it’s very clear that he very much regrets the incident and has put his life to very good use ever since.”
But Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay said: “The TUV cannot have it both ways. On the one hand [Mr Allister] seeks to persecute republicans released from prison... yet choose to turn a blind eye to the prosecution of one of his own party members for taking part in illegal armed checkpoints and threateningly pointing a weapon at the head of Catholic drivers.”
The use it was put to was unlawful; he faced that in his plea; he paid his penalty for that in the eyes of the law, and I think that now – being much older, wiser and regretful for what he did