Veteran republican Billy McKee who has died in his native in Belfast at the age of 97, was once part of an IRA delegation who took part in secret peace negotiations with Northern Ireland Office officials in Derry in the 1970s.

A founding member of the Provisional IRA, Mr McKee is understood to have joined the IRA in the 1939 and was jailed for his part in the organisations ‘Northern Campaign’ during World War Two. He is also believed to have been Officer Commanding the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional IRA on several occasions and to have sat on the IRA’s Army Council.

Released from prison in 1946, he was interned in 1956 at the outset of the IRA’s Border Campaign and was not released until it ended in 1962. As violence engulfed Belfast in June 1970 Billy McKee sustained gun shot wounds as loyalists attempted St Matthews Catholic church.

Arrested in 1971 for possession of a handgun he embarked on a hunger strike in Crumlin Road prison in 1972 for political status to which the British Government conceded Special Category Status.

After his release from prison in 1974 and was part of a republican delegation that held secret talks with the British at Ballyarnett House, the ancestral home of the McCorkell family on the outskirts of Derry. He was also involved in peace talks with Protestant clergymen at Feakle, Co Clare later that same year.

When Sinn Fein dropped their policy of abstentionism against entering the Dail in 1986, McKee left the Provisional movement and joined Republican Sinn Fein led by former IRA Chief of Staff Ruarai O’Bradaigh.

In his later years he refused to condemn the IRA’s actions on Bloody Friday and the abduction and murder of Jean McConville.

CAPTION: Founder member of the Provisional IRA, Billy McKee.

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