McElduff sanction ‘added insult to injury’ for victims

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Sinn Fein's decision to suspend West Tyrone MP., Barry McElduff, from the party for three months over what has been described as  a 'vile' video posting has been slammed as a 'pathetic response' and a sanction which 'added insult to injury' for the victims of the Kingsmills massacre, according to DUP leader, Arlene Foster.

Mr McElduff posted a video on social media which showed him with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head on Friday - the 42nd anniversary of the Kingsmills killing of 10 Protestants by IRA gunmen. Some 35 hours later, Mr McElduff removed the video and apologised, saying he did not realise there could be a possible link between the bread brand and the anniversary.

The well-known brand of bread shares its name with the south Armagh village that witnessed one of the most notorious incidents of the 'Troubles', when gunmen stopped a van carrying textile workers on their way home, identified the Protestant occupants, lined them up at the side of the road and shot them.

Mr McElduff's video sparked widespread anger, with over 25,000 people signing an online petition calling for the MP to resign. It will be delivered to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone, if 35,000 signatures are amassed. That anger was deepened with renewed calls for the Sinn Fein man to quit after the three month suspension was announced.

The police have said they have received "a number of reports" of a post on a social media platform, made by a local public representative. Enquiries are ongoing."

The controversial video went global, with the New York Times describing the incident as "an embarrassing scandal for the mainly Catholic Sinn Fein party". The Times of Malta website claimed that Mr McElduff is "known for his light-hearted social media contributions" and described his actions as a "stunt". Jordan-based website The Gulf Times also featured the story and the infamous still photograph from the video of Mr McElduff with the loaf perched on his head.


On Monday, Mr McElduff met Sinn Féin's Stormont leader, Michelle O'Neill, when it was announced that he would be suspended for the three months by the party. Mrs O'Neill apologised to the Kingsmill families, saying the video was not that expected of a Sinn Fein member, but Mr McElduff's actions were not "malicious or intended to cause the hurt or pain which they did".

She added: "I made it clear to Barry that his tweet was ill-judged, indefensible and caused hurt and pain to the victims of Kingsmills. That it falls far short of the standard expected of Sinn Fein representatives and our members. Barry has again apologised for the unintended hurt which his tweet caused. He deeply regrets making such a post, and he accepts he has made an error of judgment. Barry accepts this suspension as an appropriate response to his social media activity. To the Kingsmills families I recognise the hurt this has caused and I wholeheartedly apologise for any distress."

Earlier in the day, Sinn Fein's national chairman, Declan Kearney, described Barry McElduff's Kingsmill loaf video as 'indefensible'. Mr Kearney said: "What has happened is absolutely inexcusable and indefensible and the party leadership is taking this matter very seriously indeed. As a result of that the party leadership in the north will be meeting with him later today to discuss the very serious fallout from this situation."

He added: "I would like to express my own and Sinn Fein's very sincere regret for the very understandable offence caused as result of this tweet. What happened is absolutely irresponsible. Barry McElduff has already made an unreserved apology and that was the correct thing to do in these circumstances, but the reality is huge offence has been caused and I and Sinn Fein strongly disapprove of what has happened."

Mr Kearney's strong use of words suggested Mr McElduff's punishment may be more severe than a three-month suspension, so eyebrows were raised when Sinn Fein made their announcement on Monday afternoon.

Speaking after the party meeting, Mr McElduff once again apologised: "I have no doubt that hurt and pain has been caused but it was genuinely unintended on my part." He said he fully accepted the party's decision to suspend him from all party activity for three months. Party colleague, Mairtin O Muilleoir, has also apologised for retweeting the video.

Many have questioned Sinn Fein's sanction on Mr McElduff, with the sole survivor of the Kingsmills massacre describing the three-month suspension as a "slap on the wrist'".

Alan Black said: "I'm not political at all and I don't interfere in politics but to me they've circled the wagons. He'll be off the air for three months. It'll be a while before he's chuckling on Stephen Nolan's sofa."

He added: "It [the video] was done to create maximum hurt. I watched it again and where he is walking, the aisle is stacked with Christmas goods. That suggested the video was taken some time over the Christmas period. Yet he has waited until January 5, a few minutes into the anniversary and that's when he posted it. I'm not impressed at all."

The DUP leader, Arlene Foster, slammed the suspension as a "pathetic response".  The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA said she was with families of those killed in the Kingsmill massacre 42 years ago when Sinn Fein released the news of the suspension for Mr McElduff.

"Nobody can objectively say this was an innocent thing to do," said Mrs Foster. "I was actually with the victims when the news of this so-called sanction came through. They feel it adds insult to injury. Three months suspension on an MP who doesn't go to Westminster is entirely meaningless."

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Foster added: "The decision by Sinn Fein to suspend Barry McElduff for three months is a pathetic response to the offence he has caused. Sinn Fein is fond of the word 'respect', but it would seem that Sinn Fein's definition of respect is very different to everyone else's. The so-called 'disciplining' of Barry McElduff for his disgraceful actions has been mocked in all directions."

Mrs Foster's party colleague, Tom Buchanan, West Tyrone MLA., said the suspension was like a "slap on the wrist" for Mr McElduff and claimed it showed that Sinn Fein "has no regard for the feelings of the public".

He added: "The earlier hard talking of Declan Kearney who said Barry McElduff's actions were inexcusable, intolerable and indefensible was nothing more than a PR exercise resulting in a slap on the wrist for McElduff," he said.

"A three month suspension on full pay demonstrates that Sinn Fein have no regard for the feelings of the public. This is an MP who does not turn up for work at Westminster anyway, so people have rightly identified this as a holiday rather than a sanction.

"The words from Sinn Fein that Barry McElduff's actions were inexcusable proved to be nothing more than a cynical attempt to fool the public. The words were not backed up by action.

"The Sinn Fein rhetoric of recent months about equality and respect has been clearly exposed as a fraud. I have been struck by the depth of feeling from all sections of the community following this incident. The shameful response from Sinn Fein has shown disrespect to everyone in West Tyrone and right across Northern Ireland."


Fellow West Tyrone MLA., Daniel McCrossan, said Sinn Fein leader, Michelle O'Neill, had "missed an opportunity to stamp her authority on the party", and re-issued a fresh appeal for Mr McElduff to consider his position as MP.

"This was an opportunity for Michelle O'Neill to stamp her authority on the party, and she has shown that the old guard of Sinn Fein are still very much in control," he said. "The old style approach of Sinn Fein, how they treat people generally, how they treat members of the public and victims, has been brought to the fore as a result of Barry's idiocy and recklessness in relation to how he feels about the 10 innocent men that were murdered."

Mr McCrossan continued: "Barry should appreciate the three-month holiday he has been given, with full pay, is no punishment for the hurt he has caused. I think he should reflect on his position, and if he has one ounce of credibility left, then he should resign immediately from the post and submit a full explanation on his actions."

Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist Omagh town councillor, Chris Smyth, said the sanction is "wholly insulting". He added: "A three month suspension for an MP who doesn't take his seat anyway is meaningless. I will continue to pursue the Commissioner for Standards to take action."

His party colleague, Bert Wilson, Mid Tyrone councillor, said: "The punishment is nothing. He will still be getting paid, he is still the representative of the people of West Tyrone who are disgusted with him. Sinn Fein had to do something, and a suspension is the very minimum they could have done. The punishment doesn't fit the crime, he should have been removed as MP."

Fermanagh and South Tyrone UUP MLA., Rosemary Barton, said the "vile" video posted by Mr McElduff "once again demonstrated their lack of respect for those who are victims of IRA atrocities."

Alliance Party leader, Naomi Long, said many would regard the sanction as 'weak'.


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