Sunday 27 May 2018

Barry McElduff to stand down as MP following Kingsmill controversy

Sinn Fein MP Barry McElduff with a Kingsmill branded loaf on his head
Sinn Fein MP Barry McElduff with a Kingsmill branded loaf on his head
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Sinn Féin’s Barry McEluff is to stand down as MP following the controversy over a social media video in which he appeared to joke about the Kingsmill massacre.

While the party suspended the West Tyrone representative from Sinn Féin activity for three months, the sanction failed to quell public outrage.

Ten Protestants were shot dead on January 5, 1976 in a sectarian attack near the Armagh town of Kingsmill. It was the 42nd anniversary of the atrocity when Mr McElduff posted a video of himself with a loaf of Kingsmill brand bread on his head.

Today Mr McElduff offered a “profound apology” to the families of the Kingsmill victims.

He said that he would not have posted the video if he had been conscious of the connection to “the terrible atrocity at Kingsmill”.

“I genuinely did not make that connection, not for a second did I make that connection in my mind,” he said.

And in a significantly development he described the killings as “wrong, unjustifiable and sectarian”.  “There was no intended reference to Kingsmill in my tweet. But I do accept that there are many people who do not believe this to be the case."

Yesterday the only survivor of the 1976 attack, Alan Black, described in horrific detail how a 19-year-old apprentice fell across his legs.

“I’d seen the boot of the gunman and the tip of the rifle and they blew his face away,” he recalled on RTÉ’s ‘Sunday with Miriam’.

Despite Mr McElduff’s continuing denial that he purposely made the video to poke fun at the murders, Mr Black said he doesn’t accept this.

“He’s a very astute politician and clever man. He did it deliberately to cause hurt,” Mr Black said.

Mr McElduff today told reporters he is aware of the affects of the controversy and as a result will step down from his position as an MP.

West Tyrone MP Barry McElduff leaving Sinn Féin's headquarters on the Falls Road in Belfast following his suspension. Photo: PA
West Tyrone MP Barry McElduff leaving Sinn Féin's headquarters on the Falls Road in Belfast following his suspension. Photo: PA

“It is with great sadness that, after more than 30 years as an active Sinn Féin member and public representative I am tendering my resignation as MP for West Tyrone,” he said.

“The reason I am doing so is because of the consequences of the Twitter video which has caused such controversy over the last week.

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“But the deep and unnecessary hurt this video caused the families of the victims of Kingsmill is my greatest regret.

“I again offer my profound apology to those families and to the wider victims community.”

He added that events of recent days have been “deeply damaging to the reconciliation process that is so important to consolidating the peace process and to healing the pain and hurt of the past.”

In a lengthy statement, Mr McElduff said he cannot undo the pain caused in recent days but he is resigned because staying on as an MP “will compound that sense of hurt and impede any reconciliation process”.

“Reconciliation is essential, but that message is not being heard at this time.

“I do not wish to be a barrier to reconciliation and healing and in that spirit I again offer my sincere apologies to the survivors and families of those murdered at Kingsmill,” he concluded.

Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill said she was informed of Mr McElduff’s decision yesterday.

“Barry is doing so as a consequence of the unintended hurt caused to the Kingsmill victims and their loved ones by his recent social media tweet,” she said today.

“Barry recognises that this controversy and his continuing role in public office is compounding the distress to the victims of Kingsmill, and again offers his profound apology to those families and to the wider victim’s community.

“He has said that he does not want to be a barrier to reconciliation and I respect that decision.”

She described him as a “formidable champion” for the people of his constituency over the past 20 years.

“Over the coming weeks Sinn Féin will focus our full efforts on the restoration of the power-sharing institutions on the basis of equality, integrity and respect and fulfil the mandate we received from the electorate in two successive elections last year,” she said.

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