Saturday 21 April 2018

Party leaders unite in call for Sinn Féin senator to resign over Stack tweet

Máire Devine is under strong pressure to quit the Seanad. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Máire Devine is under strong pressure to quit the Seanad. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Kevin Doyle and Shona Murray

The Sinn Féin leadership is under increasing pressure to sack Senator Máire Devine for retweeting a post describing IRA murder victim Brian Stack as a "sadist prison officer".

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin have all called for Ms Devine to give up her Seanad seat.

Mr Martin has also attacked Sinn Féin's new leader Mary Lou McDonald for attempting to paint the senator's actions as an "isolated incident".

The controversy is expected to be raised on the floor of the Seanad when it returns from its St Patrick's Day break today, although it is not clear whether Ms Devine will attend. She has been suspended from party activity for three months but is entitled to operate effectively as an independent senator and collect her full pay and expenses.

Mr Stack (48) was the chief prison officer in Portlaoise Prison when he was shot leaving a boxing match in 1983.

The father-of-three suffered brain damage and died 18 months later.

His son Austin told the Irish Independent last night his family have been devastated by what they see as the latest attack on his memory.

He said despite an apology, they will not be dropping their calls for Ms Devine to resign.

"As a humanitarian gesture we expect the senator will not drag this out, particularly as next week marks the 35th anniversary of my father's shooting."

Mr Varadkar raised the stakes significantly for the Sinn Féin hierarchy yesterday when he said the Dublin politician's conduct was "as bad if not even worse" than that of Barry McElduff, who mocked the Kingsmill massacre in a Twitter video last January.

"Not only did she disrespect the memory of someone who was a victim of paramilitary violence, she also didn't take it back and continued to engage in it," he said.

Ten days after posting a video of himself with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head, Mr McElduff resigned as an MP amid unending controversy.

The Taoiseach said he sees "an inconsistency in that someone in the North has to resign their seat and another person only gets three-month suspension on full pay so I call on Sinn Féin to reconsider that decision."

Mr Martin told the Irish Independent he doesn't accept Sinn Féin attempts "to paint Máire Devine's online actions insulting the memory of Brian Stack as an isolated incident".

"It is a well-documented fact that the Provisional movement has sought to undermine the memory and reputation of Brian Stack over an extended period," he said.

"Mary Lou McDonald's attempt to glide over his murder using the well worn 'we were all in a conflict' theme doesn't wash either."

He added: "Brian Stack wasn't part of any conflict. He was an Irish public servant going about the work that we as a country asked him to do and was killed for doing so."

Similarly, Mr Varadkar said it creates "a real concern that despite a change at the top in Sinn Féin, there hasn't really been a change in attitudes and they still glorify violence".

Ms McDonald yesterday defended her handling of the controversy, saying she dealt with it "as a matter of urgency".

"She is in no doubt that she has been severely and definitively punished," she said.

However, Mr Howlin said Ms Devine should now make her own decision in light of the "reasonable request" from the Stack family for her to step down.

"I think, understanding the hurt she has caused, it would be an appropriate thing for her to do," he said.

Senator has €71,000 in entitlements

Suspended Sinn Féin Senator Máire Devine is entitled to pay and bonus payments worth more than €71,000 annually.

She is entitled to receive a basic salary of €66,277 a year and a further €5,250 in travel and accommodation expenses, despite living just miles from Leinster House in Rialto. These payments are subject to tax, PRSI, USC, the pension levy and pension contributions.

On top of this €71,527 gross salary, she is also entitled to claim expenses to cover telephone calls, computer costs and expenses linked to the running of clinics and attending conferences.

Sinn Féin policy means TDs and senators are allowed to accept a take-home pay of €39,500 with outstanding money allocated to the party and constituency offices.

However, questions have been asked of the policy since it was revealed TD Dessie Ellis was allowed to draw down his entire Dáil salary of more than €90,000.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section