A senior Sinn Féin politician who cast an extraordinary slur on the victims of the Kingsmill massacre will remain on full pay as he serves a three-month suspension.
here was widespread shock in political circles last night after the party refused to expel West Tyrone MP Barry McElduff for his mocking of the sectarian murders of 10 Protestants in 1976.
Mr McElduff posted a social media video of himself with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head on the anniversary of one of the worst events of The Troubles.
His actions have caused deep hurt to the victims' families.
Both Fine Gael and the Labour Party expressed their shock after the party's Northern leader Michelle O'Neill announced that Mr McElduff will be suspended for three months and will remain on full pay.
Mr McElduff attended a meeting with party bosses in west Belfast yesterday.
Speaking afterwards, Ms O'Neill said the tweet was "ill-judged and indefensible" but insisted she did not believe it was intentionally malicious.
She also confirmed that her party colleague would continue to be paid his Sinn Féin party salary during his suspension.
Mr McElduff said he accepted the sanction imposed by the leadership.
However, he insisted the contentious post was not meant as a reference to the sectarian murders of 10 workmen at the village of Kingsmill.
"Although I genuinely meant no offence, I accept that my actions were ill-judged and, while unintended, caused deep and unnecessary hurt and pain to the Kingsmill families," he said.
Sinn Féin's leader-in-waiting in the Republic, Dublin Central TD Mary Lou McDonald, did not respond to a request for comment last night.
The party's finance spokesperson, Pearse Doherty, said he did not believe the actions warranted Mr McElduff's resignation.
Mr Doherty told Barrscéalta on RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta: "I don't think he should resign, I don't think he did it to upset the families or draw attention to the matter, it was just a stupid thing he did.
"But he should have known better, as an MP, that particular day (was the anniversary of the massacre) and that that was very important."
Opposition parties rounded on Sinn Féin over the sanction.
Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said it was entirely inadequate and called on Ms McDonald to make a full statement.
"If we are truly now to turn the page on the past there must be not only a genuine renouncing of such violent acts, but an admission by those who carried it out and their political supporters that this was a wholly unjustified crime against humanity," Mr Howlin said.
Fine Gael TD and former chairman of the Oireachtas justice committee, Alan Farrell, expressed his shock over the three-month suspension, which he labelled a holiday.
"It's clear to me that the Sinn Féin organisation are not taking such disgraceful comments seriously.
"A three-month holiday is little comfort to the families insulted by these reprehensible antics," he said.
Meanwhile, the storm around the social media post is threatening to further disrupt faltering efforts to re-establish a powersharing executive at Stormont, with the Democratic Unionist Party characterising it as an affront to victims.
DUP MP Sammy Wilson heavily criticised the length of the suspension.
"This pitiful sanction will only further compound the victims' grief," he said.
"For all their lecturing about respect, Sinn Féin have been exposed for what they are.
"Big implications and serious questions remain for the Sinn Féin leadership."