Sinn Féin’s three-month suspension of MP for mocking dead of Kingsmill atrocity is simply not enough, writes Becca Smith, niece of innocent victim John McConville
In January 5, 1976, just after 5.30pm, a red minibus was carrying 16 textile workers home from their workplace in Glenanne in South Armagh.
The minibus made one stop at Whitecross and then continued along a rural road with the remaining 12 workers, to its final destination in Bessbrook.
As the bus cleared the rise of a hill, it was stopped by a man in combat uniform standing on the road and flashing a torch. The workers assumed they were being stopped and searched by the British Army, which was normal back then.
As the bus stopped, gunmen in combat uniform and with blackened faces emerged from the hedges. The workers were ordered to get out of the bus and to line up facing it with their hands on the roof.
The question, “Who is the Catholic?” was asked. There was only one Catholic amongst the 12 men. His workmates – now fearing that the gunmen were loyalists who had come to kill him – tried to stop him from identifying himself. However, he was picked out of the group and told to “Get down the road and don’t look back”.
“Right.” The order was given and the gunmen immediately opened fire on the workers.
The 11 men were shot at very close range with automatic rifles. A total of 136 rounds were fired in less than a minute.
The men were shot at waist-height and fell to the ground; some fell on top of each other, either dead or wounded.
When the initial burst of gunfire stopped, the gunmen reloaded their weapons.
The order was given to “finish them off”, and another burst of gunfire was shot into the heaped bodies of the workmen.
At this point, the youngest of those murdered, who was just 19, called for his mummy. One of the gunmen also walked amongst the dying men and shot them each in the head with a pistol as they lay on the ground.
Ten of them died at the scene.
Alan Black (then aged 32) was the only one who survived. He had been shot 18 times and one of the bullets had grazed his head.
After the frenzy of gunfire was over, the gunmen silently slipped into the darkness and left Alan fighting for his life amongst his dead friends.
The brutality of this event still haunts Alan’s mind 42 years later.
No one has ever been charged with these murders.
Last Friday marked the 42nd anniversary of the massacre and the families left behind after this atrocity are still working tirelessly to get justice for their loved ones.
The Northern Ireland we live in today would be more than pleased to close the door on what happened during the Troubles.
I hear things like, “the past is the past” and “things that happened in the Troubles need to be forgotten about for Northern Ireland to progress positively”.
Some of you reading this probably have those thoughts going through your head right now.
However, what if it was your brother or your father or your son that was brutally murdered, I wonder would you still hold the same opinion?
If the same event happened tonight and you lost someone, but no one was ever charged for their murder, and you were told to forget about it, how would you feel?
For my family, it’s not a what-if, but a reality. My uncle John was only 20 years old and was one of the men murdered at Kingsmill 42 years ago. I've been told that John was a gentle boy, with a kind heart.
Nearly everyone who has spoken to me about my uncle always says he is remembered for his blond curls. He held a strong faith and days after his murder my grandmother received his acceptance to Bible college in Scotland. An offer he would never be able to accept.
My mum and aunties had their brother ripped out of their lives, my grandparents lost a son too soon and myself, my sisters, and cousins have been denied an uncle throughout our lives.
I always thought my uncle John was so old when I was growing up.
It wasn’t until I turned 20 that the reality of him being so young when he was murdered hit me.
Turning 21 is a milestone in most people’s lives, and I enjoyed my 21st birthday celebrations in July past, however, my uncle didn’t get that chance.
My generation knows very little, if anything, about what happened in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. It makes sense for our parents to want to shield us from the reality of what this country has been through. However, there are families all over the North, from both sides of the community, who are still suffering from the brutality of what this country has been through.
Fortunately for my generation, we live in a very different Northern Ireland to our parents. To me, there is no difference between a Protestant and a Catholic.
I go to university in a controversial area of West Belfast, and study with members from the other side of the community, something my mum’s generation would never have dreamed of, and in fact one of my longest and closest friends is from a Catholic upbringing.
However, when things happen, like the Barry McElduff incident, it brings with it concern for the future of Northern Ireland.
In recent days, Mr McElduff, a Sinn Féin MP, posted a video on his social media on the anniversary of the Kingsmill massacre.
It involves him walking through a petrol station with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head.
My mum and aunties have faced pain and heartache, especially in recent times as they have had to face sitting through a new inquest into the murder of their brother.
It disgusts me that a government representative is the cause of their latest pain and heartbreak.
Yesterday we heard that Mr McElduff has been suspended by his party for three months.
As a Sinn Féin MP, he doesn’t take his seat at Westminster, but to hear he is being suspended with full pay is a punch in the stomach.
Is this really a punishment for his actions?
Michelle O’Neill, the Sinn Féin party leader in Northern Ireland, spoke out to the press and stated that Mr McElduff had given his “rehearsed apology”.
That’s the reality of it, there was no emotion in this apology and he was simply saying what he has been told to say by his party. Unfortunately a three-month paid suspension and an apology is not good enough.
A petition has been circulated around social media in the last couple of days to have Mr McElduff removed completely from his position in government. The petition has reached nearly 30,000 signatures, so surely the government needs to act.
To Barry McElduff, I have so many thoughts going through my head.
What were you thinking when you posted that video?
Why choose that particular brand of bread? Why post it just after midnight on the anniversary of the Kingsmill Massacre?
You have said it was not intentional and you meant for no hurt or pain to be caused to the families, but your suggestion of it being a coincidence won’t be accepted by my family and hasn’t been accepted by the 30,000 other people who are calling for you to be dismissed.
You have so much to answer for and unfortunately an apology and a paid suspension by your party is not good enough.
Maybe the next time you can’t find the bread you’ll ask a member of staff, rather than making a mockery of a truly horrific event.
To Sinn Féin, how can you, as a political party, think a fully paid suspension for your member’s actions is enough?
How will Northern Ireland move forward positively if you don’t punish Mr McElduff fairly?
If one of your colleagues from the other side of the community did something similar, you would be calling for a harder punishment.
Barry McElduff should be completely removed from his position as an MP as he has shown he is unfit to be a public representative for the people of Northern Ireland.