Sinn Féin set for crunch talks over future of isolated MP Barry McElduff after Kingsmill tweet
SINN Féin MP Barry McElduff appears isolated this morning with just a single party representative offering him public support.
Neither the party leader, other MPs, MEPs or TDs offered him any words of support in public.
Speaking this morning on BBC Radio Ulster, Sinn Féin’s chairman Declan Kearney said he wanted to express Sinn Féin’s regret over the posting of the video, which he described as “very irresponsible,” "indefensible" and a “significant error in judgement”. He said that he'd like to express his own and Sinn Féin's regret over the incident.
“There is no defence or excuse for what has happened," he added. "Sinn Féin and I strongly disapprove what has happened.”
He pointed out that McElduff had acted swiftly to delete the video and had issued an unreserved apology but acknowledged that the hurt had already been caused to Kingsmill victims.
"Barry McElduff has already made an unreserved apology and that was the correct thing to do in the circumstances.
"The reality is huge offence has been caused."
Asked whether he thought Mr McElduff should stand down as an MP, Mr Kearney did not answer directly but defended the party’s response.
He said that as soon as the Tweet was brought to their attention it was agreed that Sinn Féin leadership would meet with Mr McElduff on Monday afternoon to discuss the incident.
After Declan Kearney’s interview on Good Morning Ulster I’d say the first election of 2018 will be a by-election— Allison Morris (@AllisonMorris1) January 8, 2018
After Sinn Féin chairman Declan Kearney's striking interview on @BBCgmu, I's be surprised if Barry McElduff survives much longer. SF can afford to take a by-election in their stride and still likely win at a canter in West Tyrone, where Mr McElduff took 50.7% of vote last year.— Sam McBride (@SJAMcBride) January 8, 2018
Just one of Sinn Féin’s 27 MLAs spoke out in Mr McElduff's favour.
This was despite widespread criticism of the West Tyrone MP’s Kingsmill bread prank on the anniversary of the IRA sectarian murder of 10 workmen.
Mr McElduff apologised “unreservedly” over the weekend, saying he had never intended any link between posting a video with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head late on Friday night and the 1976 sectarian killing in a village with the same name.
"When I posted the video I had not realised or imagined for a second that there was any possible link between the brand name of the bread and the Kingsmill anniversary," he said.
"It was never my intention to hurt or cause offence to anyone and in particular to victims of the conflict who have suffered so grievously.
"I apologise unreservedly for the hurt and pain this post has caused."
The only survivor of the Kingsmills massacre told the BBC he believed the video was "depraved" and "designed to hurt".
Alan Black, who survived despite being shot 18 times, said he did not accept Mr McElduff's apology.
"It was like a punch to the stomach, it was so callous. To mock the dead and dance on their graves is depraved," he said.
"He just wanted to hurt the Kingsmills families, but it's hurt a lot of people across the north of Ireland. He had to backtrack and give a half apology."
Mr McElduff has offered to meet families of the victims, but Mr Black said he was not interested in this.
"Absolutely not. I steer clear of bigots no matter what side of the house they come from," he said.
Senior DUP, UUP, SDLP and Alliance figures were severely critical of him and by last night an online petition calling for his resignation had amassed more than 10,000 signatures.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said: “Shame on any elected rep who posted that inhuman video.”
Former Sinn Féin finance minister Martin Ó Muilleoir ‘liked’ and shared his party colleague’s video but later apologised for doing so.
The only MLA to offer support to Mr McElduff was Colm Gildernew, a brother of Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew, who was selected to replace her in the assembly after June’s Westminster election. Mr Gildernew said on Twitter:
“I have known Barry McElduff for many years and consider him a true and valued friend.
“It is my belief that Barry would never intentionally insult or hurt any victim of this or any other conflict. “It is my view that his swift and fulsome apology is both appropriate and sincere.”
In the clip, the west Tyrone MP balances a Kingsmill loaf on his head and asks where the shop, McCullagh's in Omagh, keeps its bread.
Kingsmill is a well-known brand of bread, based in Merseyside, although it shares its name with the south Armagh village which was the scene of one of the most notorious mass killings of the Troubles.
On January 5 1976, a van carrying textile workers home from their workplace in Glennane was stopped at a bogus army checkpoint. The occupants – eleven Protestants and one Catholic – were ordered to exit the vehicle and line up outside.
After being questioned about their religion, the sole Catholic was told to flee the scene before the remaining eleven men were brutally gunned down by a hail of bullets. One man, Alan Black, miraculously survived despite being hit 18 times.
Although never formally claimed by the IRA, a HET report in 2011 concluded that Provisional IRA men were responsible for the killings.
Alliance Party leader Naomi Long tweeted Mr McElduff: "I see you have deleted your video. Will you also explain what on earth you were thinking of, posting this on the anniversary of the Kingsmills Massacre?
"Have you any apology to make to those victims & survivors deeply hurt by your antics whether deliberate or not?"
TUV leader Jim Allister said it stretched the "bounds of credibility well beyond breaking point" to suggest the video was not a deliberate reference to the Kingsmill attack.
"Sinn Fein's utter contempt for victims is clearly on display here," he said.
"Any talk of equality or human rights from that party is once again exposed as so much cant and hypocrisy."
Colin Worton, whose brother Kenneth was one of those murdered at Kingsmill, said he did not accept McElduff's apology.
"His apology, no I don't accept it. It's not a heart-felt apology," he said.
"He's not sorry for the video that he's posted, he's sorrier for what's happened in the aftermath.
"If there's any decency left in McElduff's DNA he should resign."
SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan said: “Barry McElduff styles himself as a class clown but clearly this time his comments have, deliberately or not, crossed a line. It’s right that he has apologised.
“Mr McElduff clearly gave no thought to the Kingsmills victims.
“You have to ask, though, why does the MP for West Tyrone have time to film himself running around with a loaf on his head during one of the most unstable periods in the recent history of this island.”
Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann also took aim at Sinn Féin's Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, who 'liked' and shared his party colleague's video, and northern leader Michelle O'Neill for her silence on the issue.
"As a former Executive Minister, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir needs to explain himself. As a self-proclaimed social media guru he knew exactly what his 'like & retweet' signalled," he said.
"He cannot escape the spotlight. And what has the leader of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, Michelle O`Neill, got to say about this? She has been conspicuously silent."
Mr Ó Muilleoir later apologised for retweeting the original video.
“I saw Barry’s tweet as being wholly apolitical and retweeted it on that basis,” he said.
“Once it was pointed out that the tweet had offended and hurt people and that Barry had rightly deleted his tweet, I retweeted his apology and, of course, apologise unreservedly for the pain and hurt caused by my retweet.”
Southern Labour leader Brendan Howlin also joined in the criticism.
"The awful Kingsmill posts by Barry McElduff show how far Sinn Féin still have to travel. Mary Lou must make clear that this is unacceptable at any level," he wrote.
The PSNI have also said they are investigating the video and a petition calling for Mr McElduff to resign had by last night garnered more than 10,000 signatures.