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Barry McElduff 'got off lightly for idiotic video'

West Tyrone MP Barry McElduff who has been suspended for three months on full pay. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

Sinn Féin's sanction against Barry McElduff over his controversial 'Kingsmill' social media post was "lenient" and should have been more severe, commentator Brian Feeney has said.

The Irish News columnist said the West Tyrone MP did not set out to deliberately offend relatives of those killed in the January 1976 massacre but he nonetheless believes Mr McElduff should have been handed an "exemplary punishment" for what Mr Feeney described as "idiotic behaviour".

Sinn Féin has faced criticism after suspending Mr McElduff for just three months with no loss of salary.

Comparisons have been made with the sanction imposed on Sinn Féin TD Peader Toibín, who in 2013 had the party whip withdrawn for six months.

The pro-life Meath West representative was punished after voting against the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill in what Sinn Féin described as a "serious breach of party rules".

Mr McElduff insists he did not mean to cause offence when he posed with a Kingsmill loaf on his head during last Friday's 42nd anniversary of the massacre in which ten Protestant workmen were killed.

Sinn Féin northern leader Michelle O'Neill said on Monday that she had suspended the West Tyrone MP with immediate effect.

"I made it clear to Barry that his tweet was ill-judged, indefensible and caused hurt and pain to the victims of Kingsmill," she said.

But according to Mr Feeney, Mr McElduff "got off lightly".

"This sanction was very lenient," he told The Irish News last night. "He has done this sort of stuff before and been warned against it but still continues to play the clown."

The Irish News columnist said Sinn Féin needed "to take this matter much more seriously".

"This is such as mess for Sinn Féin against the background of the party's calls for respect and equality," he said.

"There really should have been an exemplary punishment for this – there's no equivalence between Peader Toibín voting on terms of conscience and McElduff acting daft by walking around a supermarket with a loaf on his head."

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald yesterday said the decision to suspend Mr McElduff was appropriate and proportionate for what she described as "a very crass and stupid tweet".

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, she said the West Tyrone MP was contrite and had taken full responsibility for his actions.

Ms McDonald said she believed Mr McElduff did not set out to deliberately hurt anyone.

Meanwhile, the Ulster Unionists last night sought to keep the pressure on former Sinn Féin Stormont finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, who retweeted his colleague's contentious post.

The party said on Monday that Mr Ó Muilleoir had avoided any disciplinary action after explaining that he had retweeted a post "which he believed to be apolitical, and immediately deleted it and apologised once the full extent of the issue became clear".

Former Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kennedy accused Sinn Féin of protecting the former executive minister from scrutiny.

"The fact is they can`t hide forever – this issue isn't going to go away because it throws the spotlight very much on Sinn Féin members and its party leadership given their pathetic response to what McElduff did," he said.

"Their lack of action and proper sanction has given a green light to disrespect by its own members."

Mr Kennedy said remarks on Monday by Sinn Féin national chairman Declan Kearney, in which he voiced "deep regret" over the "huge offence" caused by Mr McElduff's post, had "raised some people's hopes that they were finally turning over a new leaf".

"But reality struck home in the harshest way possible when Michelle O`Neill and her cohorts gave McElduff a slap on the wrist," he said.

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