Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy apologises for remarks on Paul Quinn murder
SINN Féin's Conor Murphy has apologised to the family of murder victim Paul Quinn for comments 13 years ago linking him to criminality.
The Stormont finance minister said he was sorry his remarks had added to the family's grief and offered to meet them.
Sinn Féin faced calls from Mr Quinn's mother Breege to sack Mr Murphy from the power-sharing government for branding her son a smuggler and criminal.
The party's response to the 2007 murder has become an issue in the south's general election campaign, with rivals highlighting its IRA links and accusing Sinn Féín of being soft on crime.
In a statement yesterday, Mr Murphy said he has "consistently and unreservedly condemned the murder of Paul Quinn".
"Those who murdered him are criminals and need to be brought to justice," he said.
The Newry and Armagh MLA added: "I very much regret comments I made in the aftermath of Paul's murder which have added to the grief felt by the Quinn family.
"I apologise for those remarks and I unreservedly withdraw them.
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"Once again I offer to meet the Quinn family at a time and place of their convenience."
Mr Quinn (21), from Cullyhanna in south Armagh, was beaten to death by a gang of around a dozen men in a farm shed near Castleblayney, Co Monaghan.
Every major bone below his neck was broken in the brutal attack, in which the gang used nail-studded clubs and iron bars.
Mr Quinn's family blame members of the IRA, but Sinn Féin has long denied republican involvement.
A month after the murder, Mr Murphy claimed in a BBC Spotlight interview that Mr Quinn was involved in "smuggling and criminality".
Mr Murphy also said he had spoken to IRA members and had been told it was not involved.
The murder became an election issue after Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald was asked on Monday during an RTÉ interview about the comments on Mr Quinn.
She said she had "spoken to Conor Murphy about this issue before" and he was "very clear that he never said that".
But during the RTÉ leaders' debate on Tuesday night, Ms McDonald said the finance minister was retracting the comments he made in 2007 and would apologise.
She said his remarks were wrong and had caused additional hurt and grief.
Mrs Quinn had said she would not meet Mr Murphy until he apologised publicly.
"He is not fit to be in government," she told BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show. "Mary Lou (McDonald) should just step him down."
She added: "Has he any idea what we are going through, what he has put us through?"
In 2017, Mr Murphy had insisted claims he branded Mr Quinn a criminal were "completely without any foundation".
Yesterday, Ms McDonald said there was "absolutely no question" of her asking Mr Murphy to resign.
"Absolutely not, we just got power-sharing up and running (at Stormont), and I believe that everyone concerned is determined to make a success of it," she told the Press Association.
She said Mr Murphy's apology was "sincere" and she hoped the Quinn family would "take comfort from that".
"Obviously they felt a deep hurt at any suggestion that he was a criminal. To be clear, the criminals in this scenario are the people who beat Paul Quinn to death."
She added that Mr Murphy had spoken with authorities at the time of the murder but has not done so since.
Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar said Mrs Quinn's comments had been powerful and emotive.
"She is looking for answers, looking for truth and looking for justice. I believe she is entitled to that," the taoiseach said.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said "an omerta" surrounded Mr Quinn's murder and called on people with information to contact the authorities.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mr Murphy should give police the names of the IRA members he spoke to about Mr Quinn's murder.
He praised the "courage, integrity and strength that Breege Quinn has demonstrated over 13 years".
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said the Quinn family deserved justice.
"All information should also be given to the police so the perpetrators can be brought to justice. The Quinn family have had additional hurt visited on them by the constant denials about remarks that were made about their son," he said.
UUP MLA Doug Beattie, the party's justice spokesperson, said: "Every day that Conor Murphy remains in office is an insult to the Quinn family and anyone who respects the rule of law and democratic politics."
TUV leader Jim Allister said: "The finance minister has been irredeemably exposed as unfit for office. He should resign. In any system other than Stormont he would be gone."