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Leo Varadkar: Barry McElduff's Kingsmill video 'foolish and very hurtful' but not deliberate

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar holds his first press conference of 2018 at Government Buildings in Dublin. Picture by Niall Carson, Press Association
Staff Reporter

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has described Barry McElduff's Kingsmill social media video as "very hurtful" to victims' families - but said he does not think it was a deliberate insult.

Sinn Féin has suspended the West Tyrone MP on full pay for three months after he posed with a Kingsmill-branded loaf on his head on the 42nd anniversary of the Kingsmill atrocity, in which 10 Protestant workmen were killed in Co Armagh.

The party has drawn criticism amid claims the sanction was too lenient.

Mr McElduff has insisted the video was not meant as a reference to the IRA's January 1976 massacre and apologised to the victims' relatives.

Speaking after the first cabinet meeting of the new year in Dublin, Mr Varadkar said "what Mr McElduff did was very foolish and very inappropriate and very hurtful to the families of people who were killed in that awful atrocity".

He added: "Obviously it's up to Sinn Féin to decide how they discipline their own members and given his previous content on social media I think perhaps it was a genuine error of judgment rather than an attempt to deliberately insult the families of victims nonetheless it was egregious and unacceptable.

"I hope that, when he runs for re-election, and if he runs for re-election, that people of his constituency will decide to elect somebody with a little bit more character."

DUP leader Arlene Foster reiterated her criticism of the video yesterday and claimed Sinn Féin is "eulogising terrorists".

"They have to stop that, it cannot continue," she said.

"We have listened to lectures on respect for a whole year and it's very easy to demand respect, but apparently it is not very easy to give respect, and Sinn Féin have not given respect to the victims community here in Northern Ireland and, by definition, the whole wider community in Northern Ireland," she said.

Meanwhile, a former IRA man who left the republican movement following the Kingsmill atrocity described the video as "blatant sectarianism".

Martin McAllister said he felt Mr McElduff "did know what he was doing".

"To put it in perspective, I can't hear the name Kingsmill bread mentioned without immediately flashing back to what happened. So how could he miss that?" he told the BBC.

Announcing Mr McElduff's suspension on Monday, Sinn Féin's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill "apologised unreservedly" to the Kingsmill families but said she did not believe the tweet was intentionally malicious.

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