Leading article

Politicians should reflect on a difficult week

At the end of a difficult week for our political relationships and more especially for the victims of our Troubled past, the question for many people is whether we can find a way to move forward in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect.

Certainly, the omens were not good earlier this week following Barry McElduff's crass, insensitive and inexcusable video stunt with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head, which he posted on the 42nd anniversary of that terrible massacre.

The West Tyrone MP was contrite after what was an appalling blunder which caused deep offence to Alan Black, the sole survivor of that atrocity and the families of the ten men murdered in cold blood.

Sinn Féin, recognising the serious damage inflicted by this massive error of judgment, wasted little time in disciplining Mr McElduff for an action that in many parties would be a sackable offence.

Unfortunately, the forthright and welcome comments of party chairman Declan Kearney were not matched by the sanction imposed.

A three month suspension for an abstentionist MP, which allows him to continue carrying out work in his constituency office, will be regarded by many as inadequate in the circumstances.

Parallels have been drawn with party colleague, Peadar Tóibín TD, who was suspended for six months for voting against the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill in 2013 even though the abortion issue is widely regarded as a matter of conscience.

Later in the week a cartoon depicting the Kingsmill atrocity caused further controversy when it was posted on social media by DUP MLA Christopher Stalford and later deleted at the request of a victim's relative.

The feelings of victims must be considered when political points are made over horrible events that continue to cause immeasurable pain.

Alan Black, who has conducted himself with immense dignity, said it was time politicians got on with the real business of government 'rather than poking sticks in each other's eyes'.

These are sentiments that will be shared by the vast majority of people who wish to live in peace with their neighbours in a society that is respectful and tolerant of differing opinions and backgrounds.

Those looking for a positive this week are drawing encouragement from the discussion between Sinn Féin's John O'Dowd and the DUP's Edwin Poots on BBC's The View on Thursday night.

This was a thoughtful and candid debate during which Mr O'Dowd spoke of the murder of three relatives the day before Kingsmill, an attack he described as shameful and sectarian.

Meanwhile, Mr Poots said in order to move forward the DUP must do business with Sinn Féin.

It is too early to say if this is the first tentative sign of an improving atmosphere but it is important we reflect on this past week as well as the past lost year of devolution and determine if it is possible to find common ground.

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