Northern Ireland news

Profile: Conor Murphy is the most senior Sinn Féin member from republican stronghold of south Armagh

Conor Murphy apologised for describing Paul Quinn as a criminal

CONOR Murphy is the most senior Sinn Féin member to emerge from the republican stronghold of south Armagh, an area dubbed 'Bandit Country' by the British media, where during the Troubles the RUC couldn't patrol without an army escort.

Born in Camlough, where he still lives, the 56-year-old joined the IRA as a teenager during the hunger strikes and in 1982 was sentenced to five years in prison for IRA membership and possession of explosives.

On his release he became a Sinn Féin activist and from 1989-1997 served as a councillor on Newry and Mourne District Council, where he was the party's group leader.

A former pupil of St Colman's College, Newry and a graduate of Queen's University and the then University of Ulster, the father-of-two became a member of the assembly in 1998, representing the constituency of Newry and Armagh.

After unsuccessfully running as Westminster candidate in the constituency in 2001, Mr Murphy was elected Newry and Armagh MP in 2005 with a majority of more than 8,000.

He toured party conferences in Britain later in the year, becoming the first Irish republican to address the Tory conference, causing controversy by refusing to voice regret over IRA's bombing of Brighton's Grand Hotel 21 years previously.

While serving as an abstentionist MP, he was appointed regional development minister in 2007 as Sinn Féin entered the power-sharing executive with the DUP after the signing of the St Andrews agreement.

Within months of the devolved institutions being restored, Paul Quinn was beaten to death in Mr Murphy's constituency by what is widely believed to be an IRA gang.

In the weeks after the 21-year-old's killing, the Newry and Armagh MP spoke to the BBC and said: "Paul Quinn was involved in smuggling and criminality and I think everyone accepts that. As I say this is a very difficult situation as there is a family grieving and I don't want to add to their grieving."

On the tenth anniversary of Mr Quinn's death, following a call by SDLP MLA Justin McNulty for Mr Murphy to "remove the slur" against the murdered man, the Sinn Féin press office issued a rebuttal in which it said claims that the minister had branded Mr Quinn a criminal were "totally without foundation".

In 2011, while serving as a minister Mr Murphy became embroiled in a sectarian controversy after appointing Sean Hogan, a Catholic, to head NI Water, while rejecting Protestants on the shortlist.

An employment tribunal awarded damages of £150,000 for discrimination to one of the applicants for the post, Alan Lennon, and concluded that that successful candidate had been appointed because "he was not from a Protestant background and because he was known to the minister and his (then Sinn Féin) ministerial colleagues Michelle Gildernew and Caitríona Ruane, who were consulted about the appointment".

The tribunal found Mr Murphy's evidence had been "implausible"and lacking in credibility, and that during his time as minister there had been a "material bias against the appointment of candidates from a Protestant background".

The Newry and Armagh MP disputed the tribunal's finding which he said branded him "sectarian". The then Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness defended his colleague, claiming he didn't have "a sectarian bone in his body".

In December 2012, Mr Murphy appeared as a witness at a High Court case brought by Declan Gormley, who the minister had sacked in 2010 from his post as a non-executive director of NI Water. Mr Gormley sued Sinn Féin over two press releases which he argued were defamatory and was subsequently offered £80,000 in damages. Sinn Féin was left with a total legal bill estimated at £400,000.

Mr Murphy left the executive after the 2011 assembly election and began a period in which he was much less visible than over the previous six years. His profile subsequently increased again following Stormont's collapse in 2017, as he took on a key role in the negotiations to restore the institutions. It was even speculated that he would assume the role of deputy first minister.

In 2018, the Newry and Armagh MP said he was physically abused aged 14 while at school in Co Down by paedophile priest Malachy Finegan.

In the aftermath of the New Decade New Approach deal being secured last month, he became minister for finance and was especially critical of the British government over its apparent failure to honour financial commitments made during the negotiations.

Yesterday he apologised for labelling Paul Quinn a criminal and offered to meet the dead man's family.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe from just £1 for the first month to get full access

Northern Ireland news