Northern Ireland

Sinn Féin urged to clarify policy on IRA commemorations in the event of Mary Lou McDonald becoming taoiseach

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald. Picture by PA
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald. Picture by PA

Sinn Féin was last night urged to clarify whether Mary Lou McDonald would attend future events commemorating the IRA if she becomes taoiseach.

Remarks by the Sinn Féin president on Monday have been reported as a 'signal' and 'hint' that her attendance at such gatherings would be inappropriate as head of the Irish government.

Sinn Féin is privately playing down the comments, suggesting the bookies' favourite to be the next taoiseach did not rule out attending IRA commemorations.

Mrs McDonald made the remarks in the aftermath of Sunday's high-profile IRA commemoration in south Armagh, where North Belfast MP John Finucane was guest speaker.

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Quizzed by reporters over whether she would attend similar commemoration events as taoiseach, Ms McDonald said: "For me ... if I had the privilege of leading government I would be a taoiseach for everybody and I would act in a way to foster respect, reconciliation and understanding and never in a partisan way to give offence to anyone."

Asked whether she would attend events commemorating the IRA if leading the government, she replied: “If I were taoiseach there’s a set pattern of what the taoiseach attends and does not attend.”

Speaking about Mr Finucane’s attendance at the south Armagh event, the Dublin TD said: “For me the issue has to be that we allow space for everybody to respectfully remember their dead and to respectfully remember their story.”

She added: “I don’t think it should become a matter of controversy because somebody wears their poppy or because somebody wears their Easter Lily.

“We have to be at a point in our evolution as a society and as human beings that we can disagree.”

She said Mr Finucane “had very traumatic experiences in his own childhood”

During the North Belfast MP's address on Sunday, he spoke of his father Pat's murder by loyalists. He said remembrance is a right that should apply “without prejudice” to every section of the society.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Sinn Féin "should be clear" about its planned policy on the taoiseach attending commemorations for the IRA "rather than leaving people guessing about what might happen in the future".

"Remembrance and commemoration are deeply complex and personal issues. Everyone has the right to remember those who they have a personal connection or allegiance with," the Foyle MP told The Irish News. 

"But those of us working to build a new Ireland and new future for the people who share this island have to reflect everyday on how our own actions affect the people we’re trying to persuade to join us in a welcoming, inclusive and diverse new settlement." 

DUP MLA Gordon Lyons said the Sinn Féin leadership had "big questions to answer".

He said Mrs McDonald’s comments were "either another recognition of Sinn Féin’s partitionist approach; a deliberate criticism of Michelle O’Neill; or both". 

"The lack of consistency regarding commemorations is only outshone by the breathtaking arrogance shown towards innocent IRA victims," he said.

Irish News columnist Brian Feeney said it was "over-egging the pudding" to suggest the Sinn Féin president had signalled that she wouldn’t attend IRA commemorations.

"I’d say she signalled she’d be circumspect about which to attend," he said. 

"I don’t see her travelling north as taoiseach to commemorate for example the men killed at Loughgall and I wouldn’t see her as taoiseach walking in the cortège  of a major IRA figure like Bobby Storey –  as she said there’s a set pattern of what a taoiseach attends and what she won’t do is walk away from the IRA campaign."

First Minister-designate Michelle O'Neill issued a statement on Tuesday saying she was committed to "serve all the people equally".

"So anything I do as first minister will be done so in that spirit and on those terms," the .

"I attended the Easter Rising commemoration in Dublin last month, and last year I laid a wreath at the cenotaph to remember those who died in the battle of the Somme – we all have the right to remember our dead."