Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein's O'Neill slammed over election role for ex-prisoner

 

By Aaron Tinney

Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill has been criticised for allowing her party’s election campaign to be masterminded by a convicted IRA man.

One of her most senior spin doctors Sean Mag Uidhir is a former republican prisoner. The 58-year-old is known for a fiercely protective manner over Mrs O’Neill at Press briefings Spin doctor: Sean Mag Uidhir and refusal to grant media questions at public events.

He was in attendance when Mrs O’Neill (40) last month signed a book of condolence for the victims of the Manchester Arena bomb attack — and refused journalists the opportunity to put questions to Sinn Fein’s

Stormont leader. Mag Uidhir received a 16-year sentence in 1976 and served eight years in jail as a republican prisoner.

After receiving 50% remission, standard for terrorist offenders in Northern Ireland, he was released in 1984.

Neil Tattersall — one of the most seriously injured survivors of the IRA’s 1992 bombing of Manchester — yesterday called Sinn Fein and Mrs O’Neill a “joke” for having a convicted prisoner in its Press office ranks.

He said: “Only in Norther Ireland.

“What a joke. Michelle O’Neill and Sinn Fein are continuing to make a joke out of the political system by having a convicted

IRA man controlling their media output. The party should be concentrating on cleaning house instead of lecturing Northern Ireland.”

Many figures with a paramilitary past are involved in politics in Northern Ireland, whether it be in Sinn Fein or on the loyalist side with the PUP.

While people on this side of the Irish Sea have become used to that fact, Mr Tattersall pointed out it was still a shock to victims of terror attacks living in Britain.

Mrs O’Neill’s Press office has been credited with changing the way she speaks from a harsh “express train” style to a soft and slow tone, and with ensuring she is the glamorous face of the party.

In Monday’s TV election debate between the main candidates, Mrs O’Neill and the DUP’s Nigel Dodds repeatedly clashed over terrorist links.

Mr Dodds called Mrs O’Neill a “disgrace” for “eulogising IRA terrorism”.

She hit back by accusing the DUP of accepting the endorsement of the UDA, whose members have been responsible for two recent murders here.

Last month Mrs O’Neill was accused of using the Manchester bomb atrocity as an opportunity for “crass” election campaigning.

She turned up at Belfast City Hall to sign a book of condolence for the victims of the Manchester Arena massacre. Mrs O’Neill unequivocally condemned the Manchester bombing — a move that prompted a wave of criticism, as the IRA bombed the English city twice in the 1990s.

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