Belfast Telegraph

Barry McElduff Kingsmill tweet: Yellow card clearly not enough when he deserved a straight red

By Suzanne Breen

When Michelle O'Neill addressed the media on the Falls Road yesterday on Barry McElduff's suspension from the party, her statement was read and questions answered from assembled journalists within an unbelievably brief five minutes.

Sinn Fein will be hoping that the furore over the West Tyrone MP's Kingsmill video abates just as swiftly - but that's unlikely.

The outrage Mr McElduff's social media post caused remains extensive among grassroots unionists - the overwhelming majority of whom believe that Ms O'Neill should have handed him his P45 yesterday. Her failure to do so keeps the story alive.

The Sinn Fein MP's video will now feature as prominently in unionist minds as Arlene Foster's crocodile comments and Gregory Campbell's 'curry my yogurt' quip do in nationalist heads.

Except this is a far more emotive subject because it involves not a language but one of the Trouble's most infamous atrocities, in which 10 men were murdered.

The photo of the bullet-ridden Kingsmill minibus is one of the most haunting images of the conflict.

Sinn Fein may have thought that sending Declan Kearney out to talk tough on the BBC's Good Morning Ulster yesterday would help calm the storm, but it may have backfired.

By asserting that "no defence or excuse" could be made for Mr McElduff's video, the Sinn Fein chairman raised the public expectation that he was to be sacked.

Even staunch Sinn Fein opponents, who would normally expect the party to be lenient on such behaviour, were predicting that course of action.

His three month suspension is illogical because if, as she says, Ms O'Neill accepts her MP's insistence that it was all a coincidence and he didn't act maliciously, then there is no reason to punish him.

If she doesn't believe him, then he should have been dumped.

The course of action the leadership took is an attempt to walk the tightrope of appeasing unionists while not alienating its base, who would oppose Mr McElduff being sacrificed to placate political opponents. Yet it has utterly failed to quell the outrage and has been condemned as nothing other than a token gesture.

Former UUP MLA Danny Kennedy summed up the sentiment when he said that the Sinn Fein MP "got a tame yellow card when he deserved a straight red".

Sinn Fein is accustomed to leading the charge on social media against acts of unionist idiocy or intransigence.

It has done so very successfully but now, for the first time since the collapse of power-sharing a year ago, the roles have been reversed and the party finds itself cast as the bad guys and facing a deluge of criticism.

The leadership is undoubtedly furious at Mr McElduff for gifting unionists a penalty kick.

The spectre of the IRA campaign is now firmly back on the political agenda.

The naming of a Newry park after hunger-striker Raymond McCreesh and Ms O'Neill's attendance at the Loughgall and Clonoe commemorations are once again in the spotlight.

The party wishes the dominant narrative to be about loyalist atrocities and security force collusion.

The sight of Alan Black shaking in front of the cameras - speaking of watching as his 10 friends were slaughtered and the hurt the Kingsmill video caused him - is far from comfortable territory for Sinn Fein.

Belfast Telegraph

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