| 10.6°C Belfast

'His actions are the latest in a litany of Sinn Fein insults to the victims of IRA violence'

Yesterday, I was invited to Markethill to meet with some of the Kingsmill Massacre victims. They had gathered to support each other. Local clergy were there offering prayerful support.

One of the saddest elements of the meeting was Kenneth Worton's now 90-year-old mother, Bea. She was around my age when her 24-year-old son was murdered by the IRA at Kingsmill. Over recent weeks, Bea has been receiving regular phone calls from people asking for 10 rounds of Kingsmill bread.

Indeed, I had just arrived for the meeting as a silver BMW slowed outside the door and with their window down, someone shouted: "Tiocfaidh ár lá".

What type of sick and depraved individuals mock and harass people like Bea? It is this context which makes Barry McElduff's video all the more hurtful for the Kingsmill families.

The decision by Sinn Fein to suspend Barry McElduff for three months is a pathetic response to the offence he has caused.

Sinn Fein is fond of the word "respect". We are often lectured about respecting republicans, about respecting rights and about respecting different cultures and languages.

But it would seem that Sinn Fein's definition of respect is very different to everyone else's.

As I said in my speech to my party's annual conference back in November, respect isn't a one-way street. It goes both ways. What Barry McElduff did last week wasn't just disrespectful. It was insensitive. It was crass. And it was downright hurtful.

Of all the brands of bread to choose and of all of the dates to do it, we are meant to believe that it was a pure coincidence that Barry McElduff posted his bizarre video - which was retweeted by Mairtin O'Muilleoir - on the anniversary of the day that 10 Protestant workmen were gunned down by republicans simply because they were Protestants. That was already going to be a difficult day for the victims' families.

Sinn Fein said McElduff's actions were "indefensible" and "inexcusable" but they are only the latest in a litany of SF insults to the victims of IRA violence.

What he did was deeply offensive in and of itself, but it is bad behaviour which has, in effect, been authorised on high in Sinn Fein by the culture created by its leaders and the turning of a blind eye to repeated wrongdoings.

Many had hoped that Michelle O'Neill's ascension to the position of Sinn Fein leader in Northern Ireland would see a page turned in the attitude and approach of Sinn Fein. They were wrong.

Within months of taking on her new role, she was eulogising the eight IRA men shot dead at Loughgall in 1987, talking of her pride in the so-called patriot dead.

This is a party which named, of all things, a children's play park in Newry after Raymond McCreesh, an IRA terrorist who, when arrested, was found to be in possession of a rifle used in the Kingsmill massacre.

And this is a party that sells on its own website T-shirts emblazoned with the words "IRA Undefeated Army".

The IRA didn't care when they made victims, but it is now becoming increasingly clear that Sinn Fein have no concern for the feelings of the families of those the IRA killed and maimed.

Whatever one's perspective on the past might be, surely we can all agree that the repeated picking at the scabs of the Troubles by Sinn Fein does absolutely nothing to create the society based on mutual respect that they so frequently tell us they desire.

This incident represents a fork in the road for Sinn Fein. They can choose to continue glorifying the IRA and retraumatising victims. Or they can seize the chance created by a change in leadership to adopt an attitude that is respectful and remorseful.

That is the stark but simple choice that faces Sinn Fein today. The so-called "disciplining" of Barry McElduff for his disgraceful actions has been mocked in all directions.

I want us to build a shared and settled society in Northern Ireland. One where everyone, regardless of their political persuasion or religious denomination, can thrive together.

A society where the next generation can avail of opportunities denied to so many that grew up during the Troubles.

Unless insensitive mindsets like those displayed by Sinn Fein in recent times are changed, then moving forward will be forever hampered. Society can't move forward while insulting those who suffered the most.

Belfast Telegraph