Sinn Fein’s president has insisted she will not ask minister Conor Murphy to resign over his controversial comments about an IRA murder victim.
Paul Quinn’s mother Breege has called on Mary Lou McDonald to sack Mr Murphy as Stormont Finance Minister after the republican leader admitted her colleague had been wrong to brand Mrs Quinn’s son a smuggler and criminal.
The murder of Mr Quinn 13 years ago, and Sinn Fein’s response to it, has become a major issue in the Irish General Election campaign, with rivals highlighting the party’s IRA links and accusing it of being soft on crime.
He is not fit to be in governmentBreege Quinn
In an interview with the PA news agency on Wednesday, Mrs McDonald said she would not remove Mr Murphy from his position.
“There’s absolutely no question of that,” she said.
During the last TV election debate involving the main party leaders on Tuesday night, Mrs McDonald said Mr Murphy was retracting the comments he made in 2007 and will apologise to the Quinn family.
She said his remarks were wrong and had caused additional hurt and grief to Mr Quinn’s parents.
Mrs Quinn has said she will not meet Mr Murphy until he apologises publicly for branding her son a criminal.
“He is not fit to be in government,” she told BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show. “Mary Lou (McDonald) should just step him down.”
She added: “Has he any idea what we are going through, what he has put us through?”
Mr Quinn, a 21-year-old from Cullyhanna in south Armagh, was beaten to death by a gang of around a dozen men in a farm shed across the border near Castleblayney, Co Monaghan.
His family blame members of the IRA, but Sinn Fein has long denied republican involvement.
A month after the murder, Mr Murphy, a Sinn Fein representative for Newry and Armagh, claimed Mr Quinn was involved in “smuggling and criminality”.
Mrs McDonald said on Wednesday morning she would not ask Mr Murphy to leave his role.
“Absolutely not, we just got powersharing up and running (at Stormont), and I believe that everyone concerned is determined to make a success of it,” she told PA.
“It’s extremely important for the collective good and stability, so no, there’s absolutely no question of that.
“Conor has clarified the fact that he is withdrawing his statement, comments he made over a decade ago and he has apologised for them.
“That’s the right thing to do, it’s the decent thing to do.
“I know that he will be hoping to meet with the Quinn family to talk to them.
“That family have been through a horrible ordeal, I mean I can’t even imagine, to lose their son in such a brutal way.
“Obviously they felt a deep hurt at any suggestion that he was a criminal. To be clear, the criminals in this scenario are the people who beat Paul Quinn to death.
“I think the focus now needs to be in giving the respect due to that family and those responsible for this barbarism have to be brought to justice.
“Conor’s apology is sincere, and I hope the Quinn family take comfort from that and are assured that everybody in every stage are very forceful in saying that the people who took their son’s life need to be brought to justice.
“Let me tell you, if it was my son, I would do as Breege has done and I would not rest until those responsible for his death were brought to justice.”
Mrs McDonald said anyone who has information about the “barbaric” murder should contact authorities.
Mrs Quinn said Mr Murphy should tell investigators north and south of the border the names of the IRA members who he said told him the organisation was not involved in the murder.
“We could have justice tonight if Conor Murphy decided to give it to us,” she said.
On Wednesday, Mrs McDonald said Mr Murphy had spoken with authorities at the time of the murder but has not done so since.
Speaking in Dublin on Wednesday morning, Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar said Mrs Quinn’s comments had been powerful and emotive.
She wants an apology, she wants justice, she wants truth and she should get thatLeo Varadkar
“This is a mother who is still grieving her son who was brutally killed at 21 – he would be 34 today,” said the Taoiseach.
“She is looking for answers, looking for truth and looking for justice. I believe she is entitled to that.
“Those who can give her information, truth and justice should do so.”
Asked if Mr Murphy should resign he said: “That is a matter for him.
“This is not something that I want to make part of the election that is happening at the moment. I think we should see it as a human issue.
“This is a woman who is still grieving for her son who was taken from her in the most brutal fashion. She wants an apology, she wants justice, she wants truth and she should get that. But we should not make that a political issue in this election, this week, I don’t think.”
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has said “an omerta” surrounds Mr Quinn’s murder and called on people with information to come forward to the authorities.
Speaking in Dublin on Wednesday, Mr Martin said: “I met Breege Quinn and her husband a few years ago and it left an indelible mark on me.
“She has spent a long time trying to vindicate her son’s name and the Quinn family have been so let down in relation to this.
“It is the omerta that followed that is deeply concerning. It was a savage attack involving several people.
“A lot of people know a lot about it and they need to go to the gardai and tell them what they know because this type of savagery should never be tolerated.
“There is a fear among some people that inhibits them from doing what they need to do.
“We need a cleansing of that type of behaviour because the fear, intimidation and silence seems to inhibit people from doing what they need to do and going to the police.”
DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the Quinn family deserved justice.
“We welcome the words from Mary-Lou but that apology should be made publicly by Conor Murphy, just as the original allegations were,” he said.
“All information should also be given to the police so the perpetrators can be brought to justice.
“The Quinn family have had additional hurt visited on them by the constant denials about remarks that were made about their son.”