Belfast Telegraph

No more lectures about respect, says Swann as McElduff feels the heat

By Suzanne Breen

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann has said Sinn Fein will never again be able to lecture others on respect, equality or sectarianism after failing to sack Barry McElduff.

The party "failed the ultimate test" when it only suspended the West Tyrone MP for three months instead, Mr Swann claimed.

The UUP leader accused Sinn Fein of showing "staggering and breath-taking contempt" for the Kingsmill victims.

"It is absolutely clear that Sinn Fein will put the party before the people and are more interested in preserving the kudos and standing of Barry McElduff being an MP than doing the right thing and seeing him resign," he said.

"He is clearly unfit to hold public office.

"This is a disgusting decision that demonstrates their so called rights, equality and respect agenda is nothing more than hollow rhetoric."

Describing the three month suspension as a "lamentable sanction", Mr Swann added: "Never again let Sinn Fein lecture anyone on respect, equality, rights or sectarianism in this society.

"The mask slipped over the weekend and revealed that they are still a nasty party at heart."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the new Sinn Fein leadership had shown it hadn't "the authority to do the right thing" in one of its first tests.

"As of now Barry McElduff remains an abstentionist MP on full pay.

"The only sanction the Sinn Fein leadership has seen fit to hand down to Barry McElduff is that he is now suspended from attending Sinn Fein meetings for the next three months," Mr Eastwood said.

"The last number of days for Sinn Fein has been about desperately fire-fighting a PR storm - it hasn't been about enforcing proper discipline.

"It most definitely hasn't been about addressing the hurt caused to the Kingsmill victims and their families."

Alliance leader Naomi Long said Sinn Fein's three-month suspension of Mr McElduff would be seen as weak by many.

"While we recognise the apology and welcome the party taking action, he has failed to provide explanation as to any innocent intention behind his actions. In those circumstances and until he does so, this stops well short of what would have been expected for such conduct," she said.

"The thoughts and feelings of the families of the victims, as well as the sole survivor, are the most important thing in all of this. They suffered yet more hurt and distress as a result of Mr McElduff's actions and will no doubt see today's response by Sinn Fein as weak."

Green Party leader Steven Agnew welcomed Mr McElduff's suspension, but said it was for the Kingsmill families to decide if it was enough.

"This was a horrendous thing to have done. It was very hurtful from a representative of a party that says it is committed to respect and it caused a lot of upset," he added.

TUV leader Jim Allister said: "While there was nothing funny about Barry McElduff's video, the 'punishment' handed down by Sinn Fein really is a joke.

"Sinn Fein has shown that as an entity it holds its IRA's victims in total contempt. No one can be in any doubt about his actions and who they were aimed at offending. He was mocking the dead of Kingsmill and making light of IRA terrorism.

"Sinn Fein's entire campaign for equality and respect now stands naked and exposed for the hypocritical nonsense it always was. In that regard let me ask, does Sinn Fein still accept the IRA denial of responsibility for Kingsmill?"

The Workers Party branded the decision to suspend Mr McElduff as "disgraceful and contemptuous of the families of the Kingmill massacre victims".

Party leaders from the Republic united in condemning Mr McElduff's actions.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin slammed the Kingsmill murders as "a vile sectarian act".

He added: "Sinn Fein and Mr McElduff should acknowledge this, apologise for it and work to ensure that those responsible be brought to justice."

Meanwhile, Irish Labour Party leader and Northern Ireland spokesperson, Brendan Howlin TD, called on Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald to "break her silence" over Mr McElduff's video.

Mr Howlin said: "The video by Sinn Fein MP Barry McElduff provided a glimpse into the mindset of the party, referencing one of the most sectarian acts from the Troubles.

"If the slogan of 'Equality, Respect, Integrity' is to have any meaning, it is now time for the leader in waiting, Mary Lou McDonald to break her silence on her views of the video and what action she will take."

Fine Gael TD and former chairman of the Oireachtas justice committee, Alan Farrell, expressed his shock over the three month suspension, which he labelled a holiday.

"It's clear to me that the Sinn Fein organisation are not taking such disgraceful comments seriously. A three month holiday is little comfort to the families insulted by these reprehensible antics," he said.

How the story went around the world

The Kingsmill controversy went global yesterday, with the New York Times describing the incident as "an embarrassing scandal for the mainly Catholic Sinn Fein party".

The respected American news outlet stated that Mr McElduff's tweet had caused "outrage" as Sinn Fein is "trying to play down its roots in the disbanded Irish Republican Army in order to enter government both north and south of Ireland's border".

The Times of Malta website claimed that Mr McElduff is "known for his light-hearted social media contributions" and described his action as a "stunt".

It added: "Unionists have criticised Sinn Fein for not being tougher on Mr McElduff, with some branding a three-month suspension with continued pay as a 'cop out'."

Jordan-based website The Gulf Times also featured the story and the now infamous still photo from the video of Mr McElduff with the loaf perched on his head.

And while Mr McElduff's actions were laid bare on nearly all of the major national newspapers' websites, the story also featured on lesser-known websites such as the North Yorkshire Advertiser.

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