Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein leadership slammed for silence over MP's Kingsmill stunt

Barry McElduff with a Kingsmill-branded loaf on his head
Barry McElduff with a Kingsmill-branded loaf on his head
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The Sinn Fein leadership last night remained silent amidst increasing calls for Barry McElduff to resign his Westminster seat.

The party's three most senior figures - Gerry Adams, Michelle O'Neill, and Mary Lou McDonald - made no comment on the controversy surrounding the West Tyrone MP's social media video.

It showed Mr McElduff with a Kingsmill loaf on his head on the anniversary of the massacre of 10 Protestant workers.

He has been summoned to a crunch meeting with his party's leadership today.

When asked if he planned to resign, he said last night: "I'm in the eye of the storm and I can only dwell on the here and now because of the ferocity of it."

He apologised "from the bottom of my heart" for the video.

He insisted he hadn't noticed the brand name of the bread and wasn't aware it was the anniversary of the massacre. The MP said he understood some people would disbelieve him but it was truly a coincidence.

Both unionist and nationalist politicians blasted Sinn Fein's handling of the controversy.

DUP MP Emma Little Pengelly said Mr McElduff had mocked the dead and should "hang his head in shame".

She continued: "This is a test of the Sinn Fein leadership's commitment to respect, honesty and integrity.

"Whilst Barry McElduff deleted the video and apologised, major questions still stand Michelle O'Neill, Mary-Lou McDonald and Gerry Adams have all been silent. 

"Regardless of what explanation Barry McElduff offers, the facts are uncompromising. Of all the products in the shop and all the brands of bread in the shop it's very bizarre why Mr McElduff chose Kingsmill.

"Indeed, even stranger as to why he chose to do this on the 42nd anniversary of that barbaric act. The Sinn Fein leadership must condemn this crass action."

SDLP leader Colm Eastwood said he "would genuinely ask Sinn Fein to ease the hurt caused to these victims by finally apologising for the Kingsmill massacre".

The Foyle MLA added: "Whether intentional or not though, Mr McElduff must understand that he has caused immense hurt by reopening the wounds for the families of the victims of the Kingsmill massacre.

"It is right that Mr McElduff has apologised, however it is clear that his apology will not fully heal the harm that his actions have caused.

"While I understand that Mr McElduff is to meet with the Sinn Fein leadership today, I believe this should have happened sooner.

"Sinn Fein have a responsibility to hold Mr McElduff to account for his actions. That means Michelle O'Neill must gain a full explanation from Mr McElduff and share that explanation with the victims and the public."

UUP leader Robin Swann accused Mr McElduff of mocking victims. "What has the leader of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, Michelle O'Neill, got to say about this?" he asked. "She has been conspicuously silent. It is beneath contempt that the sole survivor of the Kingsmill massacre, Alan Black, and the families of the innocents murdered on that day should have to continue to endure pain at the hands of republicans 42 years later."

Irish Labour leader Brendan Howlin tweeted: "The awful Kingsmill posts by Barry McElduff show how far Sinn Fein still have to travel. Mary Lou must make clear that this is unacceptable at any level."

Alliance leader Naomi Long said: "At best this was an ill-judged and poorly timed attempt at humour; at worst it was a direct and insulting reference to the victims of the Kingsmill Massacre 42 years ago to the day.

"Whichever the case, the hurt and offence caused is real and he needs to take responsibility for that. If it was the latter he ought to consider his position."

Around 23,000 people had last night signed an online petition calling on the West Tyrone MP to resign. The PSNI is examining the video after receiving complaints and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards at Westminster has been contacted.

Mr McElduff told the Belfast Telegraph: "I genuinely had no idea of the brand name of the bread I was purchasing. It was late at night in the store and there were only a few loaves left on the shelves.

"I had no sense that it was a Kingsmill loaf, it could easily have been Hovis. I checked the date of the loaf but nothing else."

He insisted he had no idea it was the anniversary of the massacre.

"I know people are annoyed and angry and I understand that some are disbelieving that it was a coincidence but I am telling the truth. It was a genuine coincidence," he said.

He said he sincerely wished to apologise for the offence and hurt he had caused. When asked why it took him so long to delete the post he made early on Friday, Mr McElduff said there had been "no furore" about it for 22 hours.

"About 10pm on Friday, somebody contacted me to say it was in poor taste. I thought 'Holy God, what is this about?' I never meant to offend anyone. I took the video down on Saturday morning."

Sinn Fein MLA Mairitin O Muilleoir retweeted Mr McElduff's post. When asked for comment by this newspaper, he said. "I saw Barry's tweet as being wholly apolitical and retweeted it on that basis.

"Once it was pointed out that the tweet had offended and hurt people and that Barry had rightly deleted his tweet I retweeted his apology and, of course, apologise unreservedly for the pain and hurt caused by my retweet."

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