Sinn Fein MLA's tweet linking RUC to Stone's terror attack at funeral in Belfast ‘ridiculous and offensive’
An attempt by a Sinn Fein MLA to link Michael Stone's murderous attack on a funeral in west Belfast with the RUC has been slammed as "ridiculous" and "offensive".
Mairtin O Muilleoir made the claim in a tweet as he attended a memorial event for Thomas McErlean, who was killed by Stone during the 1988 attack at Milltown Cemetery.
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The South Belfast MLA posted a photograph of Sinn Fein's Fra McCann addressing a commemoration in honour of McErlean.
Mr O Muilleoir tweeted: "Thomas, who was just 20, died protecting mourners from the RUC-UDA attack on the funerals of the Gibraltar Three on 16 March 2018. A plaque was unveiled at his home today."
The tweet was greeted with incredulity, with a number of Twitter users expressing their disbelief.
Former RUC Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan slammed the tweet as "yet another attempt to rewrite history".
He recalled the events of that day as Stone was arrested within minutes of his attack by traffic police on duty on the M1 motorway. Stone was convicted of the Milltown attack, where he killed three people, following an RUC investigation and sentenced to life imprisonment. "For almost 40 years police officers sought to stop people like Michael Stone with huge success - the Stones on the republican side as well as the loyalist side," Mr McQuillan said.
"When you hear comments like that, it is no wonder that we are in the position we are in politically.
"I happened to be watching the helicopter coverage on that day. Police officers got to Stone as quickly as possible and arrested him.
"He started the attack, he was seen immediately. Police officers were sent to try and get to him as police stayed out of the cemetery that day to facilitate the funeral.
"He was seen by the helicopter and then the first to get him were traffic officers on the M1 motorway, and they arrested him.
"Mairtin seems to have forgotten that, or maybe he is just playing to an audience. The re-writing of history won't work."
Alan Mains, a former crime advisor for Northern Ireland in the RUC and the PSNI, described Mr O Muilleoir's tweet as "hurtful" to his former colleagues.
"It comes as no surprise to me that Sinn Fein along with Mairtin continue their concerted efforts to rewrite history," he said.
"It is hurtful to my former colleagues who worked tirelessly against both loyalists and republicans in their efforts to keep the public safe.
"Across the Troubles, approximately 8,900 loyalists and 11,000 republicans were charged with serious offences."
Mr Mains said he thought Mr O Muilleoir might have "learned his lesson" after coming in for criticism when he retweeted a controversial tweet by former Sinn Fein MP Barry McElduff in January.
That tweet included an image of Mr McElduff posing with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head, on the same day as the anniversary of the Kingsmill massacre.
Mr McElduff later resigned following the furore.
"I think people in general need to understand the effect of social media on victims and former members of the police. Sinn Fein should consider giving lessons to their senior representatives to ensure what they put out in social media is factual," Mr Mains said.
He added: "A lot of these terrorist offences that were never cleared were down to sheer intimidation in republican and loyalist areas. Both sides intimidated witnesses out of coming forward with vital evidence."
Former RUC Reservist Ross Hussey described Mr O Muilleoir's claim as "absolutely ridiculous".
"This is Mairtin's attempt to bounce his way back into the public domain following the mess he made of the Barry McElduff situation," the former MLA said.
"Attempting to associate Michael Stone with the RUC is absolutely ridiculous and offensive.
"The RUC arrested that man and brought him to justice.
"So I think that Mairtin would be far better looking at the actions of others - including the IRA - and maybe perhaps help with the recovery of the Disappeared rather than trying to discredit the name of one of the finest British forces ever."
Mr O Muilleoir did not respond to attempts by the Belfast Telegraph to contact him last night. Sinn Fein also did not respond.