Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein MP Begley restates desire to build bridges

By Adrian Rutherford

New Sinn Fein MP Orfhlaith Begley has repeated her desire to reach out to unionists.

The 26-year-old came in for criticism after attending a hunger strike commemoration in her first public engagement after being elected as West Tyrone MP.

The event in Dromore, Co Tyrone, on May 5 marked the 37th anniversary of Bobby Sands' death.

Unionists had branded her speech - in which she described the hunger strikers as an inspiration and "the people who set the moral compass for the rest of us to aspire to today" - disgraceful.

They claimed it showed that Sinn Fein's reconciliation gestures weren't genuine.

"The sacrifice and courage of the 1981 hunger strikers has inspired me to continue on the journey for Irish freedom," she told the crowd.

"The hunger strikers, and everything they represent, continue to be an inspiration to us all."

But writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Ms Begley claimed it was simply "the latest example of unionist faux outrage". She said she had made it clear that she is determined to reach out the hand of friendship to unionism.

Speaking at the hunger strike commemoration, Ms Begley said that she drew her inspiration from the 10 republican prisoners who died in the H-Blocks.

"The sacrifice and courage of the 1981 hunger strikers has inspired me to continue on the journey for Irish freedom," she told the crowd.

"The hunger strikers, and everything they represent, continue to be an inspiration to us all."

Listing the names of the hunger strikers along with some of the 1916 leaders, she continued: "They are the people who set the moral compass for the rest of us to aspire to today."

It came a day after she said that she wanted to extend the hand of friendship to unionists in the constituency, following her victory in the West Tyrone by-election.

It led defeated DUP candidate Tom Buchanan to accuse Sinn Fein of "harking back to the old ways".

In today's Belfast Telegraph, the new West Tyrone MP defends her presence at what she describes as a "dignified and solemn" event.

She adds: "Sinn Fein are absolutely committed to reconciliation and reaching out to unionism.

"Our record clearly demonstrates that.

"But a commitment to reconciliation does not mean ending our commitment to republicanism.

"And if and when a unionist leader finally reciprocates in a meaningful way, it won't dilute their commitment to unionism, nor should it."

Belfast Telegraph

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