Sinn Fein must stop eulogising terrorists, Arlene Foster says
Sinn Fein's continued "eulogising" of the IRA is thwarting efforts to build a shared future in Northern Ireland, Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster has warned.
Mrs Foster delivered a blunt message to the republican party in the wake of a furore sparked when one of its MPs posed with a Kingsmill-branded loaf on his head on the anniversary of the Kingsmill massacre.
"They have to stop eulogising terrorists," she said.
"They have to stop that, it cannot continue.
"If we are building a new shared future for the people of Northern Ireland, let's build it, but let's move away from the past and move away from the eulogising of terrorists."
The DUP leader claimed the controversy around West Tyrone MP Barry McElduff's social media video was just one of many instances where Sinn Fein members showed disrespect to the victims sector.
Mr McElduff has been suspended by Sinn Fein for three months.
He has insisted the video was not meant as a reference to the republican murders of ten Protestant workmen at the village of Kingsmill in January 1976 and issued an unreserved apologies to the victims' families.
Mrs Foster was scathing in her assessment of how Sinn Fein has handled the affair as she emerged from her first face-to-face meeting with new Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley at Stormont House.
"It really is time for Sinn Fein to show respect for all of the people of Northern Ireland, it is time for them to understand the hurt they have caused, not just over the incident with Barry McElduff but over a whole range of incidents in relation to innocent victims," she said.
Mrs Foster added: "We have listened to lectures on respect for a whole year and it's very easy to demand respect, but apparently it is not very easy to give respect, and Sinn Fein have not given respect to the victims community here in Northern Ireland and, by definition, the whole wider community in Northern Ireland."
Announcing Mr McElduff's suspension on Monday, Sinn Fein's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill apologised to the Kingsmill families.
She said the tweet was "ill-judged and indefensible" but said she did not believe it was intentionally malicious.
In the short video, Mr McElduff, who is known for his light-hearted social media contributions, is filmed walking around a shop with a Kingsmill loaf on his head, asking where the store kept the bread.
It was posted around the 42nd anniversary of the Kingsmill outrage last Friday.
The abstentionist MP has faced multiple calls to resign in the wake of the controversy.
Mr McElduff will continue to be paid during his three-month suspension from party activities.
After Monday's disciplinary meeting in Belfast, Mrs O'Neill said sorry to the Kingsmill families.
"To the Kingsmill families, I as the Sinn Fein leader in the north want to apologise unreservedly for the hurt and pain that has been caused over the course of the last number of days in regard to Barry's tweet," she said.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar commented on the episode after the first cabinet meeting of the new year in Dublin.
"I think what Mr McElduff did was very foolish and very inappropriate and very hurtful to the families of people who were killed in that awful atrocity," he said.
"Obviously it's up to Sinn Fein to decide how they discipline their own members and given his previous content on social media I think perhaps it was a genuine error of judgment rather than an attempt to deliberately insult the families of victims nonetheless it was egregious and unacceptable.
"I hope that, when he runs for re-election, and if he runs for re-election, that people of his constituency will decide to elect somebody with a little bit more character."
On Wednesday evening, a fresh Twitter row surfaced when a DUP Assembly member faced criticism for tweeting a graphic political sketch on the Mr McElduff episode that appeared to depict the aftermath of the Kingsmill outrage, with blood running from a bullet-riddled van.
Alliance Party leader Naomi Long urged South Belfast MLA Christopher Stalford to delete the post.
"Christopher, please. Remove this," she tweeted.
"Stop this gruesome tit for tat and show some leadership and respect."
She added: "Don't be part of politicising what was an obscene atrocity. Be better than this."
Above the image, Mr Stalford wrote "Sinn Fein: offended by everything and ashamed of nothing."
He later tweeted that he would not delete the post at the "behest of the Sinn Fein Twitter mob" and would only take it down if someone connected to the Kingsmill massacre asked him to.
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie retweeted the sketch without comment. He said the image was challenging and stimulated debate and insisted it should not be censored.
In response to critics on Twitter, he said: "Do you condemn Charlie Hebdo for their satirical content for example?"