Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein's Michelle O’Neill slammed for suspending McElduff instead of sacking him

By Suzanne Breen

Sinn Fein Northern Ireland leader Michelle O'Neill last night faced a deluge of criticism for failing to sack West Tyrone MP Barry McElduff.

Unionist politicians said his three month suspension on full pay amounted to no punishment at all.

Mr McElduff posted a social media video of himself balancing a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head on the anniversary of the Kingsmill massacre.

He said he accepted the sanction by the party but insisted he hadn't intended to cause offence and the brand of bread and date was a coincidence.

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph DUP leader Arlene Foster, who yesterday met Kingsmill victims, said: "The decision by Sinn Fein to suspend Barry McElduff for three months is a pathetic response to the offence he has caused.

"Sinn Fein is fond of the word 'respect'.

"We are often lectured about respecting republicans, about respecting rights and about respecting different cultures and languages. 

"But it would seem that Sinn Fein's definition of respect is very different from everyone else's."

Mrs Foster condemned Mr McElduff's video post but claimed the party's upper echelons were far from blameless.

"What he did was deeply offensive in and of itself, but it is bad behaviour which has, in effect, been authorised on high in Sinn Fein by the culture created by its leaders and the turning of a blind eye to repeated wrongdoings," she said.

"Many had hoped Michelle O'Neill's ascension to the position of Sinn Fein leader in Northern Ireland would see a page turned in the attitude and approach of Sinn Fein. 

"They were wrong. 

"Within months of taking on her new role, she was eulogising the eight IRA men shot dead at Loughgall in 1987, talking of her pride in the so-called patriot dead."

Mrs Foster accused Sinn Fein of being indifferent to the feelings of the victims of republican violence.

"This incident represents a fork in the road for Sinn Fein. 

"They can choose to continue glorifying the IRA and re-traumatising victims. 

"Or they can seize the chance created by a change in leadership to adopt an attitude that is respectful and remorseful.

"That is the stark but simple choice that faces Sinn Fein today. 

"The so-called 'disciplining' of Barry McElduff for his disgraceful actions has been mocked in all directions," she said.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson asked Commons Speaker John Bercow what action could be taken by parliament to "condemn and draw to the attention of this House to the obnoxious behaviour" of the abstentionist West Tyrone MP.

Mr Bercow said the issue was being looked at by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, adding: "Matters will take their course."

He added: "I take extremely seriously what he has said and I share his distaste, his utter distaste, for any celebration of deaths."

He added: "Where the alleged miscreant is someone who has not taken his or her seat in this House, I think inevitably somewhat different considerations must apply. That said, in so far as part of the objective of the honourable gentlemen in raising his point of order was to highlight what he regarded as atrocious and unacceptable behaviour, he might be thought to have succeeded in his mission."

Announcing Mr McElduff's three-month suspension yesterday, Ms O'Neill described his tweet as "ill-judged and indefensible".

She said: "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."

Ms O'Neill said she had considered all disciplinary actions, including dismissing the West Tyrone MP from the party.

"I don't believe that Barry's actions were malicious or were intended to cause the hurt and pain which they did," she continued.

"However, given the seriousness of the issue, I have suspended Barry for a period of three months from the party and Barry accepts that as an appropriate response in relation to the tweet activity."

She said he would continue to be paid over the next three months. She added: "He has been suspended as a party member ... but he also has a mandate from the people of West Tyrone and he will continue to represent them in that way."

Mr McElduff said he hadn't meant to cause offence and repeated his "deep and sincere" apology to the Kingsmil relatives.

"In recognising the serious consequences of my actions, I fully accept the party's decision to suspend me from all party activity for a period of three months," he added.

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