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Maria Cahill at Saint Mary's College on the Falls Road where Maria was speaking at a  Feile na Phobail organized event about being abused as a child.
Picture Mark McCormick 31/07/2015

Breege Quinn finally forced Mary Lou into a corner, but it took an election - not simple human decency from Sinn Fein - to get an apology

Mairia Cahill


Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald at Sinn Fein headquarters in Dublin. PA Photo.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald at Sinn Fein headquarters in Dublin. PA Photo.


Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald at Sinn Fein headquarters in Dublin. PA Photo.

The most basic form of human empathy is that when a family is grieving, you most certainly do not compound their grief, particularly when someone receives a death so horrific, it shocks everyone to the core.

To do it through the media in a murder case is unthinkable. In 2007, as it became clear to the majority that IRA members were responsible for luring and battering young Paul Quinn to death, Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy, now Finance Minister in NI, took a different approach.

“Paul Quinn was involved in smuggling and criminality, I think everyone accepts that. As I say this is a very difficult situation as there is a family grieving, and I don’t want to add to their grief.”

Don’t want to add to their grief?

If it wasn’t clear that he had done precisely that, just one month after Paul was beaten to death, Paul’s parents, Breege and Steven let him know. They may have been softly spoken, but for almost 13 years, they continually asked Murphy to withdraw the allegation he made about their son and apologise.

He was asked by others too, on the floor of the Assembly, through media and on social media. Not one person from Sinn Fein offered comfort to the Quinn family by doing the right thing. They had ample opportunity to do so – years - to try and heal the unnecessary additional pain they had caused. They chose not to do so.

Sinn Fein had an opportunity to do it again, when the Sunday Independent printed at the weekend, because I had written about Paul’s case and the party’s treatment of victims.

Not a word from Mary Lou McDonald that day, or anyone else, until Brendan O’Connor asked Sinn Fein’s Lynn Boylan about the issue on RTE Radio. She had the chance to be clear in her condemnation of Murphy’s remarks. She said this, among other things: “It’s not respectful to families to drag their relatives up every time there is an election.”

Breege Quinn was incensed and appeared on Drivetime on Monday and hit back.

Later that night, Bryan Dobson rightly took Mary Lou McDonald to task on the issue. She rattled off an answer about Conor Murphy and said; “I have spoken to Conor Murphy about this issue before, he is very clear that he never said that, that that is not his view…” Referring to Breege Quinn, Dobson said: “She says that’s the spin that he put on this."

“Well, he says that that’s not the case,” she tersely replied.

It took Miriam O’Callaghan on the Leaders' Debate last night to put the record straight. Conor Murphy’s quote was read out to McDonald, who was forced to withdraw it on his behalf.

“…my recollection was that he had not been as explicit as that,” she said. The fact that she reportedly took him at his word and didn’t use Google like the rest of us, is a frightening oversight.

Not. Good. Enough.

Certainly not for Breege Quinn who told me immediately after the debate: “For almost 13 years Conor Murphy and Sinn Fein caused additional hurt to my family after the murder of my son. He made the slur against Paul publicly, and I want him to publicly withdraw it and apologise.”

It is the very least that she is entitled to. What Sinn Fein have put this woman and her family through for over a decade is unforgiveable, and Murphy should not prolong their suffering any longer.

Gerry Adams, who also by the way cast a slur on Paul Quinn when he linked his murder to “fuel smuggling” – and who should also withdraw and apologise, chose instead to tweet last night in reference to the debate – “the best woman won.”

As someone on Twitter pointed out, it wasn’t Mary Lou. The woman who did, Breege Quinn, who took on Sinn Fein since 2007 with quiet but determined dignity, finally forced the party president into a corner on the issue. Unfortunately it took an election – and not simple human decency from the party - to finally get an apology.

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