Editor's Viewpoint: McElduff’s appalling ‘joke’ brings politics into total disrepute
Even by the often bizarre standards of behaviour among some Northern Ireland politicians, the actions of Barry McElduff beggar belief.
On the 42nd anniversary of the Kingsmill massacre the Sinn Fein MP inexplicably and crassly posted a video of himself on social media with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head.
Apparently he has a penchant for posting pictures and images of himself with well-known brands of food and other objects on his head.
What a strange sense of humour.
It is no wonder that people are outraged by McElduff’s lack of sensitivity and judgment.
On these counts, Barry McElduff has fallen short abysmally. The naked sectarianism of the Kingsmill massacre in which 10 Protestant workmen were murdered in cold blood remains one of the most appalling episodes in the entire Troubles.
The pain of such loss has been with the relatives for all these years, and this has been compounded by the detailed inquest of the recent past, and by the revelation that elementary mistakes were made by the authorities whose job it was to track down the merciless killers. Thus, by every barometer of public taste, and of concern for the suffering of others, any use of the word Kingsmill has to be considered with the utmost care, and also in the right context.
Almost everyone would know this instinctively, and behave accordingly.
Not so Barry McElduff, who was either unaware of the implications of what he did, or was so grossly offensive that he found some dark humour in making fun of an atrocity that for everyone else would have been a strictly no-go area.
As usual in such cases, McElduff has apologised profusely, though at the time of writing there is no similar reaction from Sinn Fein, which will hardly surprise many people.
Paradoxically, it is Sinn Fein that has made much political capital by demanding “respect, honesty and integrity” from the unionist community, while showing little or nothing of those qualities for others — a point that has been so graphically illustrated by Barry McElduff’s inexcusable behaviour.
The trouble is that once a grossly offensive action has taken place it cannot be explained away, and Barry McElduff’s behaviour will neither be forgiven nor forgotten.
Already representations have been made to the Parliamentary Standards Committee, the PSNI is viewing the video after complaints, and a petition calling on McElduff to resign has been backed by more than 10,000 so far.
In the nastier parts of the swamp of Northern Ireland politics there are developments and situations which make us ask: “How on Earth have we fallen to this low level of human behaviour and public taste?”
Whether Barry McElduff’s action was intentional or not, and many people will feel that it was — despite his apology — the fact remains that he has caused deep hurt and offence to those who should never have been traumatised in such a way.
In a week when the NHS got worse, and many other basic issues are not being attended to, will the people of West Tyrone feel that they are being best-served by someone like Barry McElduff posting his image on social media with a Kingsmill loaf on his head?
McElduff has brought himself and politics into total disrepute.
If he has even a shred of decency he should resign.