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Suzanne Breen

If ghosts of the past haunt Sinn Fein, it's because party has failed to lay them to rest

Suzanne Breen


Stephen and Breege Quinn holding a photo of their murdered son Paul

Stephen and Breege Quinn holding a photo of their murdered son Paul


Stephen and Breege Quinn holding a photo of their murdered son Paul

The last time Breege Quinn saw her son alive he was lying on a hospital bed with a ventilator tube protruding from his mouth, his eyes half open.

His head was swollen and there were gashes on his face. His right ear was torn off. Every major bone below his neck was broken. The doctors told her that "nothing could be fixed".

It was October 20, 2007. Breege and her husband Stephen could barely look at how the IRA gang had left their beloved boy.

Three weeks later the Quinns watched their MP on television. While condemning the murder, Conor Murphy had previously insisted that it was nothing to do with the IRA, that it was a result of a criminal feud.

But this time he went further. "Paul Quinn was involved in smuggling and criminality and I think everyone accepts that," he told the BBC.

Except everyone didn't accept it at all. Murphy didn't produce a shred of evidence. Breege and Stephen said their son wasn't a criminal. He had no convictions. They called on the Sinn Fein MP to lift his "slur" against Paul.

Let's say it was the UVF who used iron bars and nail-studded cudgels on a young Catholic lad. Gave him an awful death. Then a unionist politician went on TV and branded the innocent victim a criminal. Sinn Fein would rightly be apoplectic with rage.

Branding Paul a criminal puts you on the same moral territory as those in the British Establishment who blackened the name of the Bloody Sunday innocents. Who said they were nail-bombers and hooligans.

Why was Conor Murphy so keen to point the finger at young Paul Quinn?

Has he ever branded multi-millionaire Thomas 'Slab' Murphy a smuggler and criminal? And Slab could be called far worse.

Paul's murder has been raised during the Dail election campaign. Sinn Fein has complained that the media is using the killing as a political football. Former MEP Lynn Boylan told RTE: "It's not respectful to families to drag their relatives up every time there is an election."

In the Quinn case, this is the most absurd inanity. It is also deeply patronising to Paul's parents. Nobody is using and absuing them. I've written dozens of articles about the murder over the past 12 years. Every time a piece is published, I get a text from Breege: "Thanks for the story. Thanks for not forgetting Paul." Because for the Quinns, silence is the enemy. The family are apolitical. Their only agenda in the Dail election campaign is justice.

Let's remember that Paul Quinn wasn't killed during "the war", but a decade after the Good Friday Agreement.

Sinn Fein's narrative on its response to the murder became unstuck this week. Mary Lou McDonald said Paul Quinn definitely wasn't a criminal, and she claimed that Stormont's Finance Minister denied he had ever said so. She told RTE: "I've spoken to Conor Murphy about this issue before.

"He is very clear that he never said that. That that is not his view."

But footage from a 2007 BBC interview proves otherwise. Did Murphy forget his own words on the most high-profile murder in his constituency since he entered electoral politics?

If the ghosts of the past are haunting this election campaign, Sinn Fein has only itself to blame for not taking action to put them to rest.

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