Belfast Telegraph

If Kingsmill was sectarian, as Sinn Fein now admit, what about Tullyvallen and all the other IRA atrocities?

Barry McElduff debacle has turned the focus on the Provisionals' litany of massacres, writes Nelson McCausland

Five members of an Orange lodge were machine-gunned by the IRA at Tullyvallen in 1975
Five members of an Orange lodge were machine-gunned by the IRA at Tullyvallen in 1975
Kingsmill massacre site

Sinn Fein generally manage their party and the media very skilfully, but recently they have been making more and more mistakes. There has been a series of resignations and there is a sense that all is not well. However, the party's problems have now been taken to an entirely new level.

Just after midnight on January 5, Sinn Fein's West Tyrone MP Barry McElduff posted a video of himself with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head. It was the 42nd anniversary of the Kingsmill massacre, when the Provisional IRA murdered 10 Protestants at Kingsmill.

The video caused outrage. Throughout the Friday and over the weekend, there was a wave of revulsion across the community.

Sinn Fein lay low and callously waited to see what would happen, but that was a mistake, because their silence exacerbated the outrage. It seemed that their priority was damage-limitation for the party, rather than any concern for the Kingsmill families. Sinn Fein got it wrong again when they thought they could save both the party and McElduff, by applying a meaningless sanction of a three-month suspension with pay. They misjudged that entirely and it was too little, too late.

The story was reaching beyond the local and national media to the international media. Throughout the week, the story kept running and Sinn Fein kept struggling.

Mary Lou McDonald, their leader-in-waiting, came out of it particularly badly. Gerry Adams, the current president, has honed his skills in avoiding awkward questions, whereas Mary Lou McDonald has not.

Eventually, on Thursday evening, John O'Dowd had to admit that the Kingsmill murders were "shameful" and "sectarian". It is not the first time that a Sinn Fein politician has described the Kingsmill murders as "sectarian", but it has reopened another question. If these murders were sectarian, how many other IRA murders were sectarian?

Not all of them were sectarian, because the IRA killed many Roman Catholics, but what about some other atrocities, such as the night in 1975 when the IRA machine-gunned the members of an Orange lodge meeting in Tullyvallen Orange Hall. Were those five murders not sectarian as well?

And when will Sinn Fein admit that Kingsmill, Tullyvallen and many other atrocities were carried out by the IRA? There isn't much "respect", or "integrity" in denying that these murders were carried out by the IRA. Sinn Fein has brought these questions back into the public square.

Then, on Sunday, Alan Black, the sole survivor of Kingsmill, was interviewed by Miriam O'Callaghan on RTE radio. McElduff resigned the next day, a full 10 days after the initial incident, but the day after the RTE interview. That highlights the fact that Sinn Fein is more concerned about the Irish Republic than it is about Northern Ireland, which may well create more strains within the party.

Families of murdered workmen attend an evening service in 1976 as six coffins of IRA victims are brought to church in Bessbrook the night before the funerals of those killed in the Provisional IRA's infamous sectarian Whitecross (Kingsmill) Massacre. The IRA lined up the occupants of a workers minibus carrying 11 protestants and one catholic, before releasing the catholic man and mowing down the 10 protestant workmen, leaving the critically injured Mr Alan Black for dead. Alan Lewis Photopress
Families of murdered workmen attend an evening service in 1976 as six coffins of IRA victims are brought to church in Bessbrook the night before the funerals of those killed in the Provisional IRA's infamous sectarian Whitecross (Kingsmill) Massacre. The IRA lined up the occupants of a workers minibus carrying 11 protestants and one catholic, before releasing the catholic man and mowing down the 10 protestant workmen, leaving the critically injured Mr Alan Black for dead. Alan Lewis Photopress
The victims of the Kingsmill massacre (clockwise from top left): Robert Chambers; John Bryans; Joseph Lemmon; James McWhirter; Robert Freeburn; Robert Walker; Reginald Chapman; Kenneth Worton; John McConville and Walter Chapman
Kimgsmill massacre aftermath
Walter Chapman
John McConville
Kenneth Worton
Reginald Chapman
Robert Walker
Robert Freeburn
James McWhirter
Joseph Lemmon
John Bryans
Robert Chambers
The funeral service for five victims of the Kingsmills massacre at the Presbyterian church grounds in Bessbrook
Alan Black was shot 18 times but survived the Kingsmills massacre
Alan Black in hospital after the IRA shot him and killed 10 of his colleagues at Kingsmills
Alan Black:Survivor of the Kingsmill, Armagh, Massacre/Shooting, when he was shot with his 10 workmates in an ambushon their way home from work by gunmen. Pictured at the Kingsmill Memorial monument. 4/1/1981
A man lays a wreath at the Kingsmill memorial in South Armagh (PA)
People attend a roadside service marking the 42nd anniversary of the Kingsmill massacre (Brian Lawless/PA)
Karen Armstrong holds a photograph of her brother John McConville, who was killed in the Kingsmill attack
Sisters Cathy Michale, Colleen McKenna and Eileen Reavey unveil the monument to commemorate their brothers in Whitecross, Armagh
The crowd assembled at the service of remembrance for the victims held at the Town Hall in Bessbrook yesterday to mark the 40th anniversary of the atrocity

On this side of the border, the forthcoming by-election will tell us what impact it has all had on support for Sinn Fein in West Tyrone. But Tyrone has always been a stronghold of hardline republicanism and the answer may be very little. Any impact will probably be felt in some other constituencies.

I can recall a senior Sinn Fein politician saying that they had maximised their vote among core republicans. There was a small dissident republican vote that they had lost and would probably not be able to retrieve. Their aim had to be to garner support among nationalists who had not previously voted for them.

The McElduff debacle, including the Mairtin O Muilleoir retweet, has damaged those efforts and I suspect many voters in South Belfast will not have been impressed by O Muilleoir's claim that he saw it as "wholly apolitical and retweeted it on that basis".

Sinn Fein must hope that the resignation of Barry McElduff draws a line under the issue and that they can move on. But it may not be as simple as that.

The damage done by McElduff and his party and the hurt they have caused are still there and Sinn Fein is still on the back foot.

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