Belfast Telegraph

Kingsmill was a war crime... 42 years later, Sinn Fein must finally admit that IRA was responsible

Admission that Provos were behind massacre could help heal wounds re-opened by McElduff, says Alban Maginness

Although Declan Kearney, the Sinn Fein chairperson, described Barry McElduff's offensive video as being "indefensible" and "irresponsible", Sinn Fein itself has failed to reflect that sense of condemnation by merely suspending him for three months on full pay.

Delivering such a meaningless slap on the wrist does not meet the justice of this case in the eyes of an outraged public, given that this incident has already reopened a terrible wound from the past. The so-called "punishment" imposed will nurture further hurt and bitterness.

Compare his punishment with the treatment of Peadar Toibin TD, who was suspended by the party for six months for daring to exercise his right of conscientious objection by defying the party's whip during the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill (2013) in Dail Eireann.

Toibin, a pro-life advocate, objected to the legislation on the grounds that it was introducing abortion through the back door. By any measure, McElduff has committed a much more grave offence, but received a lesser punishment.

McElduff has always presented himself as a light-hearted and whimsical political figure. His contributions to political debate in the Assembly were peppered with humorous quips and teases aimed at getting his point of view across in an impish style.

He carved out a clownish political persona, distinguishing himself from other, usually humourless, Sinn Fein politicians. He was a popular and likeable local politician in the Assembly.

However, it is this very own, self-made, impish political style that has exploded in his face and cost him his credibility as a public representative.

The posting by himself of a video of him grinning, while balancing a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head on the 42nd anniversary of the IRA massacre of 10 Protestant workmen at Kingsmill, is seen as an appalling act of gross insult to the memory of the dead men and their surviving families.

It was a grossly shocking and hugely distasteful image. Its perceived insensitivity and provocative nature is probably unprecedented for any local politician.

He was forced by Sinn Fein into taking down the post and apologising for the distasteful video, declaring that it was never, "... (his) intention to offend anyone who has suffered grievously". He added that he had, "... not realised, or imagined, for a second any possible link between product brand name and Kingsmill anniversary".

This cut little ice with unionist politicians, who rightly expressed their outrage over McElduff's video.

One DUP MLA, William Irwin, said that the video was bizarre and he then posed the central question: "Was it tomfoolery, or a blatant insult to innocent victims? The timing and brand of bread raises many questions about the motivation behind this video."

SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan put his finger on it, when he stated: "Barry McElduff styles himself as a class clown, but clearly this time his comments have, deliberately or not, crossed a line."

In all of this, it should not be forgotten that the murdered workmen were deliberately chosen for killing, simply because they were Protestant. They were shot in a Balkan war-style mass execution. It bears all the hallmarks of a war crime, as hideous as those being dealt with by the International War Crimes Tribunal sitting in The Hague.

Astonishing as it may seem, Sinn Fein has never acknowledged that this massacre was carried out by the IRA.

Among all the sound and fury generated by this incident, it would be helpful in repairing the huge damage caused if Sinn Fein were - even now at this late stage - to publicly accept that the IRA did, in fact, carry out this atrocity. Doubtless, McElduff will continue to argue that he was innocent of any intention to hurt, or insult, the victims of Kingsmill, but that is irrelevant. The blunt fact is not what he intended, but the perception created in the minds of the public.

By an act of crassness, he has lost credibility as a politician. His future is irredeemable, as he will always be haunted by this monumental gaffe.

Nowadays, it is perception in politics that counts, not fact.

In Dublin, just before Christmas, Frances Fitzgerald was forced to resign as Tanaiste (deputy prime minister), not because she was guilty of secretly acting against a Garda whistleblower, but because she failed to disclose that she had received three emails about an anti-whistleblower strategy devised by others.

But her omission created the perception that she was personally involved in undermining the standing of the whistleblower. Ultimately, she fell on her sword in the interests of the government.

Daithi McKay, a former Sinn Fein MLA, had to resign from the Assembly because of the perception that he was coaching the loyalist blogger and DUP critic Jamie Bryson before he appeared in front of the finance committee that McKay chaired.

Despite strongly denying that he coached Bryson, he also fell on his sword in the interests of the party.

In the tough business of politics, fact does not matter - perception reigns supreme.

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.


From Belfast Telegraph