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By-election looms as West Tyrone MP resigns

Thursday, 18 January 2018

By-election looms as West Tyrone MP resigns thumbnailBarry McElduff

THE MP for West Tyrone has resigned following mass controversy surrounding the posting of a Twitter video.

Barry McElduff's political career ended on Monday morning with the shock announcement that he was stepping down from the position. This followed 10 days of public outcry after the long-standing Sinn Féin politician posted a video on Twitter balancing a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head on the 42nd anniversary of the Kingsmill massacre of 10 Protestants by IRA gunmen.

The 51-year-old Carrickmore man had been the subject of much criticism for his actions from all sections of society. There was growing anger of his party too for only suspending him on full pay for three months. Victims rejected his offer to meet them and said they did not accept his apology.

Further criticism over last weekend included an emotional interview with the sole survivor of the Kingsmill attack, Alan Black, in which he accused McElduff of 'celebrating the deaths'. This appears to have been the final straw that pushed Sinn Féin into realising the issue would continue to be an ever present stumbling block in any dealings going forward.

Upwards on 40,000 people had also signed an online petition on the sitting MP to step down.

His resignation now paves the way for a by-election which is expected to take place in the not too distant future.

Announcing his resignation on Monday morning, Mr McElduff said it was with great sadness that, after more than 30 years as an active Sinn Féin member and public representative, he was tendering his resignation as MP for West Tyrone. He becomes the third Sinn Féin MP to resign from the House of Commons since 2011.

 

"The reason I am doing so is because of the consequences of the Twitter video which has caused such controversy over the last week. But the deep and unnecessary hurt this video caused the families of the victims of Kingsmill is my greatest regret. I again offer my profound apology to those families and to the wider victims community," he said.

He added that had he been conscious of the connection to the terrible atrocity at Kingsmill he would 'certainly not' have posted that tweet.

"I genuinely did not make that connection, not for a second did I make that connection in my mind. Kingsmill was wrong, unjustifiable and sectarian. It should never have happened."

He added there was no intended reference to Kingsmill in his tweet but he did accept that there were many people who do not believe this to be the case.

"I accept also that this view of what happened is deeply damaging to the reconciliation process that is so important to consolidating the peace process and to healing the pain and hurt of the past.

"I cannot undo the pain caused but I know that my continuing role as MP for West Tyrone will compound that sense of hurt and impede any reconciliation process."Mr McElduff added that he wished to wholeheartedly thank family and friends for their steadfast personal support during this difficult time, and the people of West Tyrone whom he had the privilege to serve as their public representative for over 20 years. "I have a deep 'gra' (love) for my native county and its people. I am an Irish republican and believe whole heartedly in the reunification of our country and an agreed Ireland in which we heal the wounds of the past together. Reconciliation is essential, but that message is not being heard at this time.

He added: "I do not wish to be a barrier to reconciliation and healing and in that spirit I again offer my sincere apologies to the survivors and families of those murdered at Kingsmill."

 

Sinn Féin leader in Northern Ireland, Michelle O'Neill, paid tribute to her party colleague saying he realised his continuing role in public life was compounding the distress of the Kingsmill victims.

"Yesterday [Sunday] evening, Barry McElduff informed me of his intention to resign as Sinn Féin MP for West Tyrone. Barry recognises that this controversy and his continuing role in public office is compounding the distress to the victims of Kingsmill, and again offers his profound apology to those families and to the wider victim's community.

"He has said that he does not want to be a barrier to reconciliation and I respect that decision.

However both the DUP and UUP locally have criticised the length of time it took for the resignation to be announced.

 

West Tyrone MLA, Tom Buchanan said the failure of the Sinn Féin leadership to deal appropriately with Mr McElduff also added insult to injury demonstrating a disgraceful lack of respect and compassion for both the victims of Kingsmill and victims right across Northern Ireland.

UUP councillor, Bert Wilson, added he didn't think the MP's position was tenable and that Kingsmill was one of the most sectarian murders carried out in Northern Ireland.

Party leaders also added their feelings. UUP leader, Robin Swann said the resignation was long overdue. "His position was absolutely untenable given the hurt and pain inflicted on the Kingsmill victims' families," he said, while DUP leader, Arlene Foster said it was time for Sinn Féin to learn the lessons from these dark events and to deal with the fact that it, and many of its individual members, continue to publicy glorify "the murderous deeds of the past".

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