Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has described Sinn Fein’s three-month suspension of West Tyrone MP Barry McElduff as “hopelessly inadequate” in addressing the hurt caused to the Kingsmill families.
Mr McElduff sparked outrage after posting a video of himself in a shop with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head on Twitter on Friday - the 42nd anniversary of the IRA massacre of 10 Protestant workmen near the village of Kingsmill.
While he claimed he “meant no offence” and quickly apologised, many believe he was mocking victims of the IRA and have called for him to resign.
Sinn Fein described his actions as “inexcusable” and “indefensible” and suspended him for three months on full pay.
Taking to Facebook to share a poignant piece written by constituent Jim Butler, who lost his Uncle John in the Kingsmill massacre, Mr Donaldson described Mr McElduff’s actions as “deeply offensive and hurtful”.
“Whilst there has been much focus on the deeply offensive and hurtful actions of Barry McElduff, Jim has reminded us of the reality of the pain, suffering and deep sense of injustice felt by the families over many years since that dreadful sectarian deed,” the DUP man posted.
“The sanction against McElduff is hopelessly inadequate in addressing the hurt caused to the families. Sinn Fein must come clean and acknowledge once and for all that the IRA was responsible for this most heinous of sectarian crimes. Their continual denials and hiding the truth are just as insulting as the actions of McElduff.”
In the piece shared by the Lagan Valley MP online, Mr Butler wrote: “My Uncle John was only 20 years old and was one of the men murdered at Kingsmill 42 years ago. I’ve been told that John was a gentle boy, with a kind heart. Nearly everyone who has spoken to me about my Uncle always say he is remembered for his blonde curls. He held a strong faith and days after his murder my grandmother received his acceptance to Bible Collage in Scotland. An offer he would never be able to accept.
“My mum and aunties had their brother ripped out of their lives, my grandparents lost a son too soon and myself, my sisters, and cousins have been denied an uncle throughout our lives.
“I always thought my Uncle John was so old when I was growing up. It wasn’t until I turned 20 that the reality of him being so young when he was murdered hit me. Turning 21 is a milestone in most people’s lives, and I enjoyed my 21st birthday celebrations in July past, however my Uncle didn’t get that chance.”
Hitting out at the sanction imposed on Mr McElduff by Sinn Fein, Mr Butler said: “A three month paid suspension and an apology is not good enough.”
He added: “To Barry McElduff, I have so many thoughts going through my head. What were you thinking when you posted that video? Why choose that particular brand of bread? Why post it just after midnight on the anniversary of the Kingsmill Massacre? You have said it was not intentional and you meant for no hurt or pain to be caused to the families, but your suggestion of it being a coincidence won’t be accepted by my family and hasn’t been accepted by the 30,000 other people who are calling for you to be dismissed. You have so much to answer for and unfortunately an apology and a paid suspension by your party is not good enough. Maybe the next time you can’t find the bread you’ll ask a member of staff, rather than making a mockery of a truly horrific event.
“To Sinn Fein, how can you, as a political party, think a fully paid suspension for your member’s actions is enough? How will Northern Ireland move forward positively if you don’t punish Mr McElduff fairly? If one of your colleagues from the other side of community did something similar you would be calling for a harder punishment.
“Barry McElduff should be completely removed from his position as an MP as he has shown he is unfit to be a public representative for the people of Northern Ireland.”
Maintaining that he had never intended to cause any offence, Mr McElduff issued a statement, saying: “Although I genuinely meant no offence, I accept that my actions were ill-judged and, while unintended, caused deep and unnecessary hurt and pain to the Kingsmill families. I apologise unreservedly for this.
“In recognising the serious consequences of my actions, I fully accept the party’s decision to suspend me from all party activity for a period of three months.”
Despite his apology, more than 31,000 people have signed a petition on the change.org website calling on the Sinn Fein MP to resign.