‘Hand of friendship’ MP defends IRA event as first engagement

Sinn Fein West Tyrone MP �rfhlaith Begley. Photo: Stephen Hamilton/Presseye
Sinn Fein West Tyrone MP �rfhlaith Begley. Photo: Stephen Hamilton/Presseye

Sinn Fein’s West Tyrone MP - who insists she is reaching out the hand of reconciliation - has slapped down “faux outrage” from unionists after choosing an IRA commemoration as her first engagement.

Orfhlaith Begley was elected on May 4, saying she wanted to extend the hand of friendship to unionists in her constituency. She replaced her party colleague Barry McElduff, who was forced from office after posting a video of himself balancing a loaf of Kingsmills bread on his head - on the anniversary of the Kingsmills Massacre.

However the day after her election Ms Begley addressed an event marking the 37th anniversary of the death of IRA man Bobby Sands in Co Tyrone. In her speech she described the hunger strikers - who were serving time for terrorist offences - as an inspiration and “the people who set the moral compass for the rest of us to aspire to today”.

Unionists expressed anger towards her actions, but she unapologetically defended her stance in Tuesday’s Belfast Telegraph.

“The latest example of unionist faux outrage at a republican doing something republican betrays a failure to grasp what reconciliation really needs to be about,” she said.

DUP East Antrim MLA Gordon Lyons said her words about reconciliation were to be welcomed.

However he added that the fact that she “glibly dismisses criticism of her actions as ‘unionist faux outrage’ encapsulates Sinn Fein’s difficulties with reconciliation”.

Sinn Fein must realise that offence is caused through “continual glorification of the IRA” he added.