Barry McElduff quits as Sinn Fein MP after Kingsmill-branded loaf row

A Sinn Fein MP who caused outrage by posing with a Kingsmill-branded loaf on his head on the anniversary of the Kingsmill massacre has resigned.

Abstentionst West Tyrone MP Barry McElduff, who had already been suspended by his party for three months, said staying in the job would have impeded efforts to forge reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

Barry McElduff has quit as a Sinn Fein MP

Barry McElduff has quit as a Sinn Fein MP

Mr McElduff reiterated his insistence that he had not meant the video as a reference to the sectarian murders of 10 protestant workmen by republican paramilitaries near the south Armagh village of Kingsmill in 1976.

"It is with great sadness that, after more than 30 years as an active Sinn Fein member and public representative I am tendering my resignation as MP for West Tyrone," he said

"The reason I am doing so is because of the consequences of the Twitter video which has caused such controversy over the last week."

He said his greatest regret was the "deep and unnecessary hurt" his video had caused the Kingsmill families.

"I again offer my profound apology to those families and to the wider victims community," he added.

The sole survivor of the attack, Alan Black, welcomed the resignation.

Mr Black told the Press Association: "This past week has been truly awful for me. I am just hanging by a thread.

"But I am glad he has done the right thing."

Mr Black said the fall-out from the Twitter video forced him to re-live the trauma of the attack in which he was shot 18 times.

"I am going to have to take time now to heal," he said.

"I only got involved because of the hurt and disrespect shown to my friends who died at Kingsmill but this whole thing has taken a heavy toll."

Sinn Fein has faced intense criticism on both sides of the Irish border over the video furore.

The episode further disrupted efforts to restore the powersharing institutions at Stormont.

West Tyrone is a very safe Sinn Fein seat and the party will likely hold on to it in a future by-election.

In the short video, Mr McElduff, who is known for his light-hearted social media contributions, was filmed walking around a shop with a Kingsmill loaf on his head, asking where the store kept the bread.

It was posted on the 42nd anniversary of the Kingsmill outrage on January 5.

Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill said Mr McElduff had resigned because of the "unintended hurt" he had caused.

"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 victims community," said Mrs O'Neill.

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

The extent of Mr McElduff's original punishment by Sinn Fein - a three-month suspension while still being paid - was widely criticised by unionists.

He resigned hours after Mr Black gave a powerful interview on RTE radio in which he accused the MP of celebrating the Kingsmill deaths.

The politician said he realised many people did not believe his explanation for the video.

"Had I been conscious of the connection to the terrible atrocity at Kingsmill I would certainly not have posted that tweet," said Mr McElduff.

"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.

"There was no intended reference to Kingsmill in my tweet.

"But I do accept that there are 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."

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 Fein's former Stormont finance minister, Mairtin O Muilleoir, also apologised last week for retweeting the video.

Unionists have criticised Sinn Fein for not taking disciplinary action against Mr O Muilleoir.

Sinn Fein has said it accepted the South Belfast MLA's explanation for the retweet.

The video precipitated a week of rancorous political exchanges in Northern Ireland.

The situation was exacerbated on Wednesday when a number of unionist politicians retweeted a graphic satirical cartoon that portrayed the controversy over Mr McElduff by depicting the aftermath of the Kingsmill outrage, with blood running from a bullet-riddled van.

However, a week of animosity appeared to end on a more optimistic note when two senior Democratic Unionist and Sinn Fein members engaged in more conciliatory exchanges on BBC NI's The View on Thursday night.

In a forthright condemnation of the Kingsmill outrage, Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd, who lost three family members at the hands of loyalist paramilitaries the day before Kingsmill, said he was "ashamed" by the sectarian attack.

The DUP's Edwin Poots welcomed the remarks and said his party was determined to see devolution returned.

It remains unclear what impact that exchange, and Mr McElduff's subsequent resignation, will have on efforts to restore powersharing.

It is a year since the region had a properly functioning devolved administration.

The institutions imploded in a row over a botched green energy scheme, but the rift subsequently widened to take in more long-standing cultural and legacy disputes between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Mrs O'Neill later defended her handling of the affair and rejected the suggestion the initial punishment had been weak.

"I believe the action I took last week was proportionate," she said outside Sinn Fein's offices on the Falls Road in west Belfast.

"Barry did cause hurt, he didn't intend to do so.

"I accepted last Monday and I still accept today, as does Barry, that his tweet was ill advised, it was ill judged but he did not intend to cause hurt.

"And in recognition of the controversy that it has sparked over the last week Barry has now decided to resign so he is not barrier toward reconciliation and I accept that as the best way forward."

She said Mr McElduff had taken time to reflect on the reaction to the video, particularly from victims.

"I think that sends out a strong message that Sinn Fein listen to the needs of victims," she added.

Mrs O'Neill said there was a need to heal all the wounds of the past in order to move society on.

"Kingsmill was wrong, it was unjustified and it was sectarian," she said.

Mrs O'Neill said she had warned Mr O'Muilleoir to be "more responsible" on social media but indicated no further action would be taken against him by the party.

"That is the matter dealt with," she said.

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