‘Barry McElduff is too clever for it to have been an accident’


On the main street of Omagh, Co Tyrone, everyone is talking about Barry McElduff.

Even those who hurry past, heads down, along the town’s main street, calling over their shoulders that they “haven’t seen the video”, appear less uninformed than trying to avoid controversy.

One man simply rolls his eyes at the mention of the local MP’s name; others explain that he’s being discussed “everywhere”.

“I’m not a Sinn Féin voter; I’d be very middle of the road,” says Laura Kelly. “I’ve loads of friends on both sides and we don’t talk about politics but we have been talking about Barry McElduff.

“We’ve all said we don’t feel it was an accident, I just think he’s too clever for that – well, he wasn’t that clever.”

The video in question – of Mr McElduff posing with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head – was posted on Twitter a week ago.

It was the 42nd anniversary of the massacre of the same name, in which the IRA killed 10 Protestant textile workers in south Armagh.

The tweet has been widely condemned. The sole survivor of the massacre, Alan Black, said it was “absolutely disgusting” and had “devastated” the families of those killed as well as both Catholics and Protestants in south Armagh.

Mr McElduff has since apologised for the hurt caused by his “ill-judged” actions, saying he “genuinely meant no offence”. He has been suspended from Sinn Féin for three months.

The Irish Times has attempted to contact Mr McElduff but has received no response.

Complaints have been made to the PSNI and the House of Commons; the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has appealed to voters in Mr McElduff’s constituency to “elect somebody with a little bit more character” the next time they go to the ballot box.

On Thursday, Sinn Féin MLA John O’Dowd told the BBC’s The View that the Kingsmill murders were “wrong” and “shameful”, and said he was not surprised the relatives of those killed would not accept Barry McElduff’s apology because “republicans have hurt them and harmed them”. His comments were welcomed by, among others, the DUP MLA Edwin Poots, who said he hoped the two parties could now work together to help restore the North’s devolved government.

‘He’s innocent’

Omagh is the main town in west Tyrone – and one of Sinn Fein’s electoral stroingholds. A market town of about 20,000 people, it is irrevocably linked to the 1998 bombing that killed 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins – more than any single atrocity of the Troubles. Sinn Féin has held the Westminster seat since 2001; Mr McElduff, a former MLA who went to school in Omagh and who is from nearby Carrickmore, was elected as an MP for the first time in June.

The constituency – which was more than two-thirds Catholic in the last census in 2011 – elected Mr McElduff with a majority of more than 11,000, or just over 50 per cent of the vote.

“I actually think he’s innocent, he’s a joker anyway, and he just put the thing on the top of his head and never thought,” says one Sinn Féin voter, who declines to give his name.

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