The sole survivor of the Kingsmill massacre as well as relatives of the 10 Protestants killed in south Armagh 42 years ago have rejected an apology from Sinn Féin MP Barry McElduff and dismissed his offer to meet the victims' families.
And amid continuing calls for his resignation as MP for West Tyrone Sinn Féin on Sunday night said that the party leadership will meet Mr McElduff on Monday to discuss the situation.
Sinn Féin did not expand on what such a meeting might mean for Mr McElduff’s political future. The fact however that senior figures are to meet him indicates the difficulties the tweet has caused for the party.
On Friday, on the 42nd anniversary of the massacre, Mr McElduff posted a video on twitter with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head.
It prompted a gathering storm of outrage with unionists accusing him of insulting the 10 Protestants who were singled out and murdered by the IRA near the village of Kingsmill in south Armagh on January 5th, 1976.
Mr McElduff quickly deleted the post and issued an unreserved apology, saying it was never his intention to cause “hurt and pain” to the families. He also offered to meet the families. “When I posted the video I had not realised or imagined for a second that there was any possible link between the brand name of the bread and the Kingsmill anniversary,” he said.
Alan Black, who survived the attack despite being struck by bullets 18 times, did not accept the apology or the explanation by the West Tyrone MP.
"That was planned. He had someone set up to take the video. He was standing alongside the Celebrations chocolates with a loaf of bread of his head. It is just absolutely disgusting what he did and it was absolutely deliberate," he told The Irish Times on Sunday.
Mr Black said that both Catholics and Protestants in Bessbrook in south Armagh where he lives were "devastated" by the post.
He said this time of the year was always bad for him and the families but the tweet made matters “10 times worse”. He said he was in contact with some of the families and they too were “absolutely devastated”.
“He is one of the most astute, clever politicians in the North and when he did that he knew exactly what he was doing. It was done to cause maximum hurt and believe you me it has done that,” he said.
“It just makes me despair of politics. It is bad enough remembering all my friends without somebody mocking them, it is really distressing. I just can’t get in the mindset of that man,” added Mr Black.
The 10 Protestant textile workers were shot after a bus bringing them home from work was waved down by a man flashing a light near Kingsmill. They were lined up by at least 11 gunmen with the one Catholic among them told to run away.
While the massacre was admitted by an organisation calling itself the South Armagh Republican Action Force, the Historical Inquiries Team in 2011 found that the Provisional IRA carried out the “purely sectarian” and “calculated slaughter” of the men.
Colin Worton, whose 24-year-old brother Kenneth was one of those murdered, said he did not believe Mr McElduff's apology was heartfelt. "His apology, no I don't accept it. It is only from the teeth out," he said.
Call to resign
“He’s not sorry for the video that he’s posted, he’s sorrier for what has happened in the aftermath . . . If there’s any decency left in McElduff’s DNA he should resign,” he told the BBC.
Mr Worton said he had no interest in meeting Mr McElduff. He is to complain to the PSNI and will ask unionist MPs to raise the matter with the House of Commons standards and procedures authorities.
PSNI superintendent Emma Bond confirmed a number of complaints were received by the police about the post and that "inquiries are ongoing".
Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann called for Mr McElduff to resign. He also criticised former Sinn Féin minister for finance Máirtín Ó Muilleoir for retweeting the post.
Said Mr Swann, "As a former executive minister, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir needs to explain himself. As a self-proclaimed social media guru he knew exactly what his 'like & retweet' signalled. He cannot escape the spotlight. And what has the leader of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, Michelle O'Neill, got to say about this? She has been conspicuously silent."
“What Barry McElduff has done is expose the Sinn Féin campaign based on rights, equality and respect for what it is – a sham,” he added.
Mr Ó Muilleoir said that when he saw the original tweet from Mr McElduff he viewed it as “being wholly apolitical and retweeted it on that basis”.
“Once it was pointed out that the tweet had offended and hurt people and that Barry had rightly deleted his tweet I retweeted his apology and, of course, apologise unreservedly for the pain and hurt caused by my retweet,” added Mr Ó Muilleoir.
The DUP MP for South Belfast Emma Little-Pengelly said, “Of all the products in the shop, and of all the brands of bread in the shop it’s very bizarre why Mr McElduff chose Kingsmill. Indeed, even stranger as to why he chose to do this on the 42nd anniversary of that barbaric act when 10 innocent men were shot because they were Protestant. The SF leadership must condemn this crass action.”
Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said the controversy is the “first test” of the new Sinn Féin leadership.
“Mr McElduff’s assertions that he didn’t know what he was doing are simply not credible,” Mr Howlin said. “Instead, these implausible denials compound his original offence in which Mr McElduff mocks one of the most appalling atrocities of the troubles in which individual workmen were singled out for murder on the basis of their religious identity.
“The suggestion that Mr McElduff is happy to meet with the relatives of the Kingsmill victims is a tried and tested Sinn Féin crisis management practice when one of its representatives lets the mask slip.
“We will hear much in the next months about the changes in Sinn Féin. Now though is a chance for Mary Lou McDonald, the heir presumptive to the leadership in the Republic and Michelle O’Neill leader in the North, to make a clean break with past apologias.”