Brian Stanley apologises for controversial tweet at Public Accounts Committee
Despite apology, some members of committee call for further action from TD
Brian Stanley said his actions were his own. “I take full responsibility for them. There is no one else that needs to take responsibility. I am very conscious of what you have said.” File photgraph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley has apologised for a controversial tweet in which he referenced incidents from the War of Independence and the Troubles.
He said his actions were his own. “I take full responsibility for them. There is no one else that needs to take responsibility. I am very conscious of what you have said.”
On Saturday, the Laois-Offaly TD tweeted in reference to the Kilmichael Ambush in 1920 and the Narrow Water Massacre in Warrenpoint, Co Down in 1979, claiming they were “the 2 IRA operations that taught the elite of d British army and the establishment the cost of occupying Ireland. Pity for everyone they were such slow learners”.
Eighteen British soldiers were killed at Warrenpoint by the Provisional IRA in August 1979. A total of 17 British soldiers were killed during the War of Independence incident at Kilmichael, alongside three IRA men.
Making a public apology before the Public Account Committee (PAC) on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Stanley who chairs that committee said the controversy had placed the committee in a “difficult and totally unnecessary position.”
“What I was attempting to do was to highlight that following the disastrous decision to partition the country almost 100 years ago in the wake of events such as Kilmichael that we still had conflict that went on for a long time. A lot of suffering took place.
“I deleted the tweet and I apologise for posting it. As we work to advance reconciliation on our island we need to be able to talk about the past in a way that is honest to each other, to our beliefs, and in a way that does not deepen division or cause hurt.
“As an Irish republican and as someone in a position of political leadership I have to be more aware of my responsibility to ensure that I do not do anything that is disrespectful to others.”
“Since the mid 1980s right through to the Hume Adams dialogue and finally to the achievement of the Good Friday Agreement, I have actively supported initiatives to bring about peace on the island,” he said.
“On Sunday, I apologised for any offence that I caused due to the insensitive nature of the tweet and I want to repeat that apology to you here today. My tweet fell below not just the standard we expect of each other but the standard I expect of myself and for that I am genuinely sorry,” he added.
Despite his apology, some TDs on the PAC called for further action from Mr Stanley.
Fine Gael TD Colm Burke said it was disappointing that the tweet was sent out and said it had caused division. He called for Mr Burke to make a full statement in the Dáil on the issue.
He said this was in order to re-establish the credibility of the PAC.
Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said the tweet got a lot of attention and it had an external impact. She asked for an assurance that it was a “one-off” comment.
“I sat on the committee for the decade of centenaries and there were members of your own party on it who played a constructive role. The one thing we understand was just how difficult any marking of the war of independence and civil war would be difficult.”
Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill said she wanted to know “what was behind the sentiment.”
Fine Gael TD Alan Dillon also called on Mr Stanley to make a further statement in the Dáil.
“I think your party leader also needs to make a statement on this matter. It is seen by the Irish public as a strategic ploy to inflate tensions.”
“Political representatives must lead responsibly and it is apparent we do need a statement on this matter.”
Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry said he accepted the apology but the issue caused hurt to victims. He said the Public Accounts Committee was not the place for the issue to be addressed. “I think that as a nation we have become a colosseum where we are far too anxious to set up the guillotine.”
Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster said there was “not a shred of doubt in my mind that every word you spoke was genuine and sincere. You are a lifelong republican like myself. I know your words are genuine because you have walked the walk. For me that is the end of the matter.”
Earlier Labour Party leader Alan Kelly said that if anyone from his party had behaved in the same way as Mr Stanley they would not continue to hold the position of chair of the Public Accounts Committee.
“If anybody in my party did what he did, they wouldn’t be holding that position,” Mr Kelly told RTÉ Radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show.
“He needs to be dealt with by the Sinn Féin leadership.”
Mr Kelly described the tweet sent by Brian Stanley as “abhorrent”.
The Labour party leader said that previously he would have viewed Mr Stanley as “one of the milder people in Sinn Féin” but sending the tweet had been “so wrong”.
Mr Stanley deleted the tweet after posting it at the weekend and apologised, describing it as “inappropriate and insensitive”.
The tweet had provoked an online backlash, with charges that it glorified violence and bloodshed.
On Tuesday, the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil Seán Ó’Fearghaíl wrote to Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster and said that Mr Stanley’s tweet would require a “credible political response”.
Ms Foster said that although the tweet was deleted “it is outrageous that someone with such warped views can hold a senior position in the Dáil. SF talk about respect & equality but there’s not much sign of respect for victims”.
In his letter, Mr O’Fearghail said that while he is conscious of the “independent and non partisan” nature of his office, he believes a “credible political response” was now needed.
“Like many political representatives North and South, I was personally appalled and profoundly dismayed by its contents. To post such a hurtful statement on social media is not only highly disrespectful to victims and their families but an affront to all those committed to democratic politics on the island of Ireland.
“As elected representatives I believe that we have a shared responsibility to address the legacy of the past in a respectful way, promote reconciliation and support victims and their families.”
It is understood that if Sinn Féin do not take further action, TDs will take up the issue at the Dáil’s committee on procedures where such complaints are dealt with.