McDonald ‘would still go’ to Storey funeral if serving as taoiseach

SF leader says she was honoured to take part in Belfast service for former IRA prisoner

Sinn Féin leader  Mary Lou McDonald is pictured during a press event  at Leinster House on Thursday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald is pictured during a press event at Leinster House on Thursday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times.

 

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said she would have attended the funeral of Belfast republican Bobby Storey if she was taoiseach.

Mr Storey became involved in the Provisional republican movement from as a teenager, joining the IRA at 16.

Asked on Thursday if she would have attended Mr Storey’s funeral if serving as taoiseach, Ms McDonald said: “If I were taoiseach, if I am ever honoured with being in that role and leading a government, of course I would still go to the funerals of people who are friends of mine. Why would I not?”

She said she was “very honoured” to be one of the small number of people asked by Mr Storey’s family to attend the Mass and deliver a reading.

“I think that one of the marks of friendship and decency is how you say your goodbyes to people. I was pleased to have the opportunity to say goodbye to a friend of mine.”

Escape

Mr Storey was arrested in London in 1979 following an attempt using a helicopter to free the late IRA leader Brian Keenan from Brixton prison. He was acquitted but in 1981 he was sentenced to 18 years following a gun attack on two British soldiers. He was one of the leaders of the IRA breakout from the Maze in 1983, in which 38 prisoners escaped.

He spent a total of 20 years in prison, serving long sentences and several periods on remand. After his final release in 1998 he became chairman of Belfast Sinn Féin and later the party’s Six County chairman.

Ms McDonald’s comments were strongly criticised by former taoiseach John Bruton.

‘Troubling’

“The idea that as taoiseach she would attend the funeral of somebody who was involved in an illegal army, set up in defiance of the Irish Constitution under which anyone who becomes taoiseach holds office, is very troubling indeed,” the former Fine Gael leader told The Irish Times.

“The organisation in which he was involved murdered many people. She was asked if she would attend the funeral as taoiseach and it is just incredible that she would give that answer.”

Mr Bruton said Ms McDonald’s view on the issue “should be very revealing for people who voted for Sinn Féin in the recent election and should prompt them to ask themselves what risks they are taking if they were to sustain that support”.

Meanwhile, a row continued to escalate on Thursday over allegations that Sinn Féin breached Covid-19 social distancing rules at Storey’s funeral with the DUP calling on Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill to stand down.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood joined those criticising Sinn Féin when he also said Ms O’Neill should step aside and allow the Police Service of Northern Ireland investigate the matter.

Ms McDonald said she would not be calling for her colleague in the North to step aside.