Sinn Féin TD apologises for sharing conspiracy theory Facebook posts

Tipperary TD Martin Browne said ‘apologies should stop’ on IRA’s history

The Sinn Féin chair of the public petitions committee was forced to adjourn its first official meeting on Thursday after members called on him to explain comments about the IRA and party discipline.

Tipperary TD Martin Browne told Tipp FM this week that apologies "should stop" when asked about IRA killings during the Troubles and Sinn Féin's approach to their remembrance.

In the wake of former Sinn Féin member Christine O’Mahony leaving the party after a member called to her door to ask her to remove critical tweets, Mr Browne also said he had gone to the homes of members with whom he disagreed.

Separately on Thursday, Mr Browne apologised for sharing controversial Facebook posts in recent years including one pushing a conspiracy theory that the 9/11 attacks in the US were faked.

In 2015, he shared a post which suggested “augmented reality” through the use of a hologram was used to fake the planes crashing into New York’s Twin Towers on September 11th 2001. “It would make you wonder,” the TD wrote.

Another shared post in 2017, since deleted from his Facebook account, questioned whether Syrian president Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on his own people.

In a press statement, Mr Browne said: “These posts do not reflect my views. I apologise for these posts and I should not have posted them.”

On his controversial radio interview, Fine Gael TD Brendan Griffin has asked Mr Browne to explain the comments which he said had caused “hurt” and “upset”.

“As chairman of the committee you owe it to the Irish people to explain your comments. As this committee will be considering petitions from the public on matters of great sensitivity in some cases, I think it is critically important that those people will have confidence in the chair of the committee and quite frankly your comments may have undermined that level of confidence that people may have in you,” Mr Griffin said.

Mr Browne said he wanted members to “listen to the actual interview. Don’t attribute comments that have appeared on print media”. After a vote, it was decided that the Oireachtas committee would remain in public session, but it was then adjourned to give Mr Browne time to reflect on the matter.

Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy said he also shared concerns about the comments but that he was happy to allow him time to formulate a response. Mr Browne then tried to bring the committee into private session. Mr Griffin objected to this while Mr Murphy said it "feels like censorship".

Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer said he was not being personal but that "there is a need for the issue to be addressed".

After a vote, it was decided that the Oireachtas committee would remain in public session, but it was then adjourned to give Mr Browne time to reflect on the matter.

Fianna Fáil Senator Eugene Murphy has asked Mr Browne to potentially make a statement to the Dáil as a compromise as he said valid questions were being asked.

Twitter controversy

Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley has apologised for a controversial tweet in which he referenced incidents from the War of Independence and the Troubles.

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".

Mr Browne said on Tipp FM this week: “apologies – in my own personal view – they should stop. It is history and people need to learn their history”.

“He has his beliefs and they would be the same as mine. We had a conflict in the North and things happened on both sides. Let’s not try and paint one side any worse than the other. There is no one side worse than the other.

“We had an occupied country, a foreign force there. It doesn’t matter whether it was in the ’20s, ’50s, ’70s or ’80s it was the same aim, to free our country from an occupying force.”

Asked if he would call around to a party member’s home if he did not like their social media content, Mr Browne said: “I would and have done down through the years. I have been chairman of my own cumann in Cashel.”

He said that the controversy about the visit to Ms O'Mahony's home had been "taken out of context" although he accepted that she "maybe felt intimidated and it was wrong". He said it was a neighbour, "it wasn't as Leo Varadkar and them are trying to paint it, as this heavy unknown" .

“Things will be done different, or should be done different, from now on,” he said. He said there was “never an issue” down through the years about trips he made to other party members “whether it was in agreement of disagreement. I would never think of it as being intimidatory.”

Speaking later on Thursday, Mr Browne said: “The behaviour of Fine Gael at today’s meeting of the petitions committee was very disappointing.

“They used a media interview I carried out on TippFM earlier this week to disrupt the meeting.

“For the record: In the interview I made it very clear that I agree with Brian Stanley’s decision to apologise and I fully support him making a statement to the Dáil next week.

“During the interview I also talked in a wider way about the conflict and about the past.

“I said that there are conflicting narratives about the past and we shouldn’t paint one view as worse than the other. I said it is not about apologising or justifying; it was about moving beyond apologies to reconciliation.

“I called for the establishment of a truth and reconciliation process so that everyone can get around the table and discuss what happened and the way forward, because the reality is that every time the past is discussed there will be different views. It is our job to build a better future and that is what I intend to be part of.”