SF TD defends tribute to hunger striker convicted of manslaughter

People do not have to agree with ‘armed conflict’ to support party, says Ó Laoghaire

A Sinn Féin TD has defended the party’s commemoration of a hunger striker who was convicted of manslaughter, saying that “former comrades are entitled to remember him”.

The party on Sunday posted a video commemorating the death in 1981 of 23-year-old hunger striker Thomas McElwee, describing him as “kind and good natured”.

In a message alongside the video, it said "40 years ago today, at 11am, Óglach Thomas McElwee from Bellaghy died after 62 days on hunger strike in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh. He was a political prisoner; unbowed and unbroken."

McElwee was convicted of the murder of 26-year-old Yvonne Dunlop, who died after a firebomb attack on the clothes shop where she worked. The conviction was reduced to manslaughter on appeal and the Provisional IRA member was sentenced to 20 years in September 1977.


Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said the friends, family and “former comrades” of McElwee were entitled to remember him.

“I would reiterate my view that all victims of the conflict are worthy and deserving of remembering. Conflict is horrific, conflict is a source of immense regret, that we had such an extended conflict in this country,” he said.

“I certainly wish, and I’m sure many others wish, that it need not have happened. But it did happen. What we now need to do is put in place systems to ensure there is truth and justice.”

Family and comrades

He said he had not seen the video posted by the Sinn Féin party.

“The same way that every victim of conflict is entitled to be remembered, it is my own view that it is natural and understandable that friends, family and former comrades of people who died on hunger strike will commemorate them, remember their lives and the sacrifices that they made,” he said.

“I wouldn’t wish that to be at anyone’s expense. Thomas McElwee has a family and many former comrades and they are entitled to remember him.”

Mr Ó Laoghaire was also asked about the decision by Daniel Keohane, a senior research fellow at Dublin City University, to withdraw his application to join Sinn Féin following the controversy.

“In terms of Daniel Keohane, people are entitled to apply and withdraw their application, and people are entitled to have their own opinion,” he said.

“What I would say is it is not my view that you need to agree with the armed conflict or you need to agree with every element of it in order to be a member of Sinn Féin or to support Sinn Féin.”

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times