Sinn Féin members’ use of Twitter under the microscope
Three-month suspensions for Máire Devine and Barry McElduff criticised as too lenient
Barry McElduff: resigned as an MP after posting a video of himself with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head in the anniversary of the 1976 Kingsmill massacre. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Twitter is full of angry people. Some of them front up. But many vent their fury and rage behind pseudo-identities.
One such account had the unwieldy handle of @rnerrionstreet. The name was intended to make it look like the Government’s official Merrion Street site. It purported to be a spoof account but it was not particularly funny. The “RN” in the title probably stood for “Republican News”, which would disclose the anonymous poster’s true sympathies.
Over the weekend, there was a particularly nasty tweet. It portrayed Brian Stack, a senior prison officer murdered by the IRA, as a “sadist prison officer”.
The Dublin-based Sinn Féin senator Máire Devine retweeted the tweet.
When Mr Stack’s son Austin, who has campaigned for decades to bring his father’s killers to justice, challenged Devine on Twitter, there followed an exchange in which she refused to apologise or to back down.
Stack’s murder has been an uncomfortable issue for the republican movement
When the details of the exchange came to the attention of the party leadership late on Sunday night, they moved quickly.
Devine deleted the tweets and apologised. The Ard Chomhairle on Monday suspended her for three months. Party leader Mary Lou McDonald used very direct language. She said the party had zero tolerance for actions that brought grief and harm to families.
She also said the Senator had made a catastrophic error of judgement and criticised her for continuing the exchange on Twitter rather than immediately apologising.
Stack’s murder has been an uncomfortable issue for the republican movement. He was shot by the IRA outside the National Stadium in 1983. Suffering serious trauma, he died 18 months later from his injuries. The IRA denied the murder for many years but finally admitted its members had carried out the killing.
Devine is not the first Sinn Féin representative to get into trouble over their use of Twitter. Three months ago, Barry McElduff resigned as an MP after posting a video of himself with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head. It happened to coincide with the anniversary of the 1976 Kingsmill massacre, when 10 Protestant workmen were murdered by the IRA.
Other parties have criticised the three-month suspensions handed out to both. More widely, politicians such as Fianna Fáil’s Darragh O’Brien and Fine Gael’s Neale Richmond have claimed a tolerance within Sinn Féin for social media posts making light of Troubles atrocities.