Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy apologises for Paul Quinn comments

Party’s finance minister in North says he ‘unreservedly’ withdraws remarks about murdered 21-year-old

Mary Lou McDonald is questioned over comments made by Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy, finance minister in Stormont, over the 2007 murder of Paul Quinn. Video: RTÉ

 

Sinn Féin’s Northern finance minister Conor Murphy has said he “very much” regrets saying that Paul Quinn who was murdered 13 years ago had been involved in smuggling and criminality.

He has apologised to Mr Quinn’s family for the comments.

In a statement from the Sinn Féin press office on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Murphy said he had “consistently and unreservedly condemned” the murder of Mr Quinn.

“Those who murdered him are criminals and need to be brought to justice. I repeat my call on anyone with any information on his murder to bring it to the Gardaí or the PSNI,” he said.

“I very much regret comments I made in the aftermath of Paul’s murder which have added to the grief felt by the Quinn family.

“I apologise for those remarks and I unreservedly withdraw them,” said Mr Murphy.”

Speaking later on RTÉ radio, Mr Quinn’s mother Breege said Mr Murphy had still yet to explain why he had made his original comments and she reiterated her call for him to resign.

“What is his excuse for doing it in the first place? He has our family torn apart,” she said.

In a TV interview, RTÉ reporter Tommie Gorman asked if Mr Murphy had any evidence for the original comments.

“I am not going to go into what the evidence was or wasn’t at the time,” Mr Murphy replied.

“The fact is that regardless of what my view was at the time those remarks added to the grief of a family. It was the wrong thing to do at the time.”

IRA talks

In 2007 Mr Murphy also said on the BBC that he spoke to IRA members about the killing and was told the IRA was not involved.

On RTÉ he asked where did the comment about meeting the IRA in 2007 come from. Mr Murphy said: “It came from an attempt to establish what was going on at the time.”

He said if requested and if it would help he would speak to the Garda and PSNI again.

The finance minister also sought to provide clarification over how Sinn Féin president Mary Lou Ms Donald on Monday said Mr Murphy was clear he did not make comments about Mr Quinn being a criminal while on Tuesday she had to retract and acknowledge he did make these remarks.

Mr Murphy said that arose due to a “misunderstanding”. He added: “There is no misleading here, there was simply a misunderstanding on her behalf. She has corrected that.”

Ahead of the interview, Mrs Quinn said Mr Murphy should be sacked by Ms McDonald while the Ulster Unionist Party leader Steve Aiken and the Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister also said he should be removed as finance Minister.

Mrs Quinn said: “We have said again and again we won’t meet Conor Murphy until he comes out publicly to say he is going to the PSNI to give the names of the IRA he spoke to in Cullyhanna (in 2007)”.

Asked whether she was still calling on Mr Murphy to resign, she said: “I sure am. If Conor Murphy gets us justice for Paul, gets those that murdered him into the courts and behind bars, Conor Murphy is entitled to be in government for the rest of his life as far as I’m concerned. But he is not fit for his job as minister.

Commons statement

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and DUP MP Paul Girvan raised the murder of Mr Quinn in the House of Commons, calling on Mr Murphy to share any information he has with the police.

Mr Eastwood asked Boris Johnson about the murder during prime minister’s questions, beginning with a tribute to the late Seamus Mallon.

He said, “One injustice that burned with him until his dying day was the murder of Paul Quinn. Paul was beaten to death by an IRA gang in 2007. They broke every single bone in his body. So much so that his mother couldn’t place rosary beads in his hands in his coffin. In the aftermath of that, the now finance minister Conor Murphy said that Paul was linked to criminality. That was a lie.”

Mr Johnson said the whole House would hear the passion with which the SDLP leader spoke about the murder and promised that his government would implement the Stormont House agreement “in such a way as to provide certainty for veterans and of course justice for victims as well”.

Former Labour senator and SDLP councillor Máiría Cahill said the apology had come “13 years too late” while adding, “I think the only reason it has been made is that Sinn Féin sees it as political expedient because there’s an election on.”

McDonald contradicted

On Wednesday morning, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said Mr Murphy would retract and apologise after the issue was raised during the general election campaign.

Earlier this week, she said she did not believe Mr Murphy made such comments but a quote from him was read back to her during the RTÉ Prime Time leaders’ debate on Tuesday highlighting how Mr Murphy had said Mr Quinn was involved in crime and smuggling.

Mr Murphy had said: “Paul Quinn was involved in smuggling and criminality. I think everyone accepts that.”

Speaking outside Sinn Féin headquarters on Dublin’s Parnell Square, Ms McDonald said she was pleased that Mrs Quinn welcomed her statements during the debate, when she apologised to the Quinn family and said the comments should not have been made.

“I was listening to Breege Quinn on the radio this morning and I am very pleased that she has welcomed my remarks last night,” the Dublin Central TD said.

“I am very pleased that she got a better night’s sleep last night than before. Conor Murphy will issue a statement later today. He will retract and apologise for comments made in relation to Paul.

“The Quinn family have been through a terrible trauma and it is fair to say that the only criminals involved in this scenario are the people who took his life so brutally. I am very conscious of the fact of the people who committed this crime are still at large.”

Heartbroken

On Wednesday morning, Ms Quinn told BBC Radio Ulster’s Stephen Nolan show she was not looking for justice just because an election is on, but had been looking for it “morning noon and night for 13 years”.

Referring to Mr Murphy, Ms Quinn said that Ms McDonald “believed him for 13 years and he believed his own lies”.

“He smeared our son. An unrecognisable lad of 21 years of age. He has no compassion for anybody. He is not fit for the job he is in and he was not fit to be an MLA at the time.

“He is not fit to be in government.

“Why did it take 13 years and then in a half an hour for Mary Lou to come out and say Paul wasn’t a criminal and Conor Murphy shouldn’t have said what he said?”

She said her husband had not left the house in years since the murder and she broke down in the course of the radio interview.

She said her son’s name had been “blackened”.

On whether Mr Murphy will make a statement to An Garda Síochána or the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Ms McDonald on Wednesday said: “Conor met with the PSNI and An Garda Síochána at the time and let me repeat that anybody with any information needs to bring that information forward about those who did carry out this act.

“That is the important thing here and this matter has caused huge grief. The family are in trauma. It is for the Garda and the PSNI to bring justice into the equation and I very much hope that happens.”

Grieving

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Ms Quinn is entitled to “answers, truth and justice” on the murder of her son and called on anyone with information to bring it to her.

“I think it was a very powerful and very emotive interview this morning. You know this is a mother who’s still grieving, grieving for her son who was brutally killed at the age of 21 , he’d be 34 today. She’s looking for answers, looking for truth, looking for justice. I believe she’s entitled to that,” Mr Varadkar said.

“And those who can give her information, truth and justice should do so. I don’t want to make this part of the election campaign that is happening at the moment but I think on that particular question of an apology, of information, of truth and justice, that’s what she should get.”

When asked if Mr Murphy should resign, Mr Varadkar said that was a matter for him.

“I think we should see it more as a human issue. This is a woman who’s still grieving for her son who was taken from her in the most brutal fashion. She wants an apology. She wants justice and she wants truth. She should get that but we shouldn’t make that a political issue in this week, in this election, I don’t think.”

Mr Varadkar said Ms McDonald had “got it wrong” after suggesting on Monday that Mr Murphy had not made the comments.

“Well I think it’s evident now that there was a discrepancy in what the leader of Sinn Féin had to say in the interview with Bryan Dobson as compared to what she said last night during the debate.

“So it’s pretty clear that she got it wrong. What matters here isn’t so much the leader of Sinn Féin, it’s the family that are still grieving for a young man who was brutally killed and they deserve truth and justice and information, and anyone who has information or anyone who can give that family truth and the possibility to get some sort of closure should do that.”

Extraordinary

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said it was “somewhat extraordinary that it has taken 13 years” for the party to apologise to the Quinn family for the comments.

Responding to a question on whether he believed members of Sinn Féin had knowledge about the crime, Mr Martin called on people to “reflect” and pass information to the authorities if they had.

“It was a savage attack involving a lot of people…I think a lot of people know a lot about it, and I think it’s time for people to reflect on what they know and go to the PSNI, go to the gardaí and tell them what you know,” he said.

Mr Martin said it was the “omertà” that followed the crime which was “deeply concerning,” adding “this kind of savagery should never ever be protected”.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said Sinn Féin had to “move away from the constant denial” about its past role.

He said “Sinn Féin in the past has demonised” victims. “It happened in the past with Paul Quinn and it happened with a colleague of our own Máiría Cahill as well.”

Sinn Féin “needs to address these issues in an open and transparent way and it can’t be that it’s a different answer depending on the day that the question is asked”.