Sinn Féin TD’s tweet needs credible political response, Ceann Comhairle tells Foster

Brian Stanley’s ‘ill-judged’ IRA tweet ‘will not be repeated’, says Mary Lou McDonald

Sinn Féin TD  later deleted the tweet and apologised, describing it as ‘inappropriate and insensitive’. Photograph; Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Sinn Féin TD later deleted the tweet and apologised, describing it as ‘inappropriate and insensitive’. Photograph; Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

 

The Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil has written to Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster and said that a controversial tweet from a Sinn Féin TD will require a ‘credible political response’.

It is understood Seán Ó’Fearghaíl’s letter was sent on Tuesday evening after Ms Foster complained about the now-deleted tweet from Brian Stanley who referenced incidents from the War of Independence and the Troubles.

Ms Foster said that although the tweet was deleted “it is outrageous that someone with such warped views can hold a senior position in the Dáil. SF talk about respect & equality but there’s not much sign of respect for victims”.

In his letter, Mr O’Fearghail said that while he is conscious of the “independent and non partisan” nature of his office, he believes a “credible political response” is now needed.

“Like many political representatives North and South, I was personally appalled and profoundly dismayed by its contents. To post such a hurtful statement on social media is not only highly disrespectful to victims and their families but an affront to all those committed to democratic politics on the island of Ireland.

“As elected representatives I believe that we have a shared responsibility to address the legacy of the past in a respectful way, promote reconciliation and support victims and their families.

“I know that you will agree that it is an enormous privilege to serve as an elected representative and particularly to hold aposition of responsibility; however, there is a duty on us all to uphold the fundamental values and standards that are the cornerstones of democratic politics.

“You will appreciate that as Ceann Comhairle, I must be particularly conscious of the independent and non-partisan nature of my office. Nonetheless, I do believe that the statement on Twitter made by Deputy Stanley calls for a credible political response - one which sincerely acknowledges the hurt and offence caused to the families who lost loved ones in Narrow Water as well as the hurt and offence caused to those who suffered grievously during the thirty years of violence in Northern Ireland.”

The Ceann Comhairle said he has given the matter “very careful consideration” since Deputy Stanley’s tweet was first reported in the media.

“While I know him to be an experienced and fair-minded member of Dáil Éireann, I believe that it would be in keeping with the values and standards that we all hold dearly, particularly reconciliation and mutual respect, if the matter were to be more properly addressed at the earliest opportunity. In such circumstances, it would not be necessary to consider other actions.”

On Saturday, 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”.

Eighteen British soldiers were killed at Warrenpoint by the Provisional IRA in August 1979. A total of 17 British soldiers were killed during the War of Independence incident at Kilmichael, alongside three IRA men.

The tweet had provoked an online backlash, with charges that it glorified violence and bloodshed. It is understood that if Sinn Féin do not take further action, TDs will take up the issue at the Dáil’s committee on procedures where such complaints are dealt with.

Responding on Tuesday evening a Sinn Féin spokesperson said“Brian Stanley has apologised for, and deleted, the insensitive and inappropriate tweet.

“He will also make a statement to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) at its meeting tomorrow.”

Address controversy

Earlier on Tuesday Sinn Féin party leader Mary Lou McDonald said Mr Stanley will address the controversy at the PAC.

Ms McDonald said: “I’ve spoken to Brian and he is very, very apologetic, he understands fully that the tweet was ill-judged. It was an attempt to draw an historical parallel between the Auxiliaries and the Parachute Regiment but that’s neither here nor there, the tweet caused upset, it caused offence and unnecessary controversy and for that he has apologised.”

Asked how he would be disciplined, Ms McDonald told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland: “He has apologised and he has withdrawn the tweet, that’s the most important thing for me. Secondly I feel absolutely certain that I can assure you that this was a singular, one-off mistake by Brian Stanley and one that will not be repeated.”

She said she would not remove him as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee as he was “very effective” and “very even-handed” in the role.

“He will, of course, address this controversy with his committee colleagues when they meet on Wednesday.”

Ms McDonald was asked why Mr Stanley shouldn’t be treated the same way as Barry McEludff. The latter was forced to resign as MP for West Tyrone in 2018 after widespread condemnation of social media post in which he shared a video of a loaf of Kingsmill-brand bread on his head on the 42nd anniversary of the massacre of the same name, in which the IRA killed 10 Protestant textile workers in south Armagh.

Ms McDonald replied: “I think people will understand that very many of us, right across political life and beyond, marked and recognised the ambush at the weekend. Brian’s mistake, and it was ill judged and he is very regretful for it, was an attempt to draw historical comparison between something that happened in the ’20s and something that happened in the ’70s.”

Asked why Mr Stanley was keeping his job while Mr McElduff had to resign, the Sinn Féin leader replied: “You deal with these cases as they present and at the time Barry felt, given the depth of hurt felt by the victims of that particular event, that that was his course of action.

“I think in this instance Brian has acted very quickly. He has removed the offending tweet, it was a mistake, he is sorry for it, it was clumsy, it was ill judged, it shouldn’t have happened. It will not happen again. He will speak to his committee colleagues when they meet on Wednesday.”

The Sinn Féin leader was asked did she apologise to the people who survived the Warrenpoint attack, or to the families of those killed in it?

“The Parachute Regiment has a very particular history here in Ireland,” Ms McDonald replied. “I could reference Bloody Sunday and the Ballymurphy massacre, all of the events that flowed from that. I want to apologise universally to people, who like me, like all of us, wish to forge a constructive pathway ahead and for whom that particular tweet jarred because it goes against the grain of what is a challenging proposition - on the one hand, to honestly recall and remember our history and what happened, but at the same time to do it mindful of others.

“It’s a challenging proposition and unfortunately Brian’s tweet didn’t contribute to that effort.”

Ms McDonald said: “I think it’s a salutary lesson for all of us just how thoughtful and mindful we need to be in the comments we make publicly and on social media platforms because we are now in a period where we will be marking centenaries of many, many events, events that many of us regard as pivotal moments in our struggle for national independence, but events that that still evoke very strong reactions from people of a different political tradition.”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he was “shocked and dismayed” by Mr Stanley’s tweet, saying he had done “huge damage” to building trust and reconciliation on the island of Ireland.

Mr Stanley’s continued chairmanship of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee over the remarks was a matter for Sinn Féin to deal with “as a party and as a movement,” said the Taoiseach.