Barry McElduff, of Tyrone, has resigned. On the 42nd anniversary of the Kingsmill massacre, the 51-year-old posted a video of himself posing with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head.
10 Protestant men were shot by republicans on their way home from work, one survived after being shot 18 times and a Catholic man was told to run away. The IRA long denied involvement in the atrocity but Historical Enquiries Team later named them as responsible.
Sinn Féin MP Barry McElduff chose to post a light-hearted video by putting something on his head:— Sam McBride (@SJAMcBride) January 6, 2018
Of the thousands of items in a shop, he chose bread;
Of all bread brands, he chose Kingsmills;
Of all days to do it, it was the anniversary of the Kingsmills Massacre.
What odds? pic.twitter.com/kuxf0pKPTk
Condemnation from victims and politicians, on both sides of the constitutional divide, was swift and furious.
McElduff denied the bread was meant as a reference to the massacre and apologized for any upset. He was initially suspended by Sinn Féin (on full pay) for three months but has now decided to resign.
“It is with great sadness that, after more than 30 years as an active Sinn Féin member and public representative I am tendering my resignation as MP for West Tyrone.
“The reason I am doing so is because of the consequences of the Twitter video which has caused such controversy over the last week. But the deep and unnecessary hurt this video caused the families of the victims of Kingsmill is my greatest regret.”
He continued, “I am an Irish republican and believe wholeheartedly in the reunification of our country and an agreed Ireland in which we heal the wounds of the past together.
“Reconciliation is essential, but that message is not being heard at this time. I do not wish to be a barrier to reconciliation and healing and in that spirit I again offer my sincere apologies to the survivors and families of those murdered at Kingsmill.”
Sinn Féin party leader Michelle O’Neil paid tribute to McElduff: "He has said that he does not want to be a barrier to reconciliation and I respect that decision.
“Barry has served Sinn Fein and been a formidable champion for the people of West Tyrone at local government, Assembly and Westminster level over the past 20 years and has done so with great commitment, energy and determination.”
Alan Black, the sole survivor of the massacre, said he was relieved to hear of McElduff’s decision.
"This past week has been truly awful for me. I am just hanging by a thread. But I am glad he has done the right thing," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
DUP leader Arlene Foster was scathing, “Now is the time for Sinn Féin to learn the lessons from these dark events and to deal with the fact that it, and many of its individual members, continue to publicly glorify the murderous deeds of the past," she said.
"This needs to end if we are to build a future based on integrity and respect. Sinn Féin has much work to do to demonstrate they have truly learned from these events.”
A by-election will be held in West Tyrone to replace McElduff as the area’s MP. The Ulster Unionist Party leader, Robin Swann, called for “a non-partisan candidate who will be a voice for victims to contest this seat against Sinn Féin… If a candidate emerges that allows cross-community support to coalesce around, it would send a strong message that this type of behavior will not be tolerated.”
A unionist unity candidate - if a victim as has been suggested - in the West Tyrone by election will put the SDLP in a very awkward position— Allison Morris (@AllisonMorris1) January 15, 2018
However, the seat is traditionally safe for Sinn Féin and even a non-partisan candidate with unionist backing would be a long shot in the staunchly republican part of Tyrone.