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'No further action under consideration' by SF over TD's tweet about IRA attacks

Brian Stanley has apologised for the tweet about IRA attacks on the British Army.

Members of the Second Parachute Regiment bearing the flag draped coffin of their colleague, Private Gary Ivan Barnes, at Ipswich. Private Barnes was the youngest victim of the Warrenpoint massacre
Members of the Second Parachute Regiment bearing the flag draped coffin of their colleague, Private Gary Ivan Barnes, at Ipswich. Private Barnes was the youngest victim of the Warrenpoint massacre
Image: PA

Updated Nov 30th 2020, 2:04 PM

“NO FURTHER ACTION” is under consideration by the Sinn Féin party in relation to a  TD tweeting about two IRA attacks on the British army.

The Laois/Offaly TD Brian Stanley sent a tweet on Saturday about the two attacks.

Stanley, who is also the chairman of the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), sent the tweet on the centenary of the Kilmichael ambush in 1920.

He wrote to his 3,700 followers: “Kilmicheal (sic) (1920) and Narrow Water (1979) the 2 IRA operations that taught the elective of (the) British army and the establishment the cost of occupying Ireland. Pity for everyone they were such slow learners.”

In a statement on yesterday, Stanley said: “I apologise for the content of an inappropriate and insensitive tweet that I sent yesterday.”

However, there have since been calls for Stanley to step down from his chairmanship of the PAC for a period of time over the matter. 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has told The Irish Times that he was “shocked and dismayed” by the controversial tweet.

Social Democrat’s co-leader Catherine Murphy, and a member of the PAC, said it would be difficult to pick up “as business as usual” when the committee meets again this week. 

She said Stanley stepping aside for a time “may well be a resolution to this”. 

Murphy said she did not think that Stanley taking down the tweet and apologising “will be sufficient”.

The role of a TD and as a chair of the PAC is a senior position, and with that role comes responsibility, said Murphy. 

Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill said his comments were very serious. She acknowledged that Stanley had apologised, but called on Sinn Féin to reflect on the matter, stating that perhaps Stanley should “recuse himself for a period”. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Sinn Féin’s housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin said no further action was under consideration by his party.

He said he was “very disappointed” to see the tweet, stating that Stanley “is not the kind of person to do that”. Ó Broin called it “wholly inappropriate” and said Stanley “did the right thing in apologising”.

Ó Broin said the TD should make sure it never happens again, adding that it should be a lesson to all politicians as we enter into years of commemorations that they should be careful with the language used when talking about the past.

When asked if Stanley should step down for a period of time, Ó Broin said: “No, I don’t believe he should.”

He said Stanley “is a very capable and competent chair”, adding that what he did was wrong, but stating that he has apologised.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said an inflammatory tweet sent by the Sinn Féin TD regarding two IRA attacks on the British army is “another case, unfortunately, of the mask slipping”. 

The tweet has since been deleted but was blasted as “shameful” by DUP leader Foster and “insensitive” by Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney. 

Speaking to RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland, Coveney also slammed the comments, calling it a “really insensitive and stupid thing to tweet”. 

“Brian Stanley is a senior Sinn Féin TD, he’s the chair of the Public Accounts Committee, he should know better than this,” Coveney said. 

“Sinn Féin speak publicly and under Dáil record all the time about the need for legacy infrastructure to deal with the past in a sensitive way in Northern Ireland. They talk about reconciliation, yet a senior Sinn Féin person comes out with this bile on social media, which is really about division and hatred,” he said. 

This is another case, unfortunately, of the mask slipping.

“There are many instances in Sinn Féin who I believe want to progress reconciliation and are generous about that, but there are some who clearly aren’t,” Coveney said. 

“This is really unhelpful in terms of what we’re trying to do in Northern Ireland in particular, in the context of putting in place legacy infrastructure that can help victims’ families on all sides to move forward on the basis of true reconciliation,” he said. 

The Kilmichael ambush was an attack carried out by the IRA during the War of Independence in which 17 members of the Royal Irish Constabulary Auxiliary Division were killed.

The Narrow Water ambush took place during the Troubles and saw 18 British soldiers killed by the IRA near Warrenpoint, in 1979.

The attack took place the same day provisionals blew up a fishing boat off the coast of Mullaghmore in Co Sligo, which killed Lord Louis Mountbatten, a second cousin to Queen Elizabeth who served in two world wars.

DUP anger

DUP leader Arlene Foster also responded furiously to the tweet, and signalled her intention to raise it with the Ceann Comhairle. 

She tweeted: “I will be writing to the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil about this shameful tweet.

“Although 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.”

Stanley’s tweet received more than 500 likes on the platform and was shared close to 400 times.

A Sinn Féin spokesperson said: “We note that Brian Stanley has deleted a tweet that was inappropriate and insensitive, and that he has apologised.

“We all have a responsibility in this Decade of Centenaries to remember and commemorate the past in a respectful manner.”

What is the history of the two incidents in question? 

Kilmichael ambush

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PastedImage-785 A memorial to the Kilmichael Ambush in Cork. Source: Wikimedia

The Kilmichael ambush was on attack by the West Cork Flying Column of the IRA led by Tom Barry on British auxiliaries on 28 November 1920. 

The auxiliaries were a backup force of British recruits who had active service during World War I and were sent to Ireland during the escalating War of Independence. 

In the summer of 1920 a force of 150 auxiliaries arrived in Macroom on Cork and were documented to have raided a number of towns, often firing indiscriminately.  

The ambush took place a week after Bloody Sunday in Dublin and was the largest single ambush of the War of Independence. 

According to accounts of what happened, two lorries carrying the British troops were attacked by the thirty-six volunteers who each had a rifle and thirty-five rounds of ammunition. 

As the first lorry approached, Barry stood in the road and as it slowed he threw a grenade into the lorry killing the driver. A whistle was blown and the men started firing on both lorries. 

By the end of the attack, nine British Auxiliaries and three IRA members were killed. 

Barry later claimed that two of his men were killed following a ‘false surrender’ by the Auxiliaries. 

Warrenpoint attack

50th-anniversary-of-operation-banner The remains of an Army truck which caught the full force of an IRA bomb at Warrenpoint, Co Down. Source: PA Images

On 27 August 1979 the Provisional IRA carried out a twin bomb attack on members of the Parachute Regiment of the British Army, who were stationed in Northern Ireland during The Troubles and were responsible for Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972. 

The attack was carried out by a Provisional IRA unit from South Armagh that was also involved in the killing of Louis Mountbatten in Mullaghmore in Sligo on the same day. Mountbatten’s grandson Nicholas Knatchbull and Fermanagh teenager Paul Maxwell were also killed in the attack on Mountbatten’s boat. 

In the Warrenpoint attack, eighteen British soldiers were killed in an operation that involved two explosions on the main road which runs along the Newry River. 

The river marks the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. 

An account in Armed Struggle: The History of the IRA by Richard English details what took place: 

Numerous soldiers were killed in the first, which was triggered by two IRA men across the border in the Republic of Ireland as a British Army vehicle passed the tower of Narrow Water Castle. Then, post-explosion, more British soldiers arrived as back-up and — as the IRA had anticipated — they took cover in an old gatehouse nearby. The IRA had left another bomb to target these soldiers and this — again, detonated by remote control from the Republic — brought the death toll to eighteen. The IRA (more specifically, their south Armagh Brigade, in whose area the Mountbatten bomb had also been constructed) had known that soldiers would race to the scene of an explosion such as the first; they had correctly guessed where such troops would seek cover; and they had secured a dramatic hit as a result, inflicting on the Army its heaviest single-operation losses of The Troubles.  

Following the first explosion, British soldiers fired across the river believing they could see the bombers but two innocent parties were shot. William Hudson, a 29-year-old from London, was killed during that gunfire. 

Includes reporting by Christina Finn, Rónán Duffy and Press Association

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