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'I apologise that this has gone on so long': Mary Lou says she'll speak to Breege Quinn this afternoon

The Sinn Féin leader sat down with The Candidate Podcast this morning.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald spoke to The Candidate Podcast this morning.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald spoke to The Candidate Podcast this morning.
Image: TheJournal.ie

SINN FÉIN LEADER Mary Lou McDonald has apologised for not dealing with remarks made by party member and now-Northern Ireland minister Conor Murphy about the murder of Paul Quinn years ago.

The party has faced scrutiny in recent days about the party’s response to the killing in 2007 of the 21-year-old from Cullyhanna in south Armagh. 

Paul was beaten to death by a gang of around a dozen men in a farm shed across the border near Castleblayney, Co Monaghan.

His family blame members of the IRA, but Sinn Féin has long denied republican involvement in the killing.

A month after the murder, Murphy, a Sinn Féin representative for Newry and Armagh, claimed Quinn was involved in “smuggling and criminality”.

Murphy, now finance minister in the Northern Ireland Executive and a senior member of the party, this week faced calls to apologise from Paul Quinn’s mother Breege. 

Murphy apologised yesterday to the family for the remarks. Quinn’s mother Breege has called for him to resign as Minister for Finance at Stormont.

Apology 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie’s general election podcast The Candidate, McDonald said she regrets that it took so long for her party to deal with the matter, acknowledging that the family have been calling for clarity and an apology for many years.  

“I apologise for the fact that this has gone on so long, that shouldn’t have happened. So, if you like, there were two wrongs – one that the words were said, linking Paul to criminality firstly, and secondly that it went so long.

“The only thing I can say, and I’m not trying to offer an excuse or any kind of alibi on this, is just to say that the statement was wrong, it has been retracted, and Conor has apologised and he means that apology sincerely, and I hope that he will meet with the family in the near future,” she said.

“I hope to speak to Breege directly myself at some stage this afternoon or this evening,” McDonald added. 

She told TheJournal.ie that she is “very pleased” that the family have accepted Murphy’s full retraction and apology.

“I heard Breege on the radio and she said that she had slept a little bit better with the weight of that taken off her shoulders. Now the issue is that the gardaí, the PSNI, the police forces, need to find the ones that carried out this brutal, awful murder of her son and bring them to justice,” she added. 

‘Conor made a mistake’

McDonald said she was not willing to ask Murphy to step aside over the issue, stating: 

“We have the power sharing government back up and running, not quite four weeks. I mean, it took three years to get to that place. Conor Murphy was central to getting the institutions back up and running, and he has a very, very important job to do. I’m determined that the power of sharing government works for everybody, and that we make real progress and I think that’s the shared intention of everyone around the table.

“Conor made a mistake. He said that Paul Quinn was involved in criminality. He should not have said that, that has now been retracted. At the time there was general commentary around criminality and a criminal gang and activities around the border. Conor in saying that Paul was involved in criminality was wrong. The criminals are the people who took his life, and the distress that those words brought to the family endured to this day.”

The Quinn family “made very clear that they wanted a public apology – a full apology – made publicly, and that’s what Conor did and he did it sincerely”, said McDonald.

When asked was it a slip-up on her part for not having found the recording of Murphy’s comments and listened back to it before commenting on the matter in an election debate, McDonald said: 

Yes, absolutely. I mean we’re in an election campaign, you’re in and out of interviews, some of them quite robust correctly, and you’re recalling [things said] and as I had recalled it Conor’s commentary was more general and not as specific, but the fact is that he specifically named Paul. So yes, that was, I suppose, an honest mistake on my part.

The Sinn Féin leader said she did not think any political opportunism was at play, adding that this subject should not be used as a political football days before polling day. 

“Let me just say certainly from the point of view of the family, there’s nothing opportunistic in this, absolutely not. And I think in fairness to most political people, the answer to that question is no. I don’t believe it is, nor should it be a political football.

“I think people know, anybody who follows elections, that there is a section of the Irish political establishment, who reach automatically for the North and for the past at election time to damage Sinn Fein, I mean, I’ve gone through countless elections where that has been done.

“But in the case of Paul Quinn and his family, absolutely not. That would not be the case at all. The family have been consistent. The family were hurting and traumatised. They asked for an apology, they deserved the apology, Conor has made the apology and has made it fully and sincerely,” said McDonald. 

The full recording of The Candidate Podcast will be available shortly. 

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