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'I apologise for those remarks and I unreservedly withdraw them': SF's Murphy issues apology to family of Paul Quinn

Paul Quinn (21) was beaten to death by a gang of men in a farm shed in Monaghan in 2007.

Updated Feb 5th 2020, 10:08 PM

SINN FÉIN MLA Conor Murphy has said comments he made in 2007 about the killing of Paul Quinn are a “matter of regret” and apologised for making them. 

Speaking to RTÉ TV he said he was sorry that they had added to the family’s grief at the time. 

“I want to apologise to them for that and I want to withdraw those remarks,” he said. 

In a further written statement he said: “I apologise for those remarks and I unreservedly withdraw them.”

Murphy, who is finance minister in the Stormont Assembly, said he continued to call for anyone who has information about the killing of the 21-year-old from Co Armagh, who was beaten to death in a barn in Co Monaghan.

Shortly after the attack Murphy said that Paul Quinn had been involved in smuggling and criminality.

The murder victim’s mother Breege Quinn said Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy destroyed her family’s lives by describing her murdered son Paul as a criminal.

“It was him that destroyed our lives by putting a slur on Paul’s name, calling him a criminal,” she told the PA news agency.

And he also said that everybody knew that Paul was a criminal, now he says different in a matter of hours. We have been tortured this past 13 years fighting for justice for Paul but we had no need to be at it.

Breege also said she was shocked by Mrs McDonald’s change of stance over the issue: “Earlier in the week she said the same thing Conor Murphy said, that it was criminality. She believed Conor Murphy and within hours she didn’t believe what Conor Murphy had said, thank God.”

“Not one of them [Sinn Féin] have ever come to our door.”

Breege Quinn said she has never attempted to speak to anyone in Sinn Féin, adding: “There is no point, the child’s name is blackened, it has to be cleared first”.

I would like him [Conor Murphy] to go to the gardaí and the PSNI and give the names of the people, the IRA, in Cullyhanna that he spoke to that gave him good assurance that they did not murder Paul Quinn.

Earlier, Breege called for Murphy to resign from his position. She had also called for him to apologise on TV for the comments linking her son to criminality.

“I would like Conor Murphy to stand down. But if he comes out, gets justice for Paul, and tells the gardai and PSNI the names of the people he spoke to, and we see the people who murdered Paul up in court and in jail, then Conor Murphy will be entitled to stay in his position,” she said.

“We live in hope every day, it’s the only thing keeps us going.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald meanwhile said earlier she “absolutely” won’t ask Murphy to step down.

She was speaking after the issue was raised in last night’s general election debate on RTÉ’s Prime Time.

McDonald said last night that Murphy had now retracted the comments he made in 2007 and would apologise to the Quinn family.

She said his remarks were wrong and had caused additional hurt and grief to Quinn’s parents.

McDonald also said she believes anyone who has information about the “barbaric” murder of Quinn should contact authorities. 

Speaking to reporters today, McDonald said that Murphy would also meet the family.

“I think it’s important that that meeting takes place and that conversation takes place,” she said.

We’re only after getting the power-sharing government back up and running. We have to make a success of this. I believe everybody is determined to do so, so Conor won’t be stepping down.
He has made an apology. It is sincerely made. And I hope and I trust that the Quinn family will get some measure of comfort from that. But ultimately the issue here is that those who carried out this murder are actually brought to justice.

In his comments to RTÉ this afternoon Murphy said his offer to speak to the family remained open and that he hoped to speak with them. 

2007 killing 

The 21-year-old from Cullyhanna in south Armagh 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”.

Reacting to McDonald’s remarks on RTÉ’s Prime Time debate, Paul Quinn’s mother Breege Quinn told BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show: “Mary Lou should just step him down.

Has he any idea what we are going through, what he has put us through?

She added: “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 either.”

Quinn said she would not meet Murphy until he apologised publicly.

“I welcome Mary Lou’s apology last night of saying Paul was not a criminal even though she had kept it up for 13 years,” she told BBC Radio Ulster.

“Conor Murphy still has to do his part, he has to come out publicly and apologise to us, and I mean publicly, on national television, because that is where he put the slur on our son and for 13 years we have endured and cried and fought for justice to get the truth.”

Quinn said Murphy needed to tell the authorities north and south of the border the names of the IRA members who he said told him the organisation was not involved in the murder.

We have got the half truth and I thank Mary Lou for her part last night, and Conor Murphy, we are waiting for him to publicly apologise and go to the gardaí and PSNI and give the names of the IRA people he said he spoke to in Cullyhanna

“We could have justice tonight if Conor Murphy decided to give it to us,” she said.

“If he doesn’t do that, I will not be meeting him.”

Quinn said McDonald’s remarks had provided some comfort to the family.

“The fact she said Paul was not a criminal, I could go to bed last night and sleep, that gave me comfort – of course it did,” she said.

“We knew Paul wasn’t a criminal. Criminals are very wealthy people, poor Paul didn’t have 10 pence.”

She made similar remarks on Sean O’Rourke’s RTÉ Radio 1 programme this morning. 

Contradictory 

In a key exchange during last night’s debate, McDonald said: “The only criminals involved in this scenario are the people who so cruelly and viciously took his life.

I have spoke to Conor and he is aware that the comments he made after the murder of Paul Quinn have caused hurt and that that hurt has endured, so he apologised for those remarks, he withdraws those remarks and he will speak to Breege Quinn and the family directly.

Her comments appeared to run contrary to remarks she made on another RTE interview on Monday night, when she claimed Murphy did not accuse Quinn of criminality.

She told the Prime Time debate yesterday that her recollection 24 hours earlier had not been correct.

“Those things should not have been said, Conor withdraws them and apologises,” she said.

“The remarks were wrong, they are withdrawn correctly and will be apologised for directly to Mrs Quinn.

“My sole concern in this is that the family have been hurt and the remarks made need to be withdrawn and apologised for, that’s the correct thing to do and that’s what Conor will do.

“A family that has lost their son in such brutal circumstances doesn’t need the additional hurt and grief of those remarks.”

Quinn has been demanding that Murphy give the names of IRA members in Cullyhanna he said he spoke to about the incident in 2007.

McDonald said Murphy had spoken to the gardai and PSNI about the murder, but she did not indicate whether he had passed over any names.

‘Come forward’

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has also called on Murphy to make a full statement to gardaí about the murder of Paul Quinn. 

“The murder of 21-year-old Paul Quinn was one of the most despicable crimes of recent decades,” Flanagan said in a statement.

It is appalling that there are people out with knowledge of this brutal murder who are failing to come forward to help bring the depraved criminals involved to justice.

In the House of Commons today, UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith said that he condemned the murder of Paul Quinn.

Responding to a question from DUP MP Paul Girvan, Smith said that “anyone with information with regards to that crime should come forward immediately”. 

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood also raised the issue in the House of Commons today, calling on Murphy to publicly apologise and “give any information he has to the PSNI”.

- Reporting from Dominic McGrath, Hayley Halpin and Press Association 

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