Daniel McConnell: Mary Lou McDonald left floundering over minister’s comments

The mother of murder victim Paul Quinn spoke out in a strong manner, says Political Editor Daniel McConnell

Mary Lou McDonald on her miscues around the Conor Murphy controversy: ‘It was an honest mistake on my part, I hadn’t recalled that the remarks were so pointed, I am glad the comments have been withdrawn and an apology given.’  Picture: Brian Lawless
Mary Lou McDonald on her miscues around the Conor Murphy controversy: ‘It was an honest mistake on my part, I hadn’t recalled that the remarks were so pointed, I am glad the comments have been withdrawn and an apology given.’ Picture: Brian Lawless

After punching her way into the RTÉ Prime Time debate, a part of Mary Lou McDonald probably woke up this morning wishing she hadn’t bothered.

Presenter Miriam O’Callaghan’s probing and well-researched question about her Northern finance minister Conor Murphy’s comments on the late Paul Quinn left the Sinn Féin president floundering.

Quinn, from Cullyhanna, Co Armagh, was lured to a barn near the border in Tullycoora, Co Monoghan, on October 20, 2007.

Once inside he was set upon by a group of about 12 men armed with bats, some studded with nails, and every major bone of his body was broken in a beating that took just over 30 minutes.

Just 24 hours before the debate, McDonald told broadcaster Bryan Dobson in an interview that Murphy had never said Quinn was involved in criminality and smuggling.

This turned out to be wrong.

O’Callaghan made clear during the debate that Murphy had in fact told the BBC Spotlight programme he believed the young man was not only in engaged in criminal behaviour but that fact was “well accepted”.

When confronted with her own inaccuracies, McDonald had no choice but to hold up her hands and say the comments will be withdrawn and an apology given to Quinn’s mother Breege.

This morning, both on the Nolan Live programme on the BBC and the Sean O’Rourke Show on RTÉ, Breege set out the level of pain she, her husband, and her family have continued to suffer since their son’s brutal killing.

“The family has been grieving 13 years and she’s coming out now because of the election. But I don’t care about elections,” she said.

Paul’s siblings are still very “angry” about what happened and his father goes nowhere but the graveyard every day. “And when it rains, he stays in the car and stares at the grave,” she added.

It was hard not to be taken by her frankness.

She said nobody from Sinn Féin had contacted the Quinn family.

A short while later today, McDonald staged an impromptu press conference to explain her misstep on this issue the night before.

“It was an honest mistake on my part, I hadn’t recalled that the remarks were so pointed, I am glad the comments have been withdrawn and an apology given,” she told reporters.

McDonald added that Murphy had not misled her about what he had said, and that the comments had been made over a decade ago, but insisted despite Breege Quinn’s call for him to do so, Murphy would not be resigning from his post as finance minister.

Conor Murphy withdrew his remarks about Paul Quinn.
Conor Murphy withdrew his remarks about Paul Quinn.

She said she had no difficulty apologising for anything she said or failed to say that had caused any anguish to the Quinn family.

Later, Murphy confirmed he had withdrawn the remarks and apologised to the Quinn family.

Remarks that I made at the time of his killing are a matter of regret. I am sorry that that has added to the grief that the family has felt. I want to apologise to them for that. I want to withdraw those remarks.

Murphy said he hoped to meet the Quinn family in the “near future”.

However, Breege was not satisfied and reiterated her call for him to resign as finance minister at Stormont.

Away from the grief of the Quinn family, the political consequence of this controversy remains unclear as these sort of legacy issues are not denting Sinn Féin’s popularity among younger voters, who don’t remember or simply don’t care about the Troubles.

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