Sinn Fein has declined to use the same strong language to condemn the killers of Lyra McKee that Martin McGuinness used to decry the killers of Constable Stephen Carroll almost exactly 10 years ago.
In March 2009 Mr McGuinness described the dissident republicans responsible for gunning the PSNI officer down in Craigavon as “traitors to the island of Ireland”.
Asked yesterday if the party would use the same language to describe the killers of 29-year-old journalist Ms McKee in Londonderry on Thursday, Sinn Fein declined to give a direct answer.
And only three of the eight Londonderry and Strabane Sinn Fein councillors who answered their phones yesterday affirmed that they would unequivocally echo Martin McGuinness’ language to condemn Ms McKee’s killers.
Ms McKee was fatally injured by a dissident republican gunman during dissident republican rioting in Thursday night.
Sinn Fein’s position on violent dissidents has repeatedly been criticised in the city, as evidenced by its extended campaigning for the release of city dissident republican Tony Taylor.
Taylor was sentenced to 18 years for IRA activity in 1994 but released early on licence under the Good Friday Agreement (GFA).
After serving a further three years for a subsequent firearms offence, he was then deemed to have breached the terms of his GFA early release and returned to jail in 2016 to serve the remainder of that sentence. He was released again in November last year.
While he served the remainder of his GFA sentence a range of Sinn Fein politicians called for his immediate release, including Martina Anderson MEP, Raymond McCartney MLA and Elisha McCallion MP (there is no suggestion Taylor is currently linked to dissident violence).
The News Letter rang all 16 Sinn Fein councillors on Derry and Strabane City Council yesterday. Of those, eight answered their phones and of those, only three unequivocally said they would echo Martin McGuinness’ description of dissident killers as ‘traitors’.
Sinn Fein Councillor Sharon Duddy said: “I certainly would, yes.” An elected representative for the Creggan ward, she added. “There is absolute outrage, everybody is appalled [at this murder].”
Sinn Fein Councillor Christopher Jackson from the Waterside agreed. “My personal opinion is that I would have supported Martin’s comments then and I would agree that they are applicable now,” he said.
He added: “It is strange mood, the entire city is in shock and there is even just the sense of sadness in the air.”
Sinn Fein Councillor Ruairi McHugh from Castlederg was the only other SF councillor spoken to who took the same position.
“I think that description is entirely appropriate,” he said. People in the city were “absolutely revulsed” by the murder, he added.
Another two councillors condemned the murder, while declining to adopt Mr McGuinness’ language while the balance referred all inquiries to the party press office.
Asked the same question, the party press office issued a statement in the name of Gerry Kelly MLA saying the GFA provides “a peaceful path to achieving a united Ireland through a unity referendum”.
It added: “There is no place for armed groups 21 years after the signing of the agreement.
“Those who brought guns onto the streets of Derry this week do not represent any version of Irish Republicanism.
“In fact their actions are a barrier to Irish unity. They have no politics, no strategy and no popular support.
“These gangs, who are masquerading as Irish Republicans, need to listen to the people, cease their actions, get off the stage and disband.”