Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said he doesn’t believe Sinn Féin North Belfast MP John Finucane should attend an event commemorating IRA members in South Armagh this weekend.
Mr Martin also insisted the party “need to ask themselves some hard questions in respect of legacy as well”.
He was speaking to media in Belfast on Wednesday after meeting representatives of political parties amid the ongoing Stormont deadlock.
There has been no functioning government in the North for more than a year due to a boycott of the powersharing institutions by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) over its opposition to post-Brexit trading arrangements.
Speaking after his discussions with Mr Martin, Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy criticised the controversy around Mr Finucane’s attendance at the event in Mullaghbawn this Sunday, branding it “distraction politics” led by the DUP.
Mr Finucane, whose father, the solicitor Pat Finucane, was shot dead in front of him and his family in their home by loyalists in 1989, will be the main speaker at the event, billed as the ‘South Armagh Volunteers Commemoration’.
Mr Murphy told reporters on Wednesday that the commemoration had been running for almost 13 years and had received little publicity until now. He added that everyone had “the right to commemorate their dead in a dignified way”.
But the Tánaiste dismissed comments that the row was being used as a “distraction” from the political impasse.
“No, it’s not distraction politics, to be fair to all concerned. I don’t believe he [John Finucane] should attend,” he said.
“I’ve met with victims across the board, victims of security violence, victims of the Provisional IRA, victims of loyalist violence. They’re all seeking details, information, closure.
“And if we want the victim-focused legacy process, Sinn Féin needs to ask itself some hard questions and needs to deal with this once and for all, because they can’t ride two horses in relation to this, in terms of on the one hand looking [at] legacy actions by the British army or the RUC but on the other hand not really doing anything to make sure that we have some degree of detail in terms of horrendous attacks carried out by the Provisional IRA.”
Following his meetings with the politicians, Mr Martin said the current budget crisis engulfing the North’s public sector meant there was a sense of urgency about restoring Stormont.
However, he refused to say whether he was optimistic about an imminent return of the Assembly.
It was his first trip to the North since last month’s council elections, in which Sinn Féin made history by outpolling the DUP and replicating its success in last year’s Assembly elections.
Mr Martin said “the people have spoken” and that Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill ws “certainly entitled to become the first minister”.
“We have been very consistent that the results of the election have to be validated. And it’s been very clear to me today that there is a genuine desire by all the parties to get the Executive back up and running.”
Asked if he knew what the DUP wanted from the UK government to hasten its return to Stormont and if he was optimistic about powersharing returning this autumn, he replied: “I’ve had many conversations with Jeffrey [Donaldson] and with the DUP and with the other parties over the last two years, so until I see things happening I’m not going to confirm whether I’m optimistic or hopeful or not.
“I think he [Mr Donaldson] was fairly frank in terms of what he is looking for in terms of assurances … but he needs to clarify that with precision for it to be addressed without in any way undermining the fundamental architecture of the Good Friday Agreement.
“But I do believe that everybody is possessed now of the necessity to do something urgently and also that there is a window of opportunity now in the aftermath of the local elections that, in my view, should facilitate a resumption of the Executive and the Assembly.”