Sinn Fein minister Conor Murphy has apologised for claiming an IRA murder victim was a criminal.
Paul Quinn’s mother Breege has called on Sinn Fein to sack Mr Murphy as Stormont Finance Minister for branding her son a smuggler and criminal.
The murder of Mr Quinn 13 years ago, and Sinn Fein’s response to it, has become a major issue in the Irish General Election campaign, with rivals highlighting the party’s IRA links and accusing it of being soft on crime.
Mr Murphy publicly apologised on Wednesday afternoon.
“I have consistently and unreservedly condemned the murder of Paul Quinn,” he said.
“Those who murdered him are criminals and need to be brought to justice.”
Mr Murphy added: “I repeat my call on anyone with any information on his murder to bring it to the Gardai or the PSNI.
“I very much regret comments I made in the aftermath of Paul’s murder which have added to the grief felt by the Quinn family. I apologise for those remarks and I unreservedly withdraw them.
“Once again I offer to meet the Quinn family at a time and place of their convenience.”
Earlier, Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald insisted she would not ask Mr Murphy to resign over his comments.
“There’s absolutely no question of that,” she said in an interview with the PA news agency.
During the last TV election debate involving the main party leaders on Tuesday night, Mrs McDonald said Mr Murphy was retracting 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 Mr Quinn’s parents.
Mrs Quinn said Mr Murphy’s comments had destroyed the lives of her and her family and she urged him to help the Garda and PSNI with their inquiries.
“It was him that destroyed our lives by putting a slur on Paul’s name, calling him a criminal,” she told PA.
“And he also said that everybody knew that Paul was a criminal, now he says different in a matter of hours.
“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.”
Mr Quinn, a 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 Fein has long denied republican involvement.
A month after the murder, Mr Murphy, a Sinn Fein representative for Newry and Armagh, claimed Mr Quinn was involved in “smuggling and criminality”.
Mrs McDonald said on Wednesday morning she would not ask Mr Murphy to leave his role.
“Absolutely not, we just got powersharing up and running (at Stormont), and I believe that everyone concerned is determined to make a success of it,” she told PA.
“It’s extremely important for the collective good and stability, so no, there’s absolutely no question of that.
“Conor has clarified the fact that he is withdrawing his statement, comments he made over a decade ago and he has apologised for them.
“That’s the right thing to do, it’s the decent thing to do.
“I know that he will be hoping to meet with the Quinn family to talk to them.
“That family have been through a horrible ordeal, I mean I can’t even imagine, to lose their son in such a brutal way.
“Obviously they felt a deep hurt at any suggestion that he was a criminal. To be clear, the criminals in this scenario are the people who beat Paul Quinn to death.
“I think the focus now needs to be in giving the respect due to that family and those responsible for this barbarism have to be brought to justice.
“Conor’s apology is sincere, and I hope the Quinn family take comfort from that and are assured that everybody in every stage are very forceful in saying that the people who took their son’s life need to be brought to justice.
“Let me tell you, if it was my son, I would do as Breege has done and I would not rest until those responsible for his death were brought to justice.”
Mrs McDonald said anyone who has information about the “barbaric” murder should contact authorities.
On Wednesday, Mrs McDonald said Mr Murphy had spoken with authorities at the time of the murder but has not done so since.
— Department of Housing, Planning & Local Government (@HousingPress) February 3, 2020
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin told RTE: “It was a less than full apology in my view, it was qualified, and he just needs to say in my view openly and honestly what happened at the time and go to the police.”
Meanwhile, on Wednesday night Housing minister Eoghan Murphy confirmed the election will proceed in the Tipperary constituency on February 8.
There had been uncertainty on whether the poll in the five seat constituency would have to be delayed after the death of independent candidate Marese Skehan earlier in the week.
Mr Murphy, who has responsibility for electoral arrangements, made a “special difficulty order” on Wednesday night to ensure the vote in Tipperary will proceed on General Election day on Saturday.
The minister sought the advice of the Attorney General before making the decision. Delaying the poll could have breached the constitutional requirement for an election to be held within 30 days of the dissolution of the Dail.
A spokesman for the minister’s department said: “Minister Murphy expresses his sincere sympathies to the family and friends of Marese Skehan on her very sad passing.”