Stormont’s Finance Committee has told Sinn Fein minister Conor Murphy that his conduct “calls into question” his fitness for office.
The letter sent by committee chair, Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken, raises Mr Murphy’s 2007 comments that IRA murder victim Paul Quinn was a criminal, and the Finance Minister’s “conduct in the intervening period”.
Mr Murphy has withdrawn his slur and has apologised, but is refusing to unambiguously state that the 21-year-old south Armagh man was not a criminal.
The decision to write to the minister was supported by every Finance Committee member bar those from Sinn Fein at a meeting last week. The letter says that the committee has considered the Finance Minister’s comments on the BBC Spotlight programme in November 2007 and “your conduct in the intervening period”.
It asks him to explain why he branded Paul Quinn a criminal and why he “denied the comments for the past 13 years”.
The letter continues: “It is the committee’s view that your conduct calls into question your fitness for office.”
Following Mr Quinn’s murder, Mr Murphy said he had spoken to the IRA, which had told him it wasn’t responsible for the fatal beating.
The committee asks Mr Murphy to “report and provide to the PSNI and An Garda Síochána” any information he may possess relating to “conversations and meetings that you have had” in relation to the Quinn murder.
The proposal to write to Mr Murphy came from Finance Committee deputy chair Paul Frew of the DUP. It was supported by three unionist MLAs and the SDLP’s Pat Catney. The three Sinn Fein members – Sean Lynch, Jemma Dolan, and Maolíosa McHugh – opposed it.
The committee also voted to write to the Quinn family commending their “courage and tenacity in seeking justice for their son” and “conveying the committee’s dismay and condemnation of the minister’s behaviour”.
The proposal from TUV leader Jim Allister was carried despite the three Sinn Fein MLAs voting against it. Their amendment to the proposal – removing condemnation of Mr Murphy’s behaviour – was defeated.
A Sinn Fein spokesman said: “When Conor Murphy took up the post of Finance Minister only weeks ago, nearly all of these parties wished him well and supported him in the role.
“And now, over the last week, they have developed serious considerations about his place in office over remarks made 13 years ago.
“Conor has written to the family, unreservedly withdrawn his remarks and apologised and he continues to carry out the important task of Finance Minister,” he said.
Meanwhile, Newry and Armagh SDLP MLA Justin McNulty has written to Mr Murphy demanding that he publicly state that Paul Quinn wasn’t a criminal. Mr McNulty has also asked Mr Murphy to provide the names of the IRA members he spoke to following the murder.
“You will be aware of the importance Stephen and Breege (Quinn) have placed on you clearing Paul’s name along with their quest for justice, peace and a sense of closure. I implore you to listen to the pleas of the Quinn family,” Mr McNulty wrote.
The SDLP MLA last night said: “Paul Quinn was murdered by cowards. The actions of those cowards have been covered up by cowards.
“Breege and Stephen and Paul’s brother and sister, James and Cathy, have been unwavering in their campaign for truth and justice for 13 years and they will endure until justice is done.”
Mr McNulty asked why the Finance Minister had branded “a murdered man a criminal in the first place” when he now said he had no evidence to do so.
The SDLP MLA appealed to Mr Murphy to unambiguously state that Paul Quinn wasn’t a criminal.
“Whilst Conor’s apology after 13 years is welcome, he now needs to go the final step and clear Paul’s name,” he added.
Mr Quinn was beaten to death in a barn in Oram, Co Monaghan, by an IRA gang.
The Cullyhanna man had previously clashed with the local IRA commander’s son.
With many thanks to the: Belfast Telegraph and Suzanne Breen for the original story