Sinn Fein’s Declan Kearney has come under fire after slamming UVF sectarianism on the same day he refused to comment on his relative Peadar Heffron’s claims that he was shunned by their GAA club for joining the PSNI.
The party’s national chairperson had remained silent on Mr Heffron, widely reported to be his cousin, since the former police officer revealed this week that their Randalstown GAA club, Creggan Kickhams, has still to contact him since a dissident bomb left him wheelchair-bound in 2010.
On Tuesday the News Letter asked Sinn Fein what Mr Kearney thinks about his relative’s claims that he has been ostracised by the club.
The response, delivered in the name of a party spokesperson, not Mr Kearney, said: “Sinn Fein condemned the attack on Peadar Heffron. No-one should be marginalised because they choose a career in the PSNI.”
The News Letter had not been able to find reports from 2010 in which Mr Kearney gave his reaction to the attack.
Also on Tuesday the News Letter asked what Mr Kearney thought about the murder bid, but Sinn Fein offered no further comment.
However, the same evening Sinn Fein put out a detailed statement from Mr Kearney making the case that bigotry is a major problem in Northern Ireland that nobody wishes to talk about.
Entitled ‘Sectarianism, the Elephant in the Room’, it said his party is fully committed to eradicating sectarianism “regardless of the source”.
The only example he gave was the Catholic families recently forced out of their Cantrell Close homes in south Belfast by the UVF.
But responding to his comments, DUP MP for South Antrim Paul Girvan urged Mr Kearney to condemn Mr Heffron’s treatment by the GAA.
“This is a question of leadership for Declan Kearney,” he said. “There have been serious allegations of bullying and bigotry in his constituency, yet his silence has been deafening.”
He added: “We need to hear from Declan Kearney himself. Was the treatment of Mr Heffron wrong? Does he condemn those responsible? Does he believe the club should make clear that any member who wishes to join the PSNI now is encouraged to do so?”
Responding to the DUP MP on Wednesday night, Mr Kearney told the News Letter that he had offered private sympathy to Mr Heffron in 2010. He did not offer any comment about the conduct of their club.
“Peadar Heffron is a member of my extended family,” he said. “The brutal attack upon him was devastating for him and his immediate family, and a tragedy for the wider family circle.
“I shared my sympathy and support privately with Peadar Heffron and his own family at that time. Sinn Fein unequivocally condemned the attack on Peadar in 2010. That was my position then and now.
“No one should be marginalised due to membership of the PSNI.”
His wider family and himself had been associated with Kickham’s GAC for decades, he said, adding that it is “a proud club which makes a huge contribution to the community”.
“I find it regrettable that the DUP’s Paul Girvan has cynically chosen to create a new controversy with this tragedy.”