RTÉ Radio One
RTÉ Northern Editor Tommie Gorman has former PIRA member now Sinn Féin MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) and Minister of Finance in the Stormont Assembly, Conor Murphy, in studio and speaks to him about the remarks he made after the 2007 murder of twenty-one year old Paul Quinn of Cullyhanna, Co. Armagh. Mary Wilson is in the Dublin studio and presents the interview and then speaks to Paul’s mother, Breege, via telephone from Cullyhanna, afterwards. (begins 2:08)
Mary: For four days now its been the unexpected focus of the general election campaign – the comments by a senior Sinn Féin figure thirteen years ago about a young man, Paul Quinn, who was beaten to death by IRA members in a Co. Monaghan barn. Conor Murphy, Northern Ireland’s Finance Minister, wrongly claimed in 2007 that Mr. Quinn was involved in smuggling and criminality.
For thirteen years Paul Quinn’s mother, Breege, has campaigned on her son’s behalf. She spoke to us here on Drivetime about that battle. Last night Mary Lou McDonald said Conor Murphy had now retracted his comments and would apologise in person to the Quinn Family. But Breege Quinn quickly responded that she wouldn’t meet Conor Murphy until he had apologised and retracted his comments on national television where he made the original allegations. Well after avoiding public comment all week, this afternoon Conor Murphy spoke to our Northern Editor, Tommie Gorman.
Well, I have consistently condemned the killing of Paul Quinn. I have said that those responsible for this murder are criminals and they deserved to be brought to justice and I have consistently called for anyone who has information which can help lead to their apprehension to bring that to investigating authorities on either side of the border. Remarks that I made at the time he was killed are a matter of regret. I am sorry that that has added to the grief that the family have felt and I want to apologise to them for that. I want to withdraw those remarks. And of course, my offer to the family to have dialogue on this issue remains open and I hope to be able to meet them in the near future to discuss this.
Tommie: Well those remark you made suggested that their son had been involved in smuggling and in criminal activity. Now on what basis did you make those remarks?
Conor: Well, whatever about that basis. The fact is that those remarks added to the grief being felt by the family and I regret that I added to their grief. I had no intention at any stage to add to the pain that that family was feeling at that time and continues to feel. I think it’s appropriate that I withdraw those remarks and its appropriate that I apologise to the family for adding to the grief that they felt and continue to feel as consequence of their son’s murder.
Tommie: But in terms of the basis, it was morally wrong to say it about somebody who was dead unless you had evidence to the contrary. So had you any evidence for such remarks?
Conor: Well, I’m not going into what the evidence was or wasn’t at the time. The fact is, regardless of what my view was at the time, those remarks added to the grief of the family. It was the wrong thing to do at that time. I regret making those remarks at that time and I apologise to the family for adding to their grief.
Tommie: But Conor you just said to me: ‘regardless of my view at the time’. So was it your view at the time that this young man had been involved in criminal activity? Because as far as I understand there’s absolutely no evidence that he had been brought before the courts and convicted of criminal activity or of smuggling.
Conor: Well, I accept that there’s no evidence and I apologise for making the remarks at the time. I regret that those remarks added to the grief of the family.
Tommie: You also said at the time that in conversations with IRA members on the ground you had reached certain opinions. Did you actually speak to IRA members on the ground?
Conor: Well, let me say that I spoke to both the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) and the Garda Síochána at the time in relation to this incident on a number of occasions – and that’s maybe more than ten years ago now – if they feel that I have anything helpful to add to their investigations I am be happy to meet them at any time and discuss any of these aspects with them.
Tommie: But you just said to me that you spoke to the Gardaí and the PSNI but they’re not the IRA on the ground. Now you said at the time in 2007 that you spoke to the IRA on the ground. Did that happen?
Conor: The Garda and the PSNI are conducting the investigation. They’re the people who investigate who’s responsible for this murder. I spoke to them at that time on a number of occasions. I haven’t spoken to them in more than ten years. If they feel that I have anything helpful to add to their inquiries then I would happily met them at any stage and discuss all of that out with them. This is a matter of a private investigation in terms of the police on both sides of the border and that’s where such questions will be conducted.
Tommie: But it was a very public comment at the time and it was quite definitive. It wasn’t that you spoke to Republicans or people who spoke to people. You said: ‘I spoke to IRA members on the ground.’ Where did that come from?
Conor: Well, it came from an attempt to establish what was going on at the time. I now recognise that that attempt to do that has added to the grief of the family because of the commentary surrounding that – I regret that. I apologise for it. And if there are any further discussions to be had in regard to all of that then I’m happy to conduct those with the investigating authorities.
Tommie: That attempt, as you call, did amount to talking to someone there – so did you talk IRA members on the ground or is that a figment of imagination or is it something that’s not true?
Conor: It’s not a figment of my imagination but it’s a matter for investigating authorities as to what actually happened here. If they feel that I have any information that’s of any use to them I’m more than happy to talk to them.
Tommie: Well, Mrs. Quinn and her family have suggested that what you should do is you should tell the police, Garda and PSNI, who you actually spoke to if indeed, you did speak to IRA members on the ground who said they were not involved. So are you willing to do that?
Conor: Well, let me repeat what I’ve said consistently since the time Paul Quinn was murdered: That anyone with any information to assist in the apprehension of those involved in his murder, that information should be brought to the investigating authorities. I met the investigating authorities at the time of his killing. I’m more than willing to meet the investigating authorities at any further time and answer and discuss any questions that they may have. It’s more than ten years since I’ve had a conversation with them. If they want any further conversation then I’m happy to do that.
Tommie: Controversy has arisen in the election campaign south of the border in relation to Mary Lou McDonald’s understanding of what you said. On Monday speaking to my colleague, Brian Dobson, she said one thing. Last night in the Primetime debate she had a different understanding and this was as the result of a number of conversations she had with you. So what did you tell her? Did you mislead her? Was that an error? Or how did she have this conflicting interpretation of what you had said?
Conor: Well, I think she made that clear this morning that she had a misunderstanding of what I said. She assumed I said one thing. I made it clear with her what my remarks had been at the time. We discussed how to deal with them. And that’s what we did. So there’s no misleading here – it was simply a misunderstanding on her behalf. She’s corrected that today and I’m reiterating that now.
Tommie: So when you made that plain to her did you make that plain to her in advance of Monday – what she had said? And did you tell her the same consistent story when you spoke to her in advance of Primetime? Because she changed her understanding or her interpretation.
Conor: Well, I dispute this idea that I have not had consistent story. I had a conversation with Mary Lou, she made the remarks on the Brian Dobson programme. She acknowledged today that she did that on the basis of an assumption of what I said. I had a conversation with her. She’s clear now about what I said, when I said and what my approach to this would be and that’s where the discussion has been.
Tommie: Your party leader, Mary Lou McDonald, indicated earlier today she will not be looking for your resignation. The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) issued a statement – Steve Aiken – earlier this afternoon, saying Sinn Féin should reconsider that position. How do you feel yourself? Because your party leader doesn’t want you to go – she’s not pushing you to go – but how about you in terms of your own responsibility as an elected representative who has caused hurt? Do you feel your position is tenable? Do you want to stay in your position? Or have you been considering your position?
Conor: Well, I feel that I want to make remarks publicly – coming out trying to undo some of that hurt – that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been elected into a position – I have a mandate from the people of the area, I have a mandate from my party to hold the position as Minister for Finance. There’s important work to be getting on with in terms of reinstating these institutions and trying to rebuild confidence in them and that’s the task that I’ve been given and I intend to continue to do that.
Mary: And that was Conor Murphy with our Northern Editor, Tommie Gorman, a short time ago. On the line and listening to that interview is Breege Quinn. Breege, it’s your first time hearing that interview that Tommie Gorman has conducted with Conor Murphy. It’s a first listen for you. How do you respond now to what Conor Murphy has had to say?
He done that, thirteen years, almost thirteen years ago he accused Paul of being a criminal. He has left Stephen, I and James and Cathy fighting for justice on our own to try and get answers for Paul. Now, it took Mary Lou’s interview on Monday night and on Tuesday morning to speak to Conor Murphy for him to turn round and say what he said wasn’t true. Why did he say it thirteen years ago? Why has he had our family torn apart with what he said about Paul? I would like him to finish out and get us justice – to tell the PSNI, the Gardaí exactly who he spoke to. He said it wasn’t the IRA. He now says he wasn’t involved in…
Mary: …in criminality…
Mary: Yeah, he was asked repeatedly about that by Tommie Gorman and why he had made the remarks he made thirteen years ago. He said a few things as we listened through to the interview, Breege. He said he wasn’t going to go into evidence when Tommie asked him what evidence did he had at the time. You don’t accept, I think, that Conor Murphy has properly answered and explained why he made those comments about Paul.
Breege: The first thing that come to his head was ‘criminality’ – and he stuck with that for thirteen years. People have said that the likes of me and other people that are looking for justice shouldn’t be looking for it when there’s an election on. And I have said I have done it for thirteen and a half years. Now I don’t care about elections. We’re not political. The election has nothing got to do with it. It’s truth I’m looking for.
Mary: Breege, would you meet him now?
Breege: No. I’ve said again and again, and my husband as well, we won’t meet Conor Murphy until he comes out publicly saying that he is going to the PSNI to give the names of the IRA that he spoke to in Cullyhanna.
Mary: Breege, I want to be fair to everybody here and you said you wanted Conor Murphy to come out publicly, apologise and retract those statements about Paul being involved in criminality. Paul (Conor) Murphy has come out, now, and done a public interview on television with Tommie Gorman and I suppose he would say that he has retracted, he said he accepts there’s no evidence of Paul being involved in criminality and he apologises. And he might ask: What more can I do?
Breege: Well, why did he do it in the first place? What is his excuse for doing it in the first place? Why has he left – he’s had our family torn apart!
Mary: Breege, are you still calling for Conor Murphy to resign?
Breege: I sure am. But as I said today if Conor Murphy gets us justice for Paul, gets those that murdered him into the courts and behind bars Conor Murphy is entitled to be in government for the rest of his life as far as I’m concerned. But he is not fit for his job as minister – there’s no compassion in him, there hasn’t been any towards us this past thirteen years. And I’m at me wits end. Like, I haven’t even got a breakfast this morning over him.
Mary: He said he spoke to the investigating authorities, to An Garda Síochána, to the PSNI, thirteen years ago. He will speak to them again. He is urging anybody with any information to take that information to the investigating authorities.
Breege: Well, we were told that he went to neither Gardaí nor the PSNI but maybe that has changed from last night. He might’ve been with them this morning.
Mary: And that was Breege Quinn speaking to me just before we came on air this evening. (ends 14:50)