It’s now several months since the Barry McElduff loaf-on-head incident, so you might expect that passions would have cooled and people are ready to look rationally at what happened that night in January. It appears not. According to the Belfast Telegraph a few days ago, Mr McElduff attended Omagh police station voluntarily on March 8, and they are preparing a report for the Public Prosecution Service.
Having thought about the matter over the last couple of months, I believe this is a case where people have allowed emotion to push past reason. Pastor Barry Halliday, speaking for the Kingsmill families, says “ His [McElduff’s} sickening glorification was widely condemned (as) causing much hurt to the families.”
Clearly the pastor has made up his mind about what happened, as have, if he’s speaking for them, the Kingsmill families. It’s reasonable to say that the Kingsmill families have lived with cruel pain for decades now, but that shouldn’t prevent us looking at the loaf-on-the-head caper rationally. So here are some thoughts.
- Was the Kingsmill loaf-on-the-head video typical of Barry McElduff? Most people would say it was: Barry has posted lots of videos where he’s doing such things as getting a Snicker from the DUP snacks machine – that sort of thing. So you might be tempted to answer “Yes!” when asked if the Kingsmill loaf-on-head was typical of him. There’s one crucial difference, though: all the other videos were totally non-malicious. In fact, I’ve got £20 waiting for the first person who can, loaf-on-head aside for a moment, cite an example of Barry McElduff engaging in a sectarian insult or taunt.
- Is Barry McElduff stupid? The answer is an emphatic No. He has enjoyed clowning around, but if you’ve listened to him engaging in a serious conversation of any kind, you’ll quickly realise that this is a man with a keen brain.
- Did Barry McElduff deliberately do the Kingsmill loaf thing in order to taunt the families of the victims? There are two reasons why the answer to that question is a definitive No: (i) Sinn Féin as a party, whether from motives of principle or political advantage, don’t do sectarian taunting. Their commitment is to effect reconciliation, with Martin McGuinness leading the way. As a prominent member of the party, McElduff would have known that, and has always subscribed to it, in word and deed. As any and all his unionist political colleagues in West Tyrone know very well.
- Would you have known, without being told, that the date on which the loaf-on-head event took place was the anniversary of Kingsmill? I didn’t, and I’d guess the great bulk of people, excluding of course the families and friends of the victims, would not have known. So why would we expect McElduff to have been aware of it?
- The loaf-on-head event happened shortly after midnight. If you went out for an evening and returned at, say, 12,30 a m, would you, when describing the outing to your friends, speak of “last night” or “last night and this morning” ? Had McElduff deliberately set out to taunt the families, why would he choose to do so on what most people would think of as the night before?
- When you go to buy a loaf of bread, what do you look at? Personally, I always check the Best Before date – I virtually never check the name of the brand. McElduff says that’s what happened with him. Why would he be different from the rest of us?
- McElduff has protested that he hasn’t a sectarian bone in his body. He’s able to say that because there is no prior occasion, as I said above, when any hint of sectarianism could be attributed to him. He’s also clever. Given that, why on earth would he deliberately engage in a taunting act that would be bound to have negative consequences for him: in short, engage in an act that would destroy not just his reputation but his career?
I strongly suspect that those calling for fire and brimstone to descend on McElduff know in their hearts that they’re using a political opportunity to destroy a man they know is not sectarian and not stupid. But sometimes temptation to glide around the truth is too great. That’s a pity. Maybe McElduff’s accusers should have a peep into what they know, deep down, is the truth of the affair.