Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has reiterated her support for Finance Minister Conor Murphy and said he is willing to meet the parents of Paul Quinn face-to-face at the “earliest opportunity”.
Breege and Stephen Quinn sat in the public gallery as the 2007 murder of their son Paul was raised on a number of occasions during Monday’s Assembly sitting.
Mrs O’Neill had said she believed the best way forward was through a face-to-face meeting.
And she also dismissed suggestions that Mr Murphy, a Newry and Armagh MLA, could potentially breach ministerial code.
That came in response to questions put by Ulster Unionist South Antrim MLA Stephen Aiken.
Earlier this month Conor Murphy apologised to the family of Paul Quinn for remarks he made following the 21-year-old’s murder.
Mr Quinn, who was 21 and from Cullyhanna, was savagely beaten to death in a barn near Oram, Co Monaghan.
In a BBC Spotlight interview, Mr Murphy said Paul Quinn had links to criminality, an accusation the victim’s family vehemently denied.
In a later statement, Mr Murphy said he regretted the comments he made in the aftermath of Mr Quinn’s death.
Mr Quinn’s parents were present when Dr Aiken challenged the Deputy First Minister.
He asked Mrs O’Neill whether she had “asked her Finance Minister to state publicly, as the Quinn family has asked, that Paul Quinn was not a criminal and, if she has not done so, to state why no”.
The Deputy First Minister responded: “As I already said, Conor Murphy has apologised for his remarks and unreservedly withdrawn his remarks. His apology was heartfelt and sincere, and he has offered to meet the Quinn family. I think that that is the best way to proceed.”
However, Dr Aiken went on: “As the Deputy First Minister knows, Ministers are bound by the ministerial code, particularly the Pledge of Office, which in paragraph 1.4 (cg) and paragraph 1.4 (ci) refer particularly to paramiltarism and paramilitary attempts to control communities.
“As the Finance Minister has previously stated that he spoke to the IRA, will he now give that information to the PSNI and an Garda Síochána? If he does not, will the deputy First Minister agree that the Minister of Finance would then be in breach of the code and would have him stand down?”
But the Deputy First Minister replied: “No, I will not.
“The Minister is not in breach of the ministerial code.
“He has previously spoken to the PSNI and an Garda Síochána, and has called on anyone who has information to bring it forward to both parties.”
Earlier, North Antrim TUV MLA Jim Allister had asked if Mrs O’Neill accepted that the murder of Paul Quinn was a paramilitary killing, and asked her to outline what steps she had taken to “require the Finance Minister to publicly acknowledge that Paul Quinn was not a criminal?”
The Deputy First Minister said: “Conor Murphy has unreservedly condemned the murder of Paul Quinn. The people who murdered Paul Quinn are criminals and need to be brought to justice. He has called on anyone with information on the murder to bring it to the gardaí or the PSNI.
“I know that Conor very much regrets the comments that he made in the aftermath of Paul’s murder. He has apologised for his remarks unreservedly. He has withdrawn his remarks, and his apology was heartfelt and sincere.
“He has offered to meet the Quinn family at a time and place of their convenience, as has Mary Lou McDonald.”
Newry and Armagh SDLP MLA Justin McNulty also asked the Deputy First Minister to confirm that “that view is held by all Ministers in the Executive, including the Finance MinisterConor Murphy?”
She replied: “Again, I have said very clearly that Conor has apologised for his remarks and has unreservedly withdrawn them and that his apology was heartfelt and sincere.
“I believe the best place to deal with these issues, which are very sensitive — we are talking about a mother who has been hurt; I, as a mother, cannot even begin to understand how you deal with that trauma — is on a one-to-one basis, and Conor Murphy is very happy to meet Breege Quinn at the earliest opportunity.”
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