McElduff took days off school as a boy to attend funerals of IRA hunger strikers

Barry McElduff once said there should be no hierarchy of victims of the Northern Ireland conflict.

As a schoolboy he took days off to attend the 1981 funerals of IRA hunger strikers.

Sinn Fein's West Tyrone MP has defended the right of republicans to remember their own victims of violence or "patriot dead", including two IRA men killed by their own bomb in his native Co Tyrone.

He added: "We all should have the opportunity to remember our dead."

The married father-of-three, 51, fell foul of what his own party said was "inexcusable" behaviour after tweeting a video posing with a Kingsmill loaf on the 42nd anniversary of the massacre of the same name.

Ten innocent Protestant workmen were killed in the sectarian shooting by republicans on a rural road in South Armagh.

Mr McElduff apologised and said he did not realise there could be a possible link between the bread brand and the anniversary.

He lives in the village of Carrickmore and represents an area including the market town of Omagh.

In 1998 29 people died in a dissident republican car bomb in the town, including Michael Gallagher's son Aiden.

Mr Gallagher said: "It was just incalculable that a person of that intelligence and standing in the community would engage in such irrational behaviour, it is just difficult to understand."

He added: "These things should never be brought down to party politics, it is a question of getting answers for the people who have suffered."

Omagh bomb hearing
Michael Gallagher, who lost his son Aiden in the Omagh bombings, said he could not understand Mr McElduff's comments (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr McElduff was steeped in republicanism from a young age, speaking of his pride after taking the day off school to attend the funeral of IRA hunger striker Raymond McCreesh.

He said: "The level of his commitment and sacrifice is difficult to comprehend."

After a local council controversially named a play park after McCreesh, Mr McElduff said he was a hero.

He said: "There are Irish people in possession of Nobel Prizes for their various contributions.

"As far as I am concerned, Raymond McCreesh would be more deserving of international recognition than many of the past recipients."

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