Personal Explanation by Member

Deputy Stanley has informed me that he wishes to make a personal explanation to the House, pursuant to Standing Order 56. No debate or statements by other Members can arise in the aftermath of his contribution.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to address the House in my own words regarding two tweets of mine that have been the subject of commentary over the past number of weeks.

I grew up in an Ireland that was very unequal, where women, gay people, minority groups of all kinds and nationalists in the Six Counties were treated appallingly. I took the decision to join Sinn Féin as I saw it developing as a modern and progressive political party. I committed myself to working to end inequality, bigotry, sectarianism and the division of our island. I believe this work is central to Irish republicanism. That is what gets me up every day. Be sure of this: I am more committed now to work towards those goals than ever, having seen the huge progress we have made on all fronts. From the mid-1980s, when Sinn Féin published A Scenario for Peace, through the Hume-Adams talks and the Good Friday Agreement, I actively supported each and every initiative to bring peace on our island.

As we now advance reconciliation in our country, we need to be able to talk about the past in a way that does not cause or deepen division. We must be sensitive in how we talk about the past and respectful of the views others may hold about the past that may be different. I accept that my tweet regarding the ambushes at Kilmichael and Narrow Water was insensitive and that it caused hurt and anger. Words can do that and my words did. For that, I am truly sorry.

Another tweet I posted in 2017, on the day Deputy Leo Varadkar was elected as leader of Fine Gael, has also been the subject of public commentary. The impending election as Taoiseach of someone who was gay was rightly highlighted at the time as a sign of the progress we have made as a country and a State, and followed on from the marriage equality referendum two years prior. That is something people were very proud of, and rightly so. The point I was trying to make was that that was great, but let us also focus on advancing workers' rights, the rights of people on low income, economic justice and issues such as a living wage, which we do not yet have in this country. I accept that I did not articulate that point in a very good way and that that tweet is open to different interpretations. I tried to contact the Tánaiste today to express my apology personally to him and I will do so again following this address.

Homophobia is abhorrent to me. I absolutely deplore prejudice of any kind and always have. I realise that many people who have read my tweets do not know me personally. They do not know my record or my stance on issues. My record is not a defence nor does it take away from any hurt caused. It only provides an insight into the values I hold as an activist, as a political representative and, more important, as a person. As an ally of the LGBT community, I am even more responsible and more accountable. I recognise that.

I hope that those I have hurt accept my apologies and that my colleagues here accept the sincerity of my statement. I own my own mistakes and the hurt I caused. I am at fault and I am responsible for the accusations that have been levelled at me. I am committed to learning from these mistakes and - be sure of this - to working even harder to promote the causes of equality, inclusion, understanding, reconciliation and ending the division of our island.