SINN Féin president-elect Mary Lou McDonald has been told to spend her time dealing with “dark and sinister elements” in her party rather than attending commemoration events linked to the IRA.

Ms McDonald is facing criticism from Unionists and Fine Gael for attending a wreath-laying ceremony in Castlewellan, Co Down last weekend. The event commemorated Peter McNulty, an IRA member who died when a device he was planting at a police station exploded.

Fine Gael Louth TD Peter Fitzpatrick said Ms McDonald should have boycotted the event if she was determined to lead a modern party committed to peace.

Mr Fitzpatrick said he would prefer to see the Sinn Féin president-elect making greater efforts to help families of those who were killed by the IRA.

“Dark and sinister elements within the Sinn Féin movement know only too well what happened down countless dark alleyways or quiet rural fields when innocent lives were callously ended,” he said.

“Who primed explosives and who pulled triggers? Only Sinn Féin can provide answers or continue a cover up.

“As opposed to venerating those who maimed and brought horror to this island, perhaps Ms McDonald could help bring closure for families across Ireland.”

McNulty, a farmer from Castlewellan, died in 1972 when he was planting an explosive at a gate outside a police station.

He had previously been involved in IRA campaigns around the Border in the 1950s and 1960s.

Mr Fitzpatrick said families in the region had suffered loss and tragedy at the hands of the IRA.

“In my own constituency in Louth, father and farmer Tom Oliver was tortured and murdered by the IRA in 1991,” Mr Fitzpatrick said. “His family are still seeking the truth.

“Outgoing Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has not provided any solace to the Oliver family.

“Perhaps Ms McDonald will step out of Gerry’s shadow and Sinn Féin’s past and remember the true victims and help them find answers.

“Celebrating terrorist bombers belongs in the past or so we would have hoped. Perhaps not, perhaps Mary Lou is happy to walk in the footsteps of her outgoing leader.

“A puppet or a leader – early indications suggest the former.”

Sinn Féin failed to respond to a request for comment on the matter yesterday.

Ms McDonald had tweeted from the event last week to say she was “remembering the past” and “looking forward to the future”.