A Walmart executive reportedly wept last week as he apologised to the family of two loyalist murder victims for the “deep hurt” caused after their killer was given his checkout job back despite having been sacked for sectarian remarks.
Rick Bendel, from the US parent company of the Asda supermarket chain, flew in on a private jet from the States to meet the family of Thomas and John McErlane.
The Catholic brothers were shot dead by Billy Hunter on the Mount Vernon estate in May 1975.
Earlier this month Hunter was sacked from a north Belfast Asda store after telling a delivery driver over the Twelfth that he should play The Sash on his van’s stereo.
Hunter was reinstated, but it later emerged that there had been previous complaints about his behaviour at the store.
The debacle is understood to have prompted Catholic staff to request transfers to other stores and complaints were made to Walmart.
Crucially, Walmart is a signatory to the MacBride Principles, which guarantee that US companies must operate under stringent fair employment guidelines in the north.
Mr Bendel, the US firm’s international chief marketing officer apologised to the McErlane family for the “distress” caused in what he said had been an “extremely difficult and sensitive situation”.
He said the company would not “tolerate any form of discrimination or provocation against any customer or colleague”.
It is understood that a new manager has been appointed at the north Belfast store and a confidential telephone line has been set up to allow staff and customers to report sectarian intimidation.
It was also reported that Hunter will work in another part of the store and no longer on check-out.
Mr McErlane said his family were pleased with the outcome. “We hope this episode in our life is over,” he said.
Sinn Fein north Belfast assembly member Gerry Kelly said he was pleased senior representatives from Walmart and Asda had met the McErlane family.
“I commend once again the dignity and courage shown by the McErlanes over the course of recent days and weeks,” he said.