Terror victims and political leaders have criticised Northern Ireland’s first minister designate after she said there was “no alternative” to the IRA’s armed campaign during the Troubles.
Michelle O’Neill, the former deputy first minister and vice-president of Sinn Féin, said the IRA had no choice but to wage its terror campaign until the Good Friday Agreement.
The comments sparked fury in Northern Ireland, which voted in May elections to make Sinn Féin, the former political wing of the IRA, the largest party in the province for the first time.
Ms O’Neill, who has promised to be a “first minister for all”, said in an interview with the BBC: “I don’t think any Irish person ever woke up one morning and thought that conflict was a good idea, but the war came to Ireland.
“I think at the time there was no alternative, but now, thankfully, we have an alternative to conflict and that’s the Good Friday Agreement.”
“For 30 years the IRA was wedded to the bomb and the bullet, and Sinn Féin is still trying to justify it. I don’t think they’ll ever change,” Colin Worton, whose brother was murdered by IRA, told the Belfast Telegraph.
‘Cruel and flippant response’
George Larmour, whose brother was shot by the terrorists, said Ms O’Neill’s comments were a “cruel and flippant response and callous excuse for the hurt, pain and grief that was inflicted on innocent families”.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the leader of the DUP, said: “There was never a justification for violence.
“Even in Northern Ireland’s darkest days, the overwhelming majority of our people respected democracy, the rule of law and – where they felt passionately about a particular cause – took part in peaceful protest. Sinn Féin can pretend there was no alternative but they are condemned by the facts.”
The DUP lost its majority to Sinn Féin in the elections but has refused to enter a power sharing agreement that would make Ms O’Neill first minister until London removes or replaces the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Colum Eastwood is the leader of the SDLP, which, like Sinn Féin, supports Irish reunification. He said his party, which played a key role in striking the Good Friday Agreement, proved there was an alternative to IRA violence during the Troubles.
“The IRA murdered thousands of its own people, destroyed businesses, ruined young people’s lives by selling them a twisted ideology and put the cause of Irish unity back decades,” he said on Friday.