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First minister for all Northern Ireland cannot justify murder, says Donaldson

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Having a first minister for all people in Northern Ireland cannot justify murder, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said.

He was criticising remarks made by Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill around the region’s troubled past, after she said there was “no alternative”.

Her father Brendan Doris was a former IRA prisoner who became a Sinn Fein councillor, and two of her cousins were in the IRA, one of whom was killed in an ambush by the SAS in 1991, while the other was shot and wounded by the SAS.

In a wide-ranging interview with the BBC, Ms O’Neill said her father was in prison when she was very young, and one of her earliest memories was the sound of Army vehicles coming to the front door, adding their family home was regularly searched by the security forces.

She said: “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, and that’s why it’s so precious to us all.

“My whole adult life has been building the peace process.

“I wish the conditions were never here that actually led to conflict, I wish that so many people didn’t have the horrible experience that they’ve had throughout the conflict days.

“The only way we’re ever going to build a better future is actually to understand that it’s OK to have a different take on the past.

“My narrative is a very different one to someone who’s perhaps lost a loved one at the hands of republicans.

Michelle O’Neill
Michelle O’Neill (Sinn Fein/PA)

“But we need to be mature enough to be able to say that’s OK, we’ll have to agree to differ on that one, but let’s make sure that the conditions never exist again that we find ourselves in that scenario.”

Sir Jeffrey 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 Fein can pretend there was no alternative but they are condemned by the facts.”

Sir Jeffrey said that while Ms O’Neill speaks about being a first minister for everyone, “the mask has well and truly slipped”.

“Hundreds of our citizens, from all faiths and backgrounds, were callously targeted by the IRA. They were entirely innocent,” he said.

“They did not stand in the way of the political cause Sinn Fein still espouse today, yet they were butchered by terrorists. No circumstances, of any day or generation, justified this.

“Michelle O’Neill’s comments do not fit with support for the rule of law. Murder is never justified.

“At St Andrew’s, Michelle O’Neill’s predecessors were forced to pledge their support for the rule of law and policing, which underpin any democratic society. If the Sinn Fein leadership is genuine about restoring devolution and working for all communities, it is high time they fully honoured that commitment.

“This party will continue to challenge warped attempts to justify the unjustifiable. There can be no rewriting of history and the memory of innocent victims of terrorism must never be forgotten.”

TUV representative Stephen Cooper said: “The claim by Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern Ireland that there ‘was no alternative’ to IRA terrorism is a telling insight into the mindset of someone who claims that she wants to be a first minister for everyone.

“These comments not only make a mockery of the republican movement’s supposed support for the much-lauded Mitchell principles, but on a more basic level, the rule of law, and grossly insult the countless victims of Provo terror.”

Kenny Donaldson, spokesman for victims’ organisation Innocent Victims United said: “Whatever grievance, perceived or real, people experienced within this society, it never legitimised the murder of one neighbour by another.”