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MICHELLE O’NEILL has been criticised for claiming there was “no alternative” to IRA violence during the troubles.
The Sinn Féin politician, who as leader of the largest party will become Northern Ireland’s First Minister if the power sharing government at Stormont is restored, made the comments in an interview with the BBC.
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.”
Ms O’Neill, whose father Brendan Doris, was a Sinn Féin councillor and IRA member who served time in prison, added: “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.
“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.”
Alliance leader Naomi Long said Ms O’Neill was wrong to say there was “no alternative to the PIRA campaign of violence.”
She added: “Thousands of people, including a majority of nationalists, who did not pursue violence to achieve their political aims, are testament to that.
“Indeed, one could argue the use of violence delayed the reaching of political accommodation until 1998, and its devastating impacts are still felt personally and politically to this day.
“Throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s there were democratic and peaceful alternatives, as proven by Alliance and others at the time.
“Whilst those in positions of leadership are entitled to their own perspectives, they are not entitled to their own truth.
“Neither should they ignore the devastating legacy of violent conflict in our community or the impact their words of justification for past violence may have on people still engaged in such violence today.”
Earlier this week, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said there was "never a justification for violence."
He added: “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.”
Sir Jeffrey said that while Ms O’Neill speaks about being a first minister for everyone, “the mask has well and truly slipped”.
UUP leader Doug Beattie accused Ms O’Neill of “an attempt to justify the indefensible”.
Colin Worton, whose brother Kenneth was one of 10 Protestant workmen shot dead by the IRA in 1976 close to Kingsmill, Co Armagh said he found Ms O’Neill’s comment to be “very sickening”.
He added: “I find it very hard to believe at this stage that this woman and this party are going to be running this country in the future.”
The devolved government in Northern Ireland is currently stalled, with the DUP adopting a “protocol or power-sharing” strategy.
They say they will not agree to enter government until No 10 change the post-Brexit agreement that has effectively created a border down the Irish Sea.
Shortly after the election, Ms O’Neill travelled to Scotland to meet with Nicola Sturgeon in Bute House.
The pair discussed the protocol, Brexit more widely and the cost-of-living crisis too.
However, Tory constitution spokesperson Donald Cameron criticised Ms Sturgeon for the meeting, saying: "People across Scotland - including those who support independence - will be concerned about Nicola Sturgeon's eager embrace of Michelle O'Neill and Sinn Féin.
"For many, the party's associations will be far from the civic nationalism that Nicola Sturgeon claims to champion, but it seems that the SNP will work with anyone so long as they support the break-up of the UK."