Belfast Telegraph

Monday 24 November 2014

Sinn Fein man sorry for 'shell' Israel call

John Hearne
John Hearne

A Sinn Fein councillor has apologised after saying he believed the United Nations should start "shelling Israel" to force its Government to enter peace talks.

John Hearne said he felt such an action would bring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "to heel", adding: "The English were never coming to the table until Canary Wharf happened."

Sinn Fein distanced itself from his comments, saying they did not reflect the party's position on Gaza.

Mr Hearne, a councillor for Waterford, said the comments were part of a wider conversation, and he did not mean to cause offence.

"I never want to cause offence and I would be very sorry if I said anything that was offensive," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

However, Ulster Unionist MLA Tom Elliott said serious questions need to be answered.

"It is clear that whilst many in Sinn Fein are trying to whitewash the past crimes of the IRA and republicans, in a bid to portray Sinn Fein as a modern political party, there remain many within their ranks who cling to the past and are not averse to the use of or threat of violence to get their way," he said.

"Sinn Fein is a party whose representatives are renowned for being 'on message' so one must therefore assume that in calling for the shelling of Israel, councillor Hearne is merely articulating Sinn Fein party policy."

Mr Hearne has served as a councillor in Waterford since 2011. His comments were made on local radio on July 18, bu brought to wider attention when Fine Gael senator Maurice Cummins referred to them during a debate.

During a phone interview on the Gaza crisis, Mr Hearne said: "Well I'd prefer if the United Nations started shelling Israel."

He said such an action would help bring Mr Netanyahu "to heel", adding: "You can't leave him (to) butcher women and kids."

Asked what such an approach would achieve, Mr Hearne replied: "You have to get them to the table. The English were never coming to the table until Canary Wharf happened."

Two people were killed, 39 injured and £100m worth of damage caused when an IRA bomb exploded at Canary Wharf in London in February 1996.

Yesterday Mr Hearne said: "In the context (the comments) have been printed in they look terrible, but the context they were spoken in was different – it was a long conversation on the Middle East and conflict resolution."

Mr Hearne admitted his comments "weren't wise" and "should have been tempered more".

Sinn Fein said Mr Hearne's comments were "not reflective" of party policy.

"Our statements over the past few weeks, particularly those from the party leadership, provide a clear articulation of the Sinn Fein position," a spokesman said.

"While Cllr Hearne's words are regrettable he is understandably emotional about the indiscriminate killing of Palestinian civilians by the Israeli military.

"John has visited Palestine on a number of occasions and he has witnessed this oppression first hand. This is not a justification but it does provide a context for the comments. But Sinn Fein in no way condones these remarks."

Some 1,460 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have died in the clashes with 63 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Yesterday Palestinian and Israeli delegations arrived in Cairo with the hope of negotiating a longer-term cessation of hostilities, but Egyptian officials said the talks had now been postponed.

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