Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness has gone beyond the established limits of republican rhetoric by saying that IRA killings of innocent people could be described as murder.
In an interview he admitted: “I accept that in the circumstances where innocent people lost their lives, it's quite legitimate for the term murder to be used.”
His words represent a significant shift from the standard language used by Sinn Fein and the IRA, whose leaders have never before conceded that any IRA killings could be characterised as murder. The republican stance has been that IRA killings were carried out in the context of a legitimate “armed struggle”. Republican figures have in the past expressed regret for individual incidents and have on occasion described attacks as “wrong”.
The IRA was responsible for around 1,800 of the 3,700 deaths of the Northern Ireland Troubles.
In his interview with The Independent, Mr McGuinness refused to describe IRA killings of British soldiers as “wrong”.
But he added: “The IRA were involved in quite a number of incidents which resulted in the accidental killing of innocent people, and the term used by the relatives of those people who were killed was that they were murdered. I wouldn't disagree with that.”
The new language used by Mr McGuinness comes at the start of the presidential election campaign in the Republic. He has come under attack from commentators and others who say they disbelieve his claim that he left the IRA in 1974 and should therefore bear responsibility for the organisation's campaign of violence.
He has already said that his “heart goes out” to those who lost relatives during the violence, including relatives of British soldiers. In the election he is regarded as being in third place in a field of seven.