| 18.2°C Belfast

IRA campaign was justified though I wish it didn't happen, says Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald

Close

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald

The Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald has defended the IRA's campaign of violence and said there was "every chance" she would have taken up arms during the Troubles.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Sunday Independent, Ms McDonald also made no apology for attending events to honour those who had committed IRA atrocities and said she had not given up hope on leading her party into government in the Irish Republic.

She also hinted at her intention to lead her party for at least 10 years, calling it "a huge decade of opportunity".

On the IRA's actions during the Troubles, she said: "I wish it hadn't happened, but it was a justified campaign."

Ms McDonald also spoke about her "difficult" relationship with her father after her parents separated in 1979, and how the Republican hunger strikes were a defining moment in her childhood.

Asked if she believed she could have joined the IRA, she said: "Yeah, I think there'd be every chance, every possibility. I grew up in Dublin so the Troubles and the conflict were the background noise of my generation."

Ms McDonald did concede that Sinn Fein's response to the Mairia Cahill abuse controversy "wasn't well handled" but said she had acted appropriately.

She called the involvement of ex-IRA members as senior advisers in her party showed the success of the peace process, but denied they made decisions for elected representatives.

On attending events to commemorate former IRA members, she said: "Their people buried them too. Of course they matter. And British soldiers matter and loyalists matter. All of those human lives mattered, every single one of those human lives mattered. The men that died in the Blocks mattered - of course they mattered."

Ms McDonald was aged 16 during the 1987 Enniskillen bombing and 24 when another IRA bomb killed two young boys in Warrington.

She said the effect of the violence had been "debilitating for everybody".

"I remember Gordon Wilson (whose daughter was killed at Enniskillen). I remember him recounting how his daughter had said goodbye to him. Anybody seeing that, it was absolutely heartbreaking, it was absolutely devastating.

"You don't see suffering like that and not feel devastated for the people who are hurt - and all of that happened in a political context. You cite two horrific incidents - and they happened all round. That's the thing when conflict takes a grip, it takes on almost a life of its own and it's very, very hard to stop that cycle of violence."

She said she still did not consider those responsible to have been terrorists.

"I do accept that IRA actions hurt and killed a great many people. I also know that actions of state forces and actors and loyalist paramilitaries similarly caused grief and loss. For me, the important piece of this is not to label any people as 'terrorists' but to accept that there was a political context, there was a reason."

Ms McDonald was later asked about the public anger after she attended a commemoration for Tyrone IRA members in Strabane, with one victims' campaigner saying they were sectarian serial killers.

"I would invite you to examine the words that I said at that commemoration. What you will find is that a great deal of what I had to say was about healing and reconciliation," she said.

"And in fact, if you examine the words that are spoken at commemorations, you will find that there is an explicit running theme about reconciliation, about forgiveness, about forging a new future. They're not occasions made to stir up hurt or offence for others. They are used as occasions to assess our republican progress."

Belfast Telegraph