As part of a newspaper interview, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said the IRA’s armed struggle was “justified” and there is “every chance” she would have taken up arms during the conflict.
During a long interrogation by the anti-republican Sunday Independent, the Sinn Féin leader was repeatedly questioned on her attitude to the IRA and its actions.
Ms McDonald joined Sinn Féin in the aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement, beginning her political career with Fianna Fáil, but it was her opinions of what came long before that obsessed the interviewer, ‘Blue’ Hugh O’Connell, who has family links to the Fine Gael government.
Despite leading the largest party in Ireland as government formation talks continue in Dublin, almost every question put to Ms McDonald by O’Connell related to the IRA.
Asked if she, herself, would have joined the IRA, the Sinn Féin leader said “there’d be every chance, every possibility”.
“I certainly understand how it was that people volunteered to the IRA -- anybody looking at the circumstances from partition onwards, the nature of the northern state, everything that happened, how young people in particular took the fight to the British state.”
She added: “You can only live the life that you have lived and I don’t think you can second guess yourself on what you might and what you might not have done. What doesn’t change is the politics that I have and my beliefs in terms of Irish freedom.”
Ms McDonald was asked about her attendance at events commemorating IRA Volunteers who lost their lives. She said it it was essential to remember those who died on both sides of the conflict.
Asked again about the armed struggle of the Provisional IRA, she said: “I wish it hadn’t happened, but it was a justified campaign. It was inevitable; it was utterly inevitable and anybody with even a passing sense of Irish history could have predicted it, as surely as night followed day.”
Ms McDonald said the involvement of ex-IRA members in Sinn Féin’s decision-making processes was “evidence of the huge success of the peace process”, but denied they were making decisions for elected representatives.
The Sinn Féin leader also revealed that Prince Charles was in touch with her following her recovery from coronavirus. “So, if you want a measure of how much things have changed, there’s one I suppose small example,” she added.
In a subsequent interview on Friday with RTE radio, she clarified that she could not support every action that the Provisional IRA took, and that she did not want that to cause distress to those who were victims of the conflict.
“I am not justifying every action at all, at all,” she said. “I absolutely understand the horror and pain that was visited on people and it is my absolute determination that we can learn from that and never go back.”
Ms McDonald noted that, as she lived in Dublin, she had not been in a position to take up armed conflict.
“I am in the very lucky position that I have never had to make that decision... I’ll give you a straightforward answer, at no stage have I picked up a gun or hurt another human being.”
In a separate interview, Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty said he was unsure if he would have joined the IRA during the conflict had he been older. He was born in 1977 and was 17 when a ceasefire was declared.
Questioned on local radio in the aftermath of Ms McDonald’s comments, the party’s finance spokesperson says he hopes he would have had the courage to stand up for his community against the British Army if he was living in Derry during the 1970s, but is unsure if he would have actually volunteered.
“I couldn’t ever suggest that I could say yes or no,” he said. “But I absolutely do not in any way second guess those who stood up to defend their communities at that point and time.
“If I was there in 1916, I hope I would have been inside the GPO. If I was there a couple of years before I hope I would have been there supporting the Lockout.
“If I was in the streets of Derry in 1970s when the British army rolled in, I hope I would have been standing up, defending my community.”