Despite some backtracking, a form of apology by Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald for a 1979 IRA attack in which senior British royal Lord Mountbatten was killed has raised the possibility of a broader statement of regret for the Provisional IRA’s role in the conflict.
The attack on the top-ranking British militarist (pictured, left) took place in 1979 during a severe escalation in the armed conflict in Ireland following the rise to power in London of Margaret Thatcher. The boat used by Mountbatten was blown up off the shore of County Sligo in the west of Ireland. Tragically, three civilians, two boys and a woman, also died in the attack.
“I am sorry that happened. Of course, that is heartbreaking,” Ms McDonald said.
Synonymous with British colonialism, Mountbatten was also accused of serving as a paedophile ringleader and as a frontman for a deep-state plot to depose the left-wing British Prime Minister Harold Wilson. At the time of the attack, which took place on the same day as the Warrenpoint ambush when 18 British soldiers were killed, it was considered to be a major blow to the Thatcher war cabinet.
McDonald had been asked this week if she would apologise to Prince Charles for the killing, and preceded her comment with the statement that “the army and armed forces associated with Prince Charles carried out many, many violent actions on our island.”
Nevertheless, her expression of “sorry” was stronger than those previously used by Sinn Féin leaders. As British news coverage implied McDonald had issued a full apology on behalf of the IRA, there was a notable delay by Sinn Féin in issuing a clarification.
Ms McDonald subsequently insisted her statement did not mark a change in position of expressing sorrow and sadness for all deaths.
“That’s been my position, it’s a long-established position. And I have to say it wasn’t newsworthy that I reiterated that yesterday,” she said.
Questioned further by RTE radio, who asked Mrs McDonald to describe the killing of Mountbatten as “wrong”, she said: “I am not at this stage of the peace process - when so many families are still waiting for truth on all sides...I am not getting into that,” she said.
Pat Leahy, political editor of the Irish Times, insisted the statement was a “perceptible shift” and “a deliberate attempt to move the dial”.
He observed that Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin, who has previously spoken of being on a “trajectory” to government, had described it as “an admission of regret”.
But there was only a limited welcome in British circles to the remarks. Asked for Boris Johnson’s response, the British Prime Minister’s official spokesman said only the comments were “noted”.
There were stinging condemnations from Sinn Féin’s republican critics, however.
“The apology uttered by the never Republican Mary Lou McDonald, on behalf of former Republicans to British Royalty is yet another part of a sickening climb down by Sinn Féin,” said Saoradh.
“This once proud Republican party have now morphed out of all recognition to what they once were.
“Unfortunately for Mary Lou and Sinn Féin, they can only apologise for themselves. They cannot and will never be able to apologise for or on behalf of the Irish Republican Army. Only the IRA can speak for the IRA. No-one else regardless of their self professed feelings of grandeur can speak for them.”
Sinn Féin was also criticised by the radical republican party for “bending the knee” in offering their condolences to “the head of the occupier’s state” following the passing of Prince Philip.