The Sinn Fein vice-president made the comments during an interview for the BBC podcast series Red Lines.
Having stressed that Ms O’Neill has been outspoken in her opposition to violence, interviewer Mark Carruthers asked: “But do you still feel that it was right at that time, for members of your family and others, to engage in violent resistance to British rule here?”
She replied: “I think at the time there was no alternative, but now thankfully we have an alternative to conflict, and that is the Good Friday Agreement – that is why it’s so precious to us all.”
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The interview covered a number of aspects of the Sinn Fein leader’s early life, including being “prayed over” at her Catholic grammar school when she became pregnant at 16, however, it was her comments about the IRA that sparked a backlash.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said Ms O’Neill cannot claim to be a first minister-in-waiting for everyone in Northern Ireland, while at the same time “apparently standing over sectarian and cold-blooded atrocities like Enniskillen, La Mon and Kingsmill”.
The DUP leader said: “There was never a justification for violence.
“Even in Northern Ireland’s darkest days the overwhelming majority of our people respected democracy, the rule of law and – where they felt passionately about a particular cause – took part in peaceful protest. Sinn Fein can pretend there was no alternative but they are condemned by the facts.”
Sir Jeffrey went on to say: “This party will continue to challenge warped attempts to justify the unjustifiable. There can be no rewriting of history and the memory of innocent victims of terrorism must never be forgotten.”
During the interview, Ms O’Neill described being born in 1977, “a time when there was a lot of conflict”, “into a society which was actively discriminating against Catholics”.
She also recalled raids by police on her family home, referring to her father Brendan Doris as an ex-prisoner who went on to become a councillor for Sinn Fein, and added: “I wish the conditions were never here that actually led to conflict.
“I wish that so many people didn’t have the horrible experience that they’ve had throughout the conflict days.
“My narrative is a very different one to someone who has perhaps lost a loved one at the hands of republicans so I think that we need to be mature enough to say, that’s okay, we’ll have to agree to differ on that one but let’s make sure the conditions never exist again that we find ourselves in that scenario.”
TUV Strangford spokesperson councillor Stephen Cooper: “The claim by Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern Ireland that there ‘was no alternative’ to IRA terrorism is a telling insight into the mindset of someone who claims that she wants to be a first minister for everyone.
“Just a few days ago victims of the IRA Claudy bombings met to remember their loved ones... that is the stark reality of what Ms O’Neill claims there was ‘no alternative’ to.“
Cllr Cooper added: “These comments not only make a mockery of the republican movement’s supposed support for the much-lauded Mitchell principles but on a more basic level, the rule of law, and grossly insult the countless victims of Provo terror”.