Human rights body challenged over Michelle O’Neill comments

The DUP has challenged the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) to clarify if Michelle O’Neill’s assertion that “there was no alternative” to IRA violence is compliant with international human rights law.

By Henry McDonald
Saturday, 6th August 2022, 7:20 am
Updated Saturday, 6th August 2022, 7:22 am

Lagan Valley MLA Emma Little-Pengelly has written to NIHRC Chief Commissioner Alyson Kilpatrick outlining the Party’s concerns over the Sinn Fein vice-president’s remarks.

Mrs Little-Pengelly has sent a similar letter to Amnesty International requesting their position on Ms O’Neill’s claim.

In her letter to the head of the NIHRC, the DUP MLA said: “This claim has attracted significant public criticism and served to re-traumatise the innocent victims of terrorism in Northern Ireland and further afield.

Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O'Neill. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

“I would refer to you comments by my party colleague, Lord Dodds, who earlier this week recounted the likely impact of Ms O’Neill’s apparent justification of murder upon those targeted and affected as a result of IRA attacks during the Troubles. As you will know, Nigel and Diane were subject to a failed attempt on their lives whilst visiting their very ill son Andrew in the Royal Victoria Hospital in December 1996.”

Mrs Little-Pengelly continued: “The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is under a statutory duty under the 1998 Act to promote understanding and awareness of the importance of human rights in Northern Ireland.

“Remarks in the public square which justify terrorist atrocities that were patently unlawful - and which involved innumerable human rights abuses - serve to undermine this function and deny citizens an effective understanding of the rule of law as well as their rights as victims of crime.

“The rule of law must be at the heart of our collective approach to the past - regardless of whether that drives us to defend routes to justice for innocent victims or challenge narrow attempts to airbrush history.”

Emma Little-Pengelly

The DUP MLA, in her letter, poses a question to the NIRHC and its Chief Commissioner: “In this context, does NIHRC regard Michelle O’Neill’s claim that ‘there was no alternative’ to IRA violence to be compliant with the principles set out in national and international human rights frameworks? Moreover, in its view, do such remarks conflict with, or undermine, current support for law and order?”

She adds: “It is my ultimate hope that your response to this correspondence treats the matter raised with the seriousness and clarity that they deserve. To this end, I look forward to hearing from you in the very near future.”

Mrs Little-Pengelly’s reference to Diane and Nigels Dodds concerned the memory of a shooting in the Royal hospital close to Christmas 1996 when two IRA gunmen opened fire on a police bodyguard who was wounded in the foot. At the time the Dodds were speaking to a surgeon about potential treatment for their gravely ill son Andrew.

Lord Dodds recalled that evening: “Diane and I were just talking about the intensive care unit that day in the Children’s Hospital and how it wasn’t just our son Andrew who was gravely ill.

“There were other parents sitting by bedsides of their children and hearing shots being fired. How must they feel today?

“It does bring back all those awful memories. It brings back the terrible emotion effects that the whole family went through, the tears, the fears, and that will be replicated thousands of times across Northern Ireland as a result of what Michelle O’Neill said.”

Ms O’Neill made these comments in a wide-ranging interview on the BBC podcast ‘Red Lines.’

When asked about IRA violence and whether it was justified, the Sinn Fein deputy leader said: “I think at the time there was no alternative. Now, thankfully, we have an alternative to conflict, and that’s the Good Friday Agreement.

“My whole adult life has building the peace process. I wish the conditions were never here that actually led to conflict.”

Her late father, Brendan Doris, was a Sinn Fein councillor and IRA member who served time in prison.

It was not just unionists who criticised her remarks, with the SDLP leader Colum Eastwood tweeting: “There was an alternative to IRA violence. John Hume led that alternative&the Nationalist people backed it. The IRA murdered thousands of its own people, destroying businesses, ruined young people’s lives by selling them a a twisted ideology&put the cause of Irish unity back by decades.”