The two DUP politicians said Ms O’Neill’s claim that in the past there was “no alternative” other than the IRA ‘s violent campaign “retraumatised” them and brought them back to the murder bid in December 1996.
Lord Dodds, then a Belfast city councillor, and his wife were waiting to speak to a surgeon in the hospital about their son Andrew’s condition when two IRA members approached the waiting room.
A police bodyguard challenged the two IRA men, with one of them opening fire on the officer who was shot in the foot. One of the bullets fired at the policeman penetrated an incubator in the children’s unit.
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“Here was Christmas 1996 and I remember Congressman Joe Kennedy was in Belfast at the time, and he was so appalled he attacked Sinn Fein as a result of what the IRA did in the hospital. By then they (Sinn Fein) recognised there was an alternative having already declared a ceasefire two years earlier. They were pursuing this ceasefire/political approach and then two gunmen walk into a hospital and fire shots into an incubator in an attempt to murder people.”
He said the “rewriting history” remarks by Ms O’Neill set off memories for him and his wife about that night almost 26 years ago.
“Diane and I were just talking about that 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 emotional 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.”
Lord Dodds called on human rights organisations to speak out against anyone justifying the murder of their fellow citizens now or in the past.
He said: “How can someone sit down with a straight face and say, ‘there was no alternative, they had to go into a hospital and try to kill people’?
“This woman and the Sinn Fein leadership need to be called out not just by the victims and the innocent people who have suffered at the hands of the IRA. But also by all these politicians and human rights activists and champions of equality. They are very quick to point the finger at governments so why are they not coming down harder on Sinn Fein’s pathetic, constant defence of violence and murder, the persistent eulogy of terrorists. Where are these groups’ voices on behalf of ordinary people? This is the most egregious example of breaches of human rights.”
Lord Dodds continued: “For Michelle O’Neill to be saying such things is in gross violation of people’s feelings and an attempt to retraumatise them by justifying the murder of their loved ones. There was no justification for acts like the one in the Royal Hospital or the murder of say the Hanna family who were blown up in an IRA attack as they returned home from a holiday in Disneyland. I often think of the Hannas including their six-year-old son and wonder how anybody could say there was no alternative to violence like that.”
The DUP peer said that politically “there had been lots of options open to people”.
“There was a political process open to people and you could join any political party including non-unionist ones ranging from the SDLP to the hard left parties at the start of the IRA’s violent campaign.
“It is disgusting to think that anyone then tries to pretend there was no path other than the IRA’s violence. People had plenty of choices in terms of political parties and movements who were not involved in violence, there were lots of alternatives back then.”
Ms O’Neill made her remarks 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 president 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 been building the peace process. I wish the conditions were never here that actually led to conflict.”