Northern Ireland’s new first minister has claimed Hamas will eventually be regarded as a ‘future partner for peace’ in the Middle East.
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill, who became the the first ever nationalist first minister last week, made the claims in an LBC interview with Andrew Marr.
She said the example of the Northern Ireland peace process showed how important dialogue was to ending the conflict.
The 47-year-old, whose father and two cousins were IRA members, then called for a ceasefire and described Gaza as a ‘graveyard for children’.
Mr Marr asked her: ‘A long time ago the IRA was seen as a terrorist organization, the British Government and everybody else could not ever talk to. Do you think that Hamas, although regarded as a terror organization by many people around the world, is going to eventually have to be a partner for peace?’.
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill said the example of the Northern Ireland peace process showed how important dialogue was to ending conflict
The atrocities of October 7: Soldiers took pictures as they walked through a family home in Kfar Aza kibbutz where they found the parents’ bed and child’s bed soaked in blood
More than 360 people were killed at the Nova Festival on October 7. Picture shows Vlada Patapov, who became known as the lady in red, running for her life after Hamas gunmen decended on the music festival
Ms O’Neill replied: ‘Yes. I think you only have to look at our own example to know how important dialogue is and that’s the only way you’re ever going to bring an end to conflict.
‘If the British government didn’t talk to republicans or republicans didn’t talk to the British government in the past, in Ireland we would not be in the scenario that we are in today, enjoying a peaceful and far more equal society.
‘So, what we need to see in the Middle East, in particular in relation to Palestine, is that we need to see a ceasefire now. And we need the international community to be singing in chorus and harmony in terms of ceasefire now.’
She then went on to say international law should be applied in Gaza, attacking the idea that it was a war of defence due to the repeated Israeli bombardments.
Marr challenged her asking if she maintained her position despite knowing that Hamas had said they would repeat October 7 ‘again and again’.
She condemned the October 7 attacks and replied: ‘I would urge Hamas, as I do everybody, to please be around the table and be part of the conversation and solution.’
Despite not being born until five years after Bloody Sunday, there is no getting away from the fact that Ms O’Neill grew up in an IRA family. Her father was an IRA prisoner and her uncle raised money for the group.
Two of her cousins were IRA members who were shot by security forces, one of whom died while on ‘active duty’ with the force.
In 2022 Ms O’Neill was condemned for saying there was ‘no alternative’ to the violence during the Troubles.
She also attended funerals for former IRA members during Covid lockdown.
Ms O’Neill’s comments follow a trend of Sinn Fein historically supporting Palestinians, drawing parallels with their struggle for independence from a larger, occupying power.
Gerry Adams, the leader of the party from 1983 to 2018, met Hamas officials in 2009 in spite of Israeli demands.
The ex-leader has long faced accusations in the past of being a member of the IRA and organising bomb attacks – something he denies.
After the Oct 7 attacks by Hamas, which killed 1,139 people and took 240 hostages, some Sinn Fein representatives in the Republic of Ireland were criticised for expressing solidarity for Palestinians without condemning the widely-regarded terrorist group.
Ms O’Neill is seen as the new guard of republican politicians. Here pictured with Martin McGuinness (centre) and Gerry Adams (right). Security sources believe Adams was once a senior IRA commander
Hamas gunman is pictured storming Israeli positions on October 7
One of the most significant atrocities of The Troubles was The Omagh bombing in 1998 when the IRA killed 29 people on a busy high street in the County Tyrone town
Ms O’Neill’s intervention comes after she was appointed the first ever nationalist first minister since Northern Ireland was created at partition in 1921.
In her first speech she said although she came from a ‘different background’ to her unionist deputy first minister DUP MLA Emma Little-Pengelly she promised to work ‘tirelessly’ to deliver for all in Northern Ireland.
The two top jobs wield equal power and responsibility, but the elevation of a republican to the office of first minister, by virtue of Sinn Fein becoming the region’s largest political party in the 2022 Assembly election, marked a symbolic moment.
She took over from Martin McGuinness as the new face of Sinn Fein, Michelle O’Neill was hailed as a clean break from the republican movement’s blood-soaked old guard.
Mary Lou McDonald, the nationalist party’s president, said she believes a referendum on Irish reunification would happen before 2030, after the election of Ms O’Neill as First Minister.
The DUP ended its two-year boycott of Stormont over post-Brexit trading arrangements last week.
However her election comes as Sinn Fein falls to its lowest popularity in Ireland since the last Dail election.
It has dropped six points in the latest Ipsos poll for the Irish Times, which would make it harder to form a government that would make Ms McDonald Taoiseach.
But she put pressure on Keir Starmer to allow a border poll to go ahead if he becomes Prime Minister later this year.
Such a poll is at the discretion of the Government, but there are criteria within the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) that says one should be called ‘if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the UK and form part of a united Ireland’.
Successive UK governments have consistently declined to specify publicly what criteria will be applied when measuring public sentiment on the issue.