The leader of the Center Ground Alliance party has said that Michelle O’Neill’s comments that there was no alternative to IRA violence during Northern Ireland’s troubled past.
Ms O’Neill, who is poised to become First Minister if a power-sharing government is restored at Stormont, has been heavily criticized by unionists and some victims’ groups for her comments in the past.
Coalition leader Naomi Long said there are democratic and peaceful alternatives to violence.
SDLP leader Colm Eastwood also disagreed with Ms O’Neill, tweeting: “The IRA was an alternative to violence.
“John Hume led this alternative and the nationalists supported it.
“The IRA has killed thousands of its own people, destroyed businesses, ruined young lives by selling a twisted ideology and set back the cause of Irish unity by decades.”
In an interview with the BBC, Ms O’Neill said of the past: “I don’t think any Irish person ever woke up one morning and thought conflict was a good idea, but war came to Ireland. .
“I think at the time there was no alternative, but thankfully now we have an alternative to conflict and that is the Good Friday Agreement, and that is why it is so valuable to all of us.”
He added: “I wish that the conditions that would have actually led to the conflict had never been here, I wish that so many people would not have had the terrible experience that they have had in the days of conflict.
“The only way we can truly build a better future is to understand that it’s okay to take the past differently.
“My story is very different from someone who may have lost a loved one to Republicans.
“But we need to be smart enough to say ‘OK, we’re going to have to agree to disagree’, but let’s make sure that those situations never exist again where we’re on our own. find in this scenario.”
Ms Long responded: “Michelle O’Neill is wrong to say there was no alternative to the PIRA campaign of violence.
“Thousands of people, including the majority of nationalists, who did not resort to violence to achieve their political goals, are proof of this.
“Indeed, one could argue that the use of violence delayed reaching a political accommodation until 1998, and its devastating effects are still felt today, both personally and politically.
“There were democratic and peaceful alternatives in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, as the Alliance and others of the time proved.
“While those in leadership positions are entitled to their point of view, they are not entitled to their truth.
“Neither should they ignore the devastating legacy of violent conflict in our community, nor should they ignore the impact of their words of justification for past violence on those who continue to engage in such violence today.”
Earlier this week, DUP leader Sir Geoffrey Donaldson said violence was never justified, while UUP leader Doug Beattie accused Miss O’Neill of “justifying the indefensible.” attempt”.
Kenny Donaldson, a spokesman for victims’ organization Innocent Victims United, said: “Any grievance, perceived or real, that people have in this community has never justified the killing of one neighbor by another.”
Colin Worton, whose brother Kenneth was one of 10 Protestant activists shot dead by the IRA near King’s Mill, Co Armagh in 1976, said he found Ms O’Neill’s comment “very sickening”. .
“There was always an alternative and there was always a choice, to kill or to be killed, to bomb or not to bomb, that choice was always there,” he told the BBC.
After Sinn Fein emerged as the largest party in the last assembly election, Ms O’Neill is poised to become First Minister if the institutions are returned.
The Assembly is currently unable to function due to a protest motion by the DUP calling on the UK Government to take action on Unionist concerns around the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Mr Worton said: “I find it very hard to believe at this stage that this woman and this party are going to be running this country in the future.”