Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has apologised for the IRA’s assassination of Lord Mountbatten more than 40 years ago.
The comments, the day after the funeral of Mountbatten’s nephew Prince Philip, mark a distinct change in tone from that of her predecessor Gerry Adams, who said the member of the royal family “knew the danger” he was putting himself in by coming to Ireland.
Speaking to Times Radio, the broadcast offshoot of the Times and Sunday Times newspapers, McDonald said that the death on holiday of the 79-year-old peer, two children and a family friend off the coast of County Sligo in 1979 was “heartbreaking”.
Asked if she would apologise to Prince Charles, Mountbatten’s great-nephew and particularly close to him, she replied: “The army and the armed forces associated with Prince Charles carried out many, many violent actions on our island. And I can say, of course, I am sorry that happened.”
The IRA, a paramilitary organisation that was closely linked with Sinn Féin for much of Northern Ireland’s troubled history, claimed responsibility for the bomb on a boat that killed the senior second world war commander, his 14-year-old grandson Nicholas Knatchbull, a local crew member Paul Maxwell, aged 15, and Lady Brabourne, aged 83. Several more people on board were also injured.
Police chiefs in Northern Ireland and the Republic last year said Sinn Féin was still being overseen by the IRA’s army council, despite republican claims that it had been disbanded in 2005. McDonald said in 2015 that the IRA “does not exist” and that she was “not a spokesperson for the IRA”.
On Sunday, she described Mountbatten’s death as “heartbreaking” adding: “I have an absolute responsibility to make sure that no family faces that again and I am happy to reiterate that on the weekend that your queen buried her beloved husband.”
At a meeting with Prince Charles in 2015, former Sinn Féin leader Adams failed to apologise for the IRA bombing, instead telling the press that he stood by previous comments that Mountbatten “knew the danger” of coming to Ireland. “I’m not one of those people that engages in revisionism,” Adams said at the time. “Thankfully the war is over.”
A Sinn Féin spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a query on the significance of the change in tone, which comes amid a spate of sectarian unrest in Northern Ireland against the backdrop of Brexit and a possible vote on the region splitting away from the UK.
MacDonald said that the Northern Ireland protocol, which has outraged unionists by putting a customs border between the region and Great Britain and heaped significant red tape on businesses from both communities, was “necessary” but “inelegant”.
Unionist protests against the protocol spilled over into violent clashes in both communities for eight days after Good Friday. A week of calm followed when the protests were suspended on Prince Philip’s death. They are set to resume on Monday, in what some fear could lead to further unrest.