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Who is the Irish lawyer arguing for South Africa’s genocide case against Israel?

Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh worked on the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, as well as on a 2015 genocide case taken by Croatia against Serbia

Irish lawyer Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh KC, who practises as a barrister at Matrix Chambers in London, was one of two external counsel supporting the South African legal team in its genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

South Africa accuses Israel of breaching the UN genocide convention in its conduct of the war against Hamas in Gaza since October 7th.

Appearing as one of eight experts on behalf of the government of South Africa, Ms Ní Ghrálaigh warned of the impact of “irreparable prejudice” on the Gazan population.

“Unilateral undertakings now will not remove the likelihood of irreparable prejudice,” she said. “The reality is that nowhere and nobody is safe in Gaza.”


The destruction of Gaza, added Ms Ní Ghrálaigh, would be “the first genocide in history where victims are live-streaming their own destruction”. She ended her evidence by showing an image of a white board in a Gaza hospital trauma room where the medical staff – now believed dead – had left the simple message in writing: “We did what we could. Remember us!”

“The very reputation of international law and international justice”, Ms Ní Ghrálaigh concluded, “hangs in the balance and depends on how this court responds.”

Speaking after the case opened this week, Ms Ní Ghrálaigh’s cousin Freda Grealy said: “We are hugely proud of her.”

“She did a superb job. I have got messages from people telling me that she makes us proud to be Irish.”

Ms Ní Ghrálaigh has been with Matrix since undertaking her pupillage there in 2005. She practices law across human rights, public international law, criminal law and public law. She acts for individuals, states, and NGOs, appearing before courts as well as tribunals.

Before pursuing her legal studies, she worked on the Bloody Sunday Inquiry for the legal team representing the wounded and the families of those killed, and for a civil action law specialist solicitors in London.

Ms Ní Ghrálaigh also worked on the 2015 genocide case taken by Croatia against Serbia at the ICJ, and also spent three months in Trinidad and Tobago working with prisoners on death row.

Previous cases she has worked on include an appeal brought by the Hooded Men to secure an investigation into UK ministerial authorisation for their torture in the early 1970s.

She was also counsel for Conradh na Gaeilge, intervening in the case of the Keane family in their successful appeal against a ruling prohibiting them from including the words “In ár gcroíthe go deo” in Irish only on their mother’s headstone.

She represented Rhian Graham, who was the only woman defendant among the Colston Four - protesters cleared in 2022 at Bristol Crown Court of causing criminal damage when a statue of the slave trader Edward Colston was toppled and thrown into Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest in June 2020.

Ms Ní Ghrálaigh was born and spent her early years in north Co Mayo with her sister Muireann. The family homestead is in Glencalry, between Crossmolina and Belmullet. She moved to London with her mother Neasa Healy and sister in her youth, where they settled in Holloway.

Speaking to Irish Legal News in 2022, Ms Ní Ghrálaigh said the family had extended trips back to Ireland.

Regarding her interest in the law, she said would visit the Old Bailey during school holidays in her early teens to sit in the public gallery. “I found it fascinating,” she said. “But even then, I never envisaged myself in that role until much later. I went on to study languages – French and Latin – at university.”

She said the story of Majella O’Hare, a 12-year-old girl from Co Armagh who was shot in the back and killed by a British soldier in 1976, had a profound impact on her.

“I was 12-years-old myself when I found a pamphlet about Majella O’Hare in one of my mother’s bookcases,” she said. “I saw the picture of the young girl on the front, and saw her age, and I read it from cover to cover.

“I read about how she died in the arms of her father after he heard the shot and went running to her. I think it was her age, the fact that nobody had been held accountable, and the circumstances of the killing – that she had been shot as she walked along a country road with a group of other children.”

Ms Ní Ghrálaigh went to her mother in tears, who in turn told her to “do something” about it.

“I often think about my mother’s response,” she said. “Her words struck a very profound chord. And I’ve hung on to that pamphlet over all these years. It’s now framed above my work desk as a reminder of what brought me here.”

She also undertook a legal fact-finding mission to Gaza in 2009. “The level of devastation and trauma I witnessed in Gaza is hard to put into words,” she said. “It was one of the experiences of my professional life that has marked me the most.”

Ms Ní Ghrálaigh graduated from Queens’ College, Cambridge, with first class honours in modern and medieval languages, and received a distinction on the Graduate Diploma in Law.

She holds an LLM in International Legal Studies from New York University, where she specialised in international environmental law and climate refugees. She also holds diplomas from the London School of Economics in Law, War and Human Rights, as well as International Human Rights Law and Practice.

She was appointed a visiting fellow to Harvard Law School in 2016. Her research focused on the Arms Trade Treaty and on Israeli military courts in occupied Palestine. She has been called to the bars of the Republic, Northern Ireland, as well as to the bar of England and Wales.

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