Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald condemns Hamas attack on Israel as ‘truly horrific’

The outright condemnation of Hamas represents a shift in position by Sinn Féin in relation to the Palestinian conflict

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has condemned outright the targeting of civilians and the taking of hostages by Hamas, describing its attack on Israel on Saturday as “truly horrific”.

In the most critical comments made by a Sinn Féin leader to date on a Palestinian organisation – and in what has been received as a change in position by the party leadership – Ms McDonald said she understood perfectly the trauma experienced by victims and relatives of the Hamas attack.

“The targeting of civilians and the taking of hostages is to be condemned outright,” she said on RTÉ Radio’s The News at 1. “Looking at scenes where a lot of young people were out, enjoying themselves and, to me it was such a violent and traumatic death, it is just truly horrific, and I understand perfectly the sense of trauma that’s been expressed.”

Ms McDonald said the ongoing bombardment of Gaza by the Israeli defence forces had equally to be condemned.


“My feeling overall in this scenario is one of alarm because this is now a very, very dangerous situation, but I am also feeling a very deep frustration. The truth is that for decades, the Israeli state has breached international law, day in and day out, with collective punishment, annexation, confiscation of lands, imposing an apartheid regime, denying the Palestinian people the right to self determination. And there is just such a depressing predictability about this entire intensification of conflict,” she said.

The tenor of Ms McDonald’s comments were not dissimilar to those made by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and by Tánaiste Micheál Martin over the course of the weekend, where both condemned the attack and also the response by Israel in Gaza.

Only Ms McDonald, and front bench colleague, Mairéad Farrell, have explicitly condemned the violence. Ms Farrell did so on RTÉ's The Week in Politics. Their comments reflected a hardening of position on Hamas from the initial statement issued by foreign affairs spokesman Matt Carthy on Saturday, when he said the attacks by Hamas against Israeli civilians and military targets – and the Israeli bombardment of Gaza – must stop immediately.

“There is no justification for the killing of civilians on any side,” he said.

However, Mr Carthy’s statement did not explicitly condemn the attack.

Nor did former party leader Gerry Adams, who wrote on his Twitter account: “All those who are decrying today’s terrible events in the Middle East, including the Irish Government, should organise an international intervention to establish a proper negotiations process, based upon international law & the UN Charter. Anything else is unacceptable. Dialogue, dialogue.”

A Sinn Féin spokesman said: “Of course, we condemn the targeting of civilians; we condemn it when Hamas does it, just as we do when Israel does it – Mairéad Farrell made this clear on The Week in Politics yesterday.”

However, it put the party leadership’s position on the violence at odds with the party’s public representatives in the North and the South.

The Dublin Bay South TD Chris Andrews, in a series of tweets, defended the attacks by Hamas on Saturday that killed an estimated 700 Israelis, both civilian and military, with hundreds more wounded, or taken hostage.

In response to comments by EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen condemning the attack carried by “Hamas terrorists”, Mr Andrews replied: “It seems that according to the EU and Ireland only Palestine has no right to defend itself against murder, torture and apartheid.”

Responding to another tweet by Ms von der Leyen, which said the “EU stands with Israel”, he tweeted “The Irish people stand with Palestine”.

In a social media message posted later that day, Mr Andrews wrote: “What’s happening today in Gaza has not occurred out of thin air. It’s a direct result of years of apartheid, murder, and inhumane treatment of Palestine. It is also a realist of Ireland and the EU not holding Apartheid Israel accountable for ongoing abuse of International law.”

Mr Andrew’s message, and tweets by Northern MLAs with similar sentiments, were widely liked by Sinn Féin colleagues both North and South, none of which made any overt criticism of the Hamas attack. They included Senator Paul Gavan, Meath West TD Johnny Guirk, and former MLA Martina Anderson.

Asked about Mr Andrews’s tweet, Ms McDonald took issue that presenter Bryan Dobson was focusing on it rather than the constructive and influential role that Ireland could play in trying to bring resolution to the conflict.

“You want to focus on a tweet that I haven’t seen to be quite frank and [which is] a tangential issue.”

She repeated she had made her condemnation of the attack very clear.

She also confirmed she had met Hamas representatives in the West Bank but said she had “met everybody” involved and that was the correct way to approach the conflict.

“We should know in Ireland that if you are serious about achieving a ceasefire, which is necessary to a path to peace and respect for international law in a conflict situation, you meet and talk to everybody. That’s the only way you can find a pathway forward.”

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times