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Ní Ghrálaigh addressing the ICJ this week. Guardian/Youtube
International Court of Justice

Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh: Who is the Irish lawyer acting in a genocide case against Israel?

Ní Ghrálaigh’s brief this week was to advocate for measures to protect the rights of Palestinian people.

WHEN BLINNE NÍ Ghrálaigh was 12, she found a pamphlet about Majella O’Hare in her mother’s bookcase. Majella was 12 too when she was shot in the back by a British soldier as she passed an army checkpoint in Co Armagh in 1976.

“I read it from cover to cover,” Ní Ghrálaigh told Irish Legal News last year.

“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 particularly outraged my convent schoolgirl sensibilities at the time.”

When she went to her mother in tears and asked how such a terrible thing could happen, her mother told her: “Do something about it.”

Profiled in the legal pages of The Times of London last year – after she successfully represented one of the Colston Four protestors cleared by a jury at Bristol crown court of criminal damage for removing a statue of slave trader during a Black Lives Matter protest – she recalled her late mother’s words as the best advice she had ever received.

And she told Irish Legal News that she still has the pamphlet. 

“It’s now framed above my work desk as a reminder of what brought me here,” she said.


This week, Ní Ghrálaigh’s work as a top human rights barrister has brought her to the International Court of Justice, the UN’s highest court, in The Hague.

On Thursday, South Africa launched its emergency appeal to the court to force Israel to “immediately suspend” its military operations in Gaza, where over 23,000 people, mostly women and children, have died. 

South Africa – supported by many other countries across the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America, but not by Ireland – alleges Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians in its campaign in Gaza. Israel has today vociferously denied the allegations.

In a powerful address to the court on Thursday, Ní Ghrálaigh said the conflict in Gaza was the “first genocide in history” being broadcast in “real-time”. 

Addressing the court in both English and briefly in French – which she studied at Cambridge University - Ní Ghrálaigh’s task was to convince the court of the urgent need for provisional measures to be imposed by the court to protect the rights of Palestinians in Gaza.

It will be some time before the court reaches its conclusion on the case’s central genocide claim, but a decision on the request for “provisional measures” could be made within two to three weeks, according to Michael A Becker, Assistant Professor of International Human Rights Law at Trinity College Dublin.

These provisional measures could ensure new oversight of the passage of humanitarian aid into Gaza. The World Health Organization has deplored the lack of access to the enclave, stating this week that it faces near insurmountable obstacles to delivering vital supplies to the beseiged population. 

“Ní Ghrálaigh’s brief was to specifically address the risk of irreparable prejudice to the rights at issue in the case,” Becker explained.

“That took the form of her walking the court through the evidence and statistics that point to an absolutely dire situation on the ground in Gaza, a humanitarian catastrophe.

“The number of deaths per day,  the awful stories about operations and c-sections without anaesthetic, and she introduced this acronym many have found disturbing, WCNSF: wounded child, no surviving family.”

“She was very effective in emphasising to the court the extreme vulnerability of the population of Gaza and that feeds into the court’s own case law of what urgent and irreparable damage is,” Becker said.

He told The Journal that Ní Ghrálaigh also correctly preempted some of the arguments her Israeli counterpart made today. In doing so she made the case that it would not be enough for Israel to assure the court that it will now take sufficient measures to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, given there are many cases where the court has not relied on such promises. 

Becker said: “Today we saw the member of Israel’s team with the corresponding brief making exactly that argument – emphasising that it is Hamas [that is causing problems with aid], urging the court to take Israel at its word.

“But I think that South Africa’s team has pointed to the relevant examples to give the court enough basis….to issue a provisional measure that provides a certain kind of oversight to ensure Israel sticks to its promise.”

Becker believes that while South Africa did an effective job in demonstrating that the court’s requirements for the imposition of provisional measures, Israel is likely to have made persuasive arguments against the complete and immediate suspension of all military operations.

“The court will try to fashion some sort of formulation that doesn’t completely prevent Israel from continuing its armed conflict with Hamas but does seek to create space for humanitarian relief,” he said.


Ní Ghrálaigh was brought up by her mother and has an older sister, with the family settling in London but often travelling back to Ireland. 

She told Irish Legal News of visiting London’s Old Bailey criminal court as a teenager to watch cases unfold. However she only began training as a lawyer a couple of years after completing an undergraduate degree in languages, working in the interim for a think-tank to save for the cost of a conversion course.

She took up a position at a human rights firm in London but ditched the offer of a solicitor’s training contract to work as a legal observor on the Bloody Sunday Inquiry in Northern Ireland. She then spent a further year in Derry working for a solicitor’s firm representing many of the Bloody Sunday families.

Her experience watching some of the “brilliant barristers” involved in the inquiry convinced her that the bar was where she too wanted to be, and she returned to London to train. 

The ICJ hearing is the latest in a long line of high profile public interest cases on which Ní Ghrálaigh has worked.

She has presented to the ICJ before, on behalf of Croatia in a 2015 case against Serbia alleging genocide in the early 1990s (Serbia counterfiled a suit alleging that Croatia had committed genocide and the court ultimately dismissed both cases on the basis that neither side had submitted sufficient evidence of genocide).

According to her profile on the website of her London-based barristers’ chambers, Matrix Chambers, she has advised the then Republic of Macedonia in treaty negotiations with Greece regarding the long-running dispute over the name of the state. She also successfully represented Macedonia at the ICJ in relation to the naming dispute.

She has worked for the Hooded Men, a group of men interned in Northern Ireland in 1971, who received an apology from the PSNI this year for their treatment.

She also represented an Irish family in Coventry who successfully fought to have an Irish-only enscription on their mother’s gravestone. 

Ní Ghrálaigh is a specialist in protest law and she has defended many climate protestors, including a successful defence of Extinction Rebellion climate activists who climbed on top of a Dockland Light Rail train in 2019.

She also acted in a challenge to an injunction obtained by fracking company Ineos against anti-fracking protests and she is currently acting for a number of individuals and organisations targeted by undercover police officers in the UK.

As for what makes Ní Ghrálaigh tick, she told The Times the best part of being a lawyer was “the utter privilege of doing the work I do”, while the worst part was the long hours.

Asked what law she would choose to enact, she said she would start with creating “more safe legal routes for asylum to prevent the continuing carnage in the seas”.

She said she would also legislate to end homelessness, arguing that measures implemented by the British government during the pandemic requiring local authorities to take urgent action to house those sleeping rough had demonstrated that this was “a matter of political will”. 

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