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First Minister Michelle O'Neill during a press conference at Stormont, following the publication of the Operation Kenova Interim Report into Stakeknife, the British Army's top agent inside the IRA in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Alamy Stock Photo

Michelle O'Neill says she is 'sorry for every single loss of life' following Stakeknife report

It comes after Tánaiste Micheál Martin called on Sinn Féin to “unreservedly apologise” for the IRA’s actions during the Troubles.


NORTHERN IRELAND FIRST Minister Michelle O’Neill has said she is “sorry for every single loss of life” when asked if she would apologise to the families of alleged informers who were killed by the IRA. 

The Sinn Féin vice president was speaking following the release of an interim report of Operation Kenova, a major independent investigation into the British Army agent Stakeknife.

Stakeknife was the British Army’s top agent inside the IRA’s Internal Security Unit (ISU) and the report concluded he “cost more lives than he saved”.

The agent Stakeknife was widely believed to be west Belfast man Freddie Scappaticci, who was in his 70s when he died last year.

The report found that members of the IRA’s ISU were “responsible for torture, inhumane and degrading treatment and murder, including of children, vulnerable adults, those with learning difficulties”.

river (33) Freddie Scappaticci, who is widely believed to be the agent Stakeknife Pacemaker Press Pacemaker Press

The 208-page report calls for apologies from the UK Government and the IRA to bereaved families and surviving victims.

Following its publication, Tánaiste Micheál Martin called on Sinn Féin to “unreservedly apologise” for the IRA’s actions during the Troubles.

He remarked that the report “laid bare the futility, immorality, and the sordid nature of the Provisional IRA campaign”.

He noted that the report also stated that the “sickening crimes committed by the PIRA ISU against those accused or suspected of being agents represented the worst of what one human being will do to another”.

Martin added: “The report is clear. The PIRA’s response to those who were supposed to have informed against it was torture and murder.

Sinn Féin should ‘unreservedly apologise’

“Statements from very prominent Sinn Féin leaders at the time supported these actions.”

The interim report noted a remark from former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, made at a news conference which was held close to the family home of a man murdered for allegedly being an agent.

“Like anyone else living in West Belfast [he knew] that the consequence for informing is death,” said Adams.

And in a TV interview with BBC Spotlight, Martin McGuinness said: “If republican activists go over to the other side, then they more than anyone else are absolutely and totally aware what the penalty for doing that is.”

Martin said the report “finds that public comments of PIRA and Sinn Féin about the ISU’s conduct and the consequences of being an agent created an environment of significant intimidation for victim’s families within sections of the nationalist community”.

“Sinn Féin as a political party must accept that the war was wrong, futile, and essentially an attack on its own community,” said Martin.

“It should unreservedly apologise and state unequivocally that the PIRA’s activities and actions were wrong.”

Meanwhile, the Tánaiste said there was a “profound failure and an appalling dereliction of duty” by the RUC’s Special Branch, which was the lead for intelligence during the Troubles, and the British Army’s the Force Research Unit.

The interim report found that the Special Branch and the FRU withheld information about their agents in order to protect them from compromise and withdrawal.

The end result was that some very serious criminal offences, including murder, were not prevented or investigated when they could and should have been.

Sinn Féin response

Northern Ireland’s First Minister and Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill today said she is sorry for all lives lost during the Troubles.

Reacting to the interim report, she said the hurt of political violence cannot be disowned by republicans.

“The injustices and the tragedies of the past have left a deep legacy of suffering and trauma right across our society,” said O’Neill.

I am sorry for all the lives lost during the conflict without exception. Regrettably the path cannot be changed or cannot be undone.

“Neither can the suffering, the hurt or the political violence of conflict be disowned by republicans or by any other party to the conflict.”

london-uk-08-feb-2024-pictured-newly-elected-northern-ireland-first-minister-michelle-oneill-l-with-president-of-sinn-fein-mary-lou-mcdonald-r-speaks-at-a-press-conference-organised-by-the Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill and Mary Lou McDonald Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

O’Neill added that “lives from every section of the community were trespassed upon during the conflict by British state forces, republicans, loyalists, and unimaginable grief and hurt and pain and suffering was inflicted”.

“I would never ask any mother, father, wife, husband, son, daughter, brother or sister to forget the past or to move on,” said O’Neill.

“While thankfully the conflict is long over, the legacy of our past remains unresolved.”

O’Neill was asked by reporters if she accepted that the murder of alleged informants was wrong and if she wanted to take the opportunity to apologise to their families.

She replied: “Yes. I’ve said it before and I’m going to repeat it again today for all those families out there that lost a loved one.

“I am sorry for every single loss of life and that is without exception. That’s for every person who was hurt or impacted by our conflict,” she said.

“I think it’s important that today as the Sinn Féin new generation, Good Friday Agreement generation, that I would repeat that for those families.

“I can only hope, because this is ultimately their day, that they can take some comfort from that.”

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Also reacting to the report, Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald said she is “sorry for all the lives lost during the conflict and the hurt and loss endured, without exception”.

She added: “The past cannot be changed or undone. Neither can the suffering or the hurt inflicted by all those involved in the conflict including the IRA.

“Hardly a day or week goes by that there is not an anniversary of a past tragedy.

“Each such occasion evokes painful memories and as leader of Sinn Féin, I am committed to doing all that I can in healing the wounds of the past and achieving reconciliation.

“Today I represent a new generation who were born into a time of conflict but because of the Good Friday Agreement, are now in a position to build the future in a time of peace.”

McDonald added that this peace can “never be taken for granted”.  

Other political reaction

Elsewhere, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said “the fact that the security services had so many agents working at the top of the PIRA, is testament to their success”.

“Whilst having lessons to learn for the UK Government, the report reminds us that the intelligence agencies had infiltrated the PIRA to such an extent that they rendered the organisation almost inoperable,” said Donaldson in reaction to the interim report.

river (36) File image of DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

He added: “Working within the Security Forces was a role of honour in the Troubles. It was a courageous role undertaken by people who wanted to defeat terrorism, protect the entire community, and secure peace for us all.

“Whilst some will want to rewrite history and develop their own narrative of the past which blames those who tried to uphold the law as much as the terrorists, this is a distortion of reality.”

Meanwhile, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has said the report “sets out in brutal detail the litany of horrors committed by the IRA internal security unit, sanctioned by the IRA leadership and allowed to happen by the British Government and security services”.

He added that in his view, some of the incidents included in the report “approach the threshold for what would be considered war crimes in other jurisdictions”.

river (37) File image of SDLP leader Colum Eastwood. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

While Eastwood said apologies will never be enough, he remarked that it “should at least be the starting point for the Republican Movement and the British Government”.

“Vague or general sadness are, I am afraid, deficient and will be viewed as such by victims and survivors,” said Eastwood.

With reporting from Press Association

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