When Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh was 12 years old, she found a pamphlet in one of her mother’s bookcases. It showed a picture of a girl her own age. She read it from cover to cover, and it brought her to tears.
The pamphlet was about Irish schoolgirl Majella O’Hare, who was shot in the head by a British paratrooper in 1976 as she walked past an army checkpoint. She died in her father’s arms 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, going to confession at the local chapel – that particularly outraged my convent schoolgirl sensibilities at the time,” Ní Ghrálaigh told Irish Legal News in 2022.
Ní Ghrálaigh went to her mother crying, asking how such a terrible thing could have happened. Her mother’s response? “Do something about it.”
Yesterday, Ní Ghrálaigh – now a KC – spoke at the International Court of Justice on behalf of another colonised people, supporting South Africa’s case against Israel for its ongoing assault on Palestine.
South Africa, of course, knows apartheid when it sees it. Many of the country’s legal team working on this case were born under it, and would go on to help with its dismantling (that is, if you consider it fully dismantled). But for the Irish too, the plight of the Palestinians is only too familiar.
Ní Ghrálaigh spared no detail in her speech. She described Israel’s genocide as the first […] in history where its victims are broadcasting their own destruction in real time, in the desperate but so far vain hope that the world might do something”. She highlighted how it has been allowed to continue despite “overt dehumanising genocidal rhetoric by Israeli governmental and military officials”. She noted that in Gaza’s hospitals, staff have had to coin a new acronym: “WCNSF” (“wounded child, no surviving family”).
Ní Ghrálaigh has already had an illustrious career. She worked on the Bloody Sunday Inquiry – investigating the events of 30 January 1972, when British soldiers gunned down unarmed civilians during a civil rights march in Derry – as well as on the 2015 genocide case brought by Croatia against Serbia.
She was also the only woman barrister to defend one of the ‘Colston Four’: four protesters who toppled a statue of the 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston during the Black Lives Matter protests of June 2020. In the closing speeches of the hearing, the defence urged the jury to “be on the right side of history”, and all four defendants were found not guilty.
The Irish government may have refused to back South Africa in this case. But by standing with Palestine now, Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh is continuing a long Irish tradition of solidarity with the subjugated and oppressed. It’s fair to say she’s done her younger self proud.
Additional editing by Abby Young-Powell.
Jad Salfiti is a British-Palestinian journalist based in Berlin.