By Conor Humphries and Amanda Ferguson
BELFAST (Reuters) - The leader of the Sinn Fein party in Northern Ireland looks forward to working with Britain's King Charles and urged fellow Irish nationalists to be respectful as their unionist neighbours mourn the death of Queen Elizabeth, she said on Friday.
Michelle O'Neill was among the first people to sign a book of condolence at Belfast City Hall after she and other senior members of the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) offered words of sympathy on the Queen's death.
The IRA, which ended its 30-year armed campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland after a 1998 peace deal, killed Charles' great uncle, Louis Mountbatten, in a 1979 bomb attack.
The King described his great-uncle as "the grandfather I never had" and felt the loss deeply.
"We have bridges to mend and I look forward to working with King Charles. I'm sure that he will carry on the legacy of building relationships between our two islands," O'Neill, dressed in black, told reporters.
Charles has long been a figure of hate among some supporters of a united Ireland because he was head of the British Army's Parachute Regiment, members of which killed 13 Roman Catholic civil rights marchers in the 1972 Bloody Sunday shootings.
While Sinn Fein has stepped up its campaign for a referendum on splitting from the United Kingdom in recent years, it has also sought to build a better relationship with Britain, not least when former IRA guerrilla commander Martin McGuinness shook hands with the Queen in Belfast in 2012.
Sinn Fein has since become the largest party in Northern Ireland and is by far the most popular ahead of 2025 elections.
"That played a very significant role in helping us all step forward and step outside of our comfort zone, I think it's really, really important that we all stretch ourselves," O'Neill said, praising what she described as the Queen's legacy of reaching out the hand of friendship.
Asked if she was disgusted by some Irish social media users celebrating the Queen's death online, O'Neill responded "yes." Fireworks were heard in parts of Belfast on Thursday night and O'Neill said it was time for everybody to be respectful.
Scores of people arrived with bouquets of flowers on Friday and scribbled messages of condolences at a mural of the Queen nearby at Belfast's Protestant Shankill Road.
"At the end of the day she may have been the Queen of England, but she's also a mother, a grandmother. This is a time for refection and to be respectful of all people and how they feel right now," she said.
(Reporting by Conor Humphries and Amanda Ferguson; Writing by Padraic Halpin in Dublin; Editing by Josie Kao)