Families of those killed in the Kingsmills massacre have been unable to secure an apology from the Taoiseach for the Republic’s failure to deal with the IRA during the Troubles.
But Enda Kenny insisted that the only survivor along with the victims of the atrocity are just as important as all other victims of the Troubles.
Mr Kenny was given a graphic first-hand account of the brutal south Armagh ambush, which saw 11 Protestant men gunned down on their way home from work in 1976.
He met survivor Alan Black and the families of the 10 murder victims.
“I assured them that there is no hierarchy of victims, and that their concerns are every bit as important to me as the concerns of other victims and their families,” Mr Kenny said.
“I told them that the IRA was the common enemy of all of the people of Ireland, of all traditions north and south, and that their campaign of violence was strongly resisted by successive Irish governments.”
The Taoiseach offered his sympathy for the outrage and said he would reflect on what he had heard during the meeting.
But though the group welcomed the meeting, members expressed disappointment Mr Kenny declined to apologise for what the families feel was the Irish State’s “lack of ability” in dealing with the IRA.
Group spokesman Willie Frazer said it wanted a formal acknowledgement that the Irish State had failed to deal with the IRA during its reign of terror throughout the Troubles.
“We made it quite clear, we're not asking him to apologise for the IRA,” said Mr Frazer.
“We are asking him to apologise for the lack of ability for the Irish government in dealing with the IRA.
“We want to make that quite clear.”
Mr Frazer said the group was grateful for the meeting with Mr Kenny and insisted discussions remained open.
He invited the Taoiseach to south Armagh, where the workmen were ordered from a minibus and 10 of them murdered.
“I think it deserves an apology. You can't defend the indefensible,” said Mr Frazer.
Those who claimed responsibility said it was retaliation for the murders of six local Catholics the night before.
Mr Black, now in his 60s, recalled the day the textile workers were pulled from their bus by republican gunmen.
The IRA denied involvement in the attack, but a report from the Historical Enquiries Team released last year found members of the Provisional IRA had carried out the atrocity.
The group asked for the Republic to establish its own historical enquiries team.
“We asked for a number of things and the main thing is that investigation no longer stops at the border,” said Mr Frazer.
Colin Worton, a brother of victim Kenneth Worton, said Mr Kenny listened “intently” to them.
“We're happy with what he gave us, but still we want to follow up now from it,” he said.
Sole survivor of massacre takes painful journey into past no one wants to relive
By Ivan Little
Alan Black in hospital after the attack. He was shot 18 times and left for dead
Alan Black on his journey to Dublin |yesterday; and (top from left) the minibus after the attack; victims Robert Chambers, John McConville, Ken Worton, Robert Freeburn and James McWhirter; Mr Black at the memorial in 1981; and victims Reggie Chapman, Walter Chapman, Joseph Lemmon, Robert |Walker and John Bryans
Alan Black tried to crack a joke but the sole survivor of the minibus massacre at Kingsmills 36 years ago still looked a haunted man as he boarded another bus, to Dublin. He was going to tell Taoiseach Enda Kenny the story of 10 friends who didn’t survive that IRA ambush.
He was going to Government Buildings seeking an apology from the Irish for their inactivity of old, and to seek justice.
He was surrounded by relatives of his murdered workmates as they embarked on the 51-seater luxury coach.
As the Scania Irizar made its way past Dundalk, where the atrocity was planned, and over the River Boyne, Alan was pensive, keeping his thoughts to himself as he braced to relive his south Armagh nightmare from January 5, 1976.
As the coach eased to a halt outside Government Buildings in Merrion Street he was one of the first off, because he wanted to finish the cigarette he’d reluctantly stubbed out before the 35-strong Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (Fair) group left Bessbrook.
He laid a wreath at the massacre memorial in the village square.
The victims’ relatives set down another wreath at the side of the road at Kingsmills where the minibus was halted by 12 IRA men.
The murderers demanded to know the religion of the passengers before telling a Catholic to run, and opening fire on the remaining Protestant men.
They killed all of them, except Alan.
Outside Government Buildings only a handful of Dublin journalists were waiting for the Fair group’s Ulsterbus to arrive.
“It’s basically a northern story. No-one down here is really interested,” said one reporter as relatives held up posters with photos of the 10 victims.
The IRA was officially named as the killers last year by the Historical Enquiries Team, though no one ever believed its denials of involvement.
Alan admitted he was nervous as he walked into his meeting with Enda Kenny, who promised an hour-and-a-half but ended up talking to them for nearly an hour longer.
Alan was invited into Mr Kenny’s plush wood-panelled office to share with him the horror of that night. Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy, who’s from Bessbrook and who helped organise the historic meeting between the Taoiseach and the group, accompanied Alan into the office, along with Karen Armstrong, whose brother John McConville (20) was among the slain textile workers.
Even she was taken aback by Alan’s 30-minute narrative.
“I’ve heard some of Alan’s story before but there were still things which shocked me, things which weren’t even in the HET report,” she said
Mr Black was wounded 18 times in the ambush — said to have been the IRA’s response to loyalist murders — and was only spared because the gunmen thought he was dead.
He has spoken in the past of being tortured by survivor’s guilt, but Mrs Armstrong insisted the families feel only relief he wasn’t victim number 11.
“Alan has everyone’s admiration but sometimes I wish he would think more about himself,” she said.
Afterwards Alan joined the families for the full meeting with Mr Kenny, who declined to talk to the media.
Mr Kennedy said the families were disappointed after the “long and detailed meeting which was high on emotion”.
He added: “He outlined his initial position. We are not in complete agreement with that. But we are prepared to continue dialogue.”
He said Mr Kenny told the delegation he couldn’t apologise for the IRA’s actions, but that’s not what they want.
Fair’s Willie Frazer, on his first official trip to Dublin since the disastrous 2006 Love Ulster visit, said: “We made it clear to him that we weren’t asking him to apologise for the IRA, but rather for the lack of ability of the Irish government in dealing with the IRA.”
Mr Kenny assured the Kingsmills families there was no hierarchy of victims and their concerns were important to him.
The Taoiseach is expected to visit south Armagh.
Beatrice Worton, whose son Kenny died at Kingsmills, invited Mr Kenny to call for tea.
She said: “It's not his fault. He was only a young lad when all this happened. It was the ones before him who should have done something. We left in good humour anyway.”
On the bus back from Dublin Joseph Lemmon’s widow Jean said the meeting brought back awful memories.
“I was filling up as people were recounting the atrocity. “They wanted me to speak but I just couldn’t do it.” On the bus home Alan told me the meeting was draining. He said: “I’m not one for speaking a lot, but that has taken a lot out of me today. I need time and space now.”
But before journey’s end he was trying to lighten the mood.
Mr Kenny told him his chair was the same seat the Queen sat in when she paid a courtesy call on her visit last year.
But before long the memories returned, and Alan ruminated on a difficult day, 36 years after his worst day of all.