Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Parents of wounded soldier condemn Northern Ireland dissidents

The dissident republican gang which shot dead two soldiers at Massereene barracks were criminals who have no support, the parents of a soldier wounded in the attack said today.

Pauline and Roy Fitzpatrick said how an early morning phone call delivered the shocking news that their son Marc, 21, was injured when gunmen fired on troops collecting pizza at the gates of the Northern Ireland base.

Only hours before he was to fly to Afghanistan with the 38 Engineer Regiment last Saturday, the men were hit by a hail of 60 bullets which left two soldiers dead, two injured, and two delivery men seriously wounded.

Mr and Mrs Fitzpatrick flew from their home in Caerphilly, Wales, to Northern Ireland to keep a vigil at their son's bedside and recounted how he asked for floral tributes to be left in honour of his dead comrades before he underwent a nine hour operation.

Mrs Fitzpatrick said she was "totally shell shocked" by the news of the attack.

"We were informed in the early hours of Sunday morning. We had expected him to be up in the air flying to Afghanistan, so it came as a big shock. You kind of prepare yourself for something happening in Afghanistan, not on a Saturday night," she said.

Sappers Mark Quinsey, 23, from Birmingham and Patrick Azimkar, 21, from London, were killed in the attack.

The soldiers were dressed in their desert fatigues when the gunmen from the Real IRA launched the attack after 9.30pm last Saturday at the gates of the Co Antrim barracks.

The wounded soldier's mother said had she spoken to her son at 5pm earlier that day and that since he was not allowed his mobile phone during his Afghanistan tour, she did not expect to hear from him again for two weeks.

"We knew that the situation in Northern Ireland was peaceful and we knew Marc and the boys often sent out for pizzas and Chinese food, and to us it was normality for them," she said.

"The barracks is in fact their home and there was no reason for them to have thought any different until it happened - it came as a very big surprise to us and to everybody else."

Politicians and community leaders from across the divide have condemned the killings and the subsequent murder by the Continuity IRA of police constable Stephen Carroll on Monday.

Unionist and republican leaders at Stormont have said the gunmen were intent on derailing the peace process.

In one of the most outspoken condemnations of recent days, Northern Ireland deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein branded the killers criminals and traitors.

Mrs Fitzpatrick said her family had been heartened by the support they had received.

She said: "I genuinely know because I have had people come up to me and say they can't believe what's happened.

"We thought that this was our new way of life now after the years we have lived. The normal Irish person is not like this, they don't want this, they want peace and we know that. We know the elements that did this are just criminals, nothing more."

Her husband added: "The only ones I blame for it are the people that done it. I don't blame the Irish people. Hopefully the Troubles won't come back here and you can live in peace.

"It's a minority and they haven't got support - so flush them out and you'll be back on the right road again.

"We feel extremely sorry for the families of the two boys that didn't make it."

Concerns have been raised over security at the base, but the couple said they did not believe any more could have been done to save the men.

"There was nothing that people around could have done about it and we understand that," said Mrs Fitzpatrick.

"We fully understand that ourselves, that what happened at the barracks, nobody could have predicted, that even though there were always little threats in the background, this is the first time that anything has reared its ugly head it just happened at those barracks at that time."

She said the army had done everything it could to support the family and look after the injured.

The family said they had visited Massereene to meet staff and pay their respects.

"Yes, we went while Marc was having a nine-hour operation," said Mrs Fitzpatrick.

"They obviously wanted to keep us busy so we went up to the barracks to meet some of the staff and to see the floral contributions.

"Marc asked us to lay two lots of flowers for Mark and Pat, and I asked him the night before what he wanted written on the cards, so a personal message from Marc has gone with them - Marc is dealing with his injuries and the loss of two close friends."

She said friends had visited Marc in hospital but he was deeply traumatised by his experience and by the loss of his colleagues.

"All I can say is that waves of emotion come over him, just saying 'Mam I can't believe what's happened'.

"It's quite a trauma to have gone through, it's just so unexpected. The police have been in contact with us as well.

"They have been looking after Marc. We've had guards 24/7 just to let him know that he is being looked after. It's just to keep Marc's confidence because he has been very traumatised by it all."

Since 2008, dissident republicans opposed to the peace process have mounted 18 attacks, - 15 during 2008 and five in 2009.

They had declared their threat to kill a police officer and launched landmine attacks, rocket attacks and shootings in a bid to disrupt the cross-community support for the new Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde had in the past said that while police were injured, lives had been saved by a combination of good work by the security forces to thwart the gunmen, but that good fortune had also helped officers survive near misses.

The attack in Antrim surprised observers because it had not been an area where the dissidents had been particularly active.

Police hunting the soldiers' killers have arrested three men aged 41, 32 and 21.

Officers are also examining CCTV footage from the area of the barracks and they have also found the gunmen's getaway car seven miles from the scene of the murders.

The green Vauxhall Cavalier TDZ 7309 was found in Randalstown, Co Antrim, and had been bought two weeks ago.

The two young soldiers were the first to be murdered in Northern Ireland in 12 years. Lance Bombardier Stephen Restorick was killed by an IRA sniper in 1997.

Constable Carrroll was the first PSNI officer to be murdered and police are now questioning three people after the gun attack which claimed his life in Craigavon, Co Armagh as he went to the aid of a woman whose home had been attacked.

Mrs Fitzpatrick said her son was a keen sports fan and supported Cardiff and Liverpool football teams, as well as the Welsh rugby team.

"He had been looking forward to going to Afghanistan. He was apprehensive like everybody but it's what they had been training to do for quite some time," she said.

"He's very outgoing, popular amongst his friends and his family. He's an endearing chap, quick witted - somebody that you can take to."

He is said to be on the road to recovery, but faces a lengthy period before reaching full health at an army hospital.

Mrs Fitzpatrick said her son loved army life and had decided to make it his career, after having already studied surveying.

She praised the support the family got from the army.

"The Army informed us by 6am on Sunday. We were able to speak to him at 7.45am," she said of the hours after the attack.

"We had somebody from Marc's regiment with us by 9am and we were on a plane and out of Cardiff by 1pm and at Marc's bedside by 3pm on Sunday.

"They have been chauffeuring us everywhere; they put us up in accommodation. They have supported us welfare-wise as well; there has been plenty of support.

"There have been a lot of people visiting Marc, a lot of dignitaries and we've had help with that. The staff at the hospital that have been treating Marc and everyone we have met have been very, very kind."

She added that her son had had great support from friends and fellow troops.

"We went on Facebook on Marc's [profile] and he's got loads of messages from well wishers," she said.

"On Tuesday some of the boys from the barracks come around and he was able to have a laugh with them and started being cheeky to the nurses so he was back to his old self, but obviously he still has this major operation.

"As the night-time comes around he starts thinking of Pat and Mark and remembering what happened so that's going to be there for a while."

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