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Ann Traver's tribute to unionist barrister who helped acquit man accused of killing sister

By Joanne Sweeney

Published 25/04/2015

Ann Travers
Ann Travers
Ann's dad Tom with her murdered sister Mary
Desmond Boal

Victims campaigner Ann Travers has paid tribute to DUP founder Desmond Boal following his death - he was the barrister who helped acquit Joseph Haughey, the man accused of shooting her sister dead.

Ann said her late father, magistrate Tom Travers, regarded Mr Boal as "one of the best".

She said her father respected the formidable criminal lawyer and former Unionist MP, who died on Thursday at the age of 85 - despite the family's upset over the trial and subsequent judgment.

In a remarkable tribute to the barrister and his grieving family, Ms Travers expressed her condolences for the man she said "was only doing his job".

Ms Travers' 22-year-old sister Mary was murdered and her father seriously injured in an IRA gun attack as the family left Mass at St Brigid's Church in south Belfast on April 8, 1984.

Two years later the leading barrister - who founded the DUP along with the late Rev Ian Paisley - was successful in his defence of a 33-year-old man who was accused.

During the emotional trial, Mr Travers, a highly respected magistrate, broke down and wept openly in the witness stand under cross-examination by Mr Boal as he was speaking about his daughter and the attack in broad daylight.

Ms Travers posted on her Facebook page yesterday: "Sympathies with the family and friends of Dessie Boal. He sure was a top barrister.

"He represented Joseph Haughey. Dessie had Dad in tears in the witness box and 'The hawk from the walk I don't sqwak (sic)' was acquitted.

"Dad and the rest of us, although upset, accepted the findings and his harsh treatment in the witness box."

She said that although the Travers family were devastated at the outcome of the court case, they respected the legal process behind it.

"I'm very conscious of Mr Boal's family as they will be grieving for him at this time and I hope that they are not offended in any way about my Facebook comment," she said. "This was a man who formed the DUP but yet he was representing someone like Joseph Haughey, so I think it showed that Mr Boal was very fair in his wisdom and he was very professional.

"At the time I was upset for my dad and my family because I knew just how upset my dad was, but the same time it's a good thing to show the absolute independence of the judiciary and the legal system in Northern Ireland.

"He did the best for his client and that was the correct thing for him to do. He was only doing his job and we understood that."

She added: "It makes me proud of the judicial system in Northern Ireland even though people often complain about it. Of course, mistakes will be made.

"While we were unhappy with the decision, it was done in the most fair manner."


Former Sinn Fein special adviser Mary McArdle was convicted in 1986 of the murder of Mary Travers and the attempted murder of her father. Ann Travers' revulsion at discovering that the woman convicted of murdering her sister was at the heart of the Assembly led to a Private Member's Bill by TUV leader Jim Allister. The Special Advisers Bill in 2013 - which became known as Ann's Law - banned anyone with a serious criminal past becoming ministerial advisers.

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