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Killing of loyalist was bid 'to rebuild IRA support'

State papers

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 30/12/2015

John McMichael:UDA
John McMichael:UDA

The IRA murder of a leading loyalist was seen as a bid to rebuild support from nationalists after the horror of Enniskillen, officials said.

There was revulsion within the Catholic Church and community when the IRA bombed a Remembrance Day service in 1987.

Seven weeks later, John McMichael was killed when a bomb exploded under his car in Lisburn.

The 39-year-old was deputy leader of the UDA and a prominent figure in loyalism for much of the 1980s.

Three weeks earlier, another senior loyalist, George Seawright, was shot dead on the Shankill Road.

A confidential memo by JE McConnell from the Political Affairs Division referred to various theories about McMichael's murder.

It stated: "Coming on the heels of the Enniskillen bombing and the murder of loyalist firebrand George Seawright (later claimed by the Irish People's Liberation Organisation), the IRA may have believed that the death of a leading loyalist could be the final application of pressure necessary to create a backlash and plunge the province into a series of tit-for-tat sectarian killings in which the prospects for cross-community talks and progress would recede.

"On the other hand, some commentators have expressed the view that the killing was carried out by the IRA in an attempt to rebuild support and sympathy after the wave of revulsion following the Enniskillen deaths.

"In the light of the condemnation heaped on the IRA and on Sinn Fein (especially from within the Catholic Church and community), the killing of a leading loyalist paramilitary figure like McMichael may have been an attempt to prove to the nationalist community that the IRA can, and will, mount attacks against individuals who are seen as being responsible for leading groups which kill and intimidate Catholics."

Eleven people died and 63 were injured by the bombing on November 8, 1987.

A 12th victim, school principal Ronnie Hill, spent 13 years in a coma and died in 2000.

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