Belfast Telegraph

Martin McGuinness: Victims of IRA murder machine that he helped direct give their judgment

He basically apologised for Claudy and I felt he meant it... but I can’t forgive him

By Staff Reporter

A man whose eight-year-old sister was murdered in the 1972 Claudy bombing has revealed that Martin McGuinness apologised for the "indefensible" IRA atrocity.

Mark Eakin witnessed the carnage that resulted in nine deaths when three car bombs when off in the Co Londonderry village.

He spoke several times to the former Deputy First Minister about the terror attack - and came to believe Mr McGuinness's sympathy was genuine.

"He was very sympathetic to the cause of Claudy," said Mr Eakin, who was just 12 when his sister Kathryn died.

"He told me it should never have happened, and basically apologised for the fact it had.

"I felt he did mean it, and he went on to do a lot of work to genuinely try to sort things out.

"We wouldn't be sitting in the position we are now in Northern Ireland if himself and Ian Paisley hadn't got together to try to make the peace process work."

But father-of-two Mr Eakin stopped short of forgiving the former IRA chief.

"I wouldn't say I do," he added. "I wouldn't forgive anyone for committing or condoning murder.

"But I don't despise the man. Everybody's got their chequered past, and at least he took a step forward in the right direction.

"We spoke a few times on the phone and I felt like I'd made peace with him. We were supposed to meet after an event a couple of years ago, but he was called back to Stormont because of some incident in Belfast.

"I understood, but the next day he called me up to apologise that our meeting hadn't happened. I appreciated that sentiment from him, it was very civilised.

"There were never any bad feelings or bad words. He was very civilised in my experience, and seemed genuinely sympathetic. That gave a slight degree of comfort."

Unfortunately, Mr Eakin (57) and the other Claudy families did not get the answers they were looking for from Mr McGuinness.

"He never said he was involved in Claudy, and we don't know what exactly he knew about which incidents," added Mr Eakin.

"But he had to know something that could have helped some people who have carried on suffering. Once we spoke for a full hour, and I asked him if he could try and get an answer about why a place like Claudy was targeted.

"It was a Monday in the summer, and Catholics and Protestants died there, little children - everyone was affected.

"Not just my sister, but my best friend's father, who was a Catholic, and so many others.

"He didn't do that, though, he didn't give what he knew was so important." However, said Mr Eakin, who works in the building trade in London, the door has not closed yet on victims getting to the truth about IRA attacks and the other atrocities of the Troubles.

"Mr McGuinness wasn't the only man with information," he added.

"There were a lot of people involved and a lot of folk knew what went on. It torments us still.

"Other victims still ring me for support now and again, when the dark days come.

"There is one gent in particular, a man nearly 70, who lost someone at Claudy. He calls me up in hysterics about it still because he is so troubled by what happened.

"Without the truth, that terrible toll lies very heavily with people.

"If Martin McGuinness wasn't able to give us answers, I just hope some of the people still left who have information will come forward.

"I truly believe we can still get to it - and our governments have a big part to play."

Let this spur parties on to get act together

The son of one of the Disappeared said he hoped Martin McGuinness’s death would give politicians at Stormont a much-needed kick to fix the current stalemate.

Jean McConville was abducted, murdered and buried by the IRA in 1972.

Her son Michael does not believe the former Deputy First Minister had any involvement in the case of his mother’s disappearance and killing, but he feels he — and other politicians — never did enough for victims of the Troubles.

“I don’t feel any anger towards Martin McGuinness,” said Mr McConville, who was one of 10 children left behind when his widowed mother was taken away by the Provisional IRA.

“I don’t think he had any dealings with my mother’s case so I have nothing to say about forgiveness. I have nothing to forgive him for.

“But what did come to my mind when I heard he died were the other families, like the woman who asked him if her son could come home. When he said yes, her son came back, only to be shot.

“Yes, maybe he didn’t have as much influence as people thought. But, personally, I think he did.

“I’m not saying McGuinness knew exactly who did what, but Sinn Fein as a party must have the ability to get that information.

“He could have done more, as could the whole party.

“In saying that, though, I don’t think any of the parties have done enough. They say they care, but why is it then that so many people are

left without the answers?” With the Executive in meltdown and just a matter of days left until the deadline for negotiations runs out, Mr McConville said he hoped the news could spur politicians into action.

“All of this has been difficult to deal with,” he added.

“It’s hard to see so many people painting pretty pictures of his life — but I don’t like to see anybody dying.

“He did some good things for the peace process, and I was glad to see that.

“Now his death might give them a kick up at Stormont to get back together.

“They need to address the past properly. It seems to be that once again the victims are forgotten.

“McGuinness didn’t do enough for us, so it’s up to the rest of them to do better.”

Any real chance of justice is now gone

Poppy Day survivor Stephen Gault, whose father was killed in the 1987 blast, said he could not forgive Martin McGuinness for his IRA past because he had never shown any remorse.

Mr Gault said it was difficult to watch dignitaries across the UK and Ireland praise him for his peace work.

“Martin McGuinness didn’t publicly seem to be sorry for his part in terrorism,” said Mr Gault. “Maybe he did feel it in the lead-up to his passing or even on his death bed, I live in hope. But I can’t help but feel that any chance of justice is gone now he’s dead.

“It’s been upsetting to see him hailed as a great peacemaker, with the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and different officials talking about all the great things he did.

“To me, he was no different from the man he was during the IRA terrorist campaign because he never sought forgiveness.

“He wasn’t sorry, and he did nothing to help the victims get justice for what they went through. I didn’t see him as a peacemaker, and certainly not as a statesman. He didn’t show any repentance — in fact he justified the violence of the past.

“To see him held up in such high esteem has made me sick to the pit of my stomach. I was in the same room as him about two years ago with the victims forum when he eulogised about his days in the IRA.

“It was extremely hurtful and saying that in front of a room full of victims was a very strange choice.”

Mr Gault was just 18 when he was caught up and dreadfully injured in the Enniskillen bomb that killed his retired RUC-man father Samuel.

Mr McGuinness was once accused in a TV documentary of knowing in advance about the bombing.

And Mr Gault said he hopes some information might come to light following the former Deputy First Minister’s death.

“It could be that some information was held back while he was alive,” added Mr Gault.

“It could have been part of the Good Friday Agreement —protect Mr McGuinness for the sake of the peace process.

“I don’t know, but that’s a possibility. And unless he disclosed information in the time before his death, that is my main hope for getting to the truth.”

Many secrets have been taken to grave

The sister of a young teacher murdered by the IRA said she was sorry Martin McGuinness had passed away without helping victims find the answers they were looking for.

Mary Travers was shot dead by IRA gunmen as she walked home from mass with her magistrate father in 1984.

Her sister, Ann, said: “It’s a difficult day, but Martin McGuinness was a father and a grandfather and I’d like to pass my condolences to his family.

“But as well, my thoughts are with the victims of the IRA who haven’t yet been able to find the answers they’ve been looking for and the justice they deserved.

“It’s a shame that even when he knew he was gravely ill, Mr McGuinness couldn’t have taken the opportunity to reach out to those people — even by dictating letters — to help them get the information that they need. Now he’s brought it to the grave with him.”

I believe desire for peace was sincere

Colin Parry’s son Tim was just 12 years old when he was murdered by the IRA in the Warrington bombing. He died alongside three-year-old Johnathan Ball in the 1993 atrocity.

Mr Parry yesterday paid tribute to former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who visited the Cheshire town in 2013 to deliver a speech on peace. 

“Forgiveness never comes into it,” said Mr Parry.

“I don’t forgive Martin. I don’t forgive the IRA — nor does my wife, nor do my children. But setting aside forgiveness the simple fact is I found Martin McGuinness to be an easy and pleasant man to talk to — a man who I believe was sincere in his desire for peace and maintaining the peace process at all costs.

“I don’t think anything in his most recent life can atone. That said, he was still a brave man who put himself in some risk in some elements of his own community in Northern Ireland.”

We must remember all aspects of past

The son of an Irish prison officer murdered by the IRA has urged people to remember Martin McGuinness’s past alongside his peacemaking.

Austin Stack, who has fought a public campaign to find the Provo gunmen who shot his father Brian Stack in 1983, said he felt reflections about the Sinn Fein negotiator’s life were being skewed by his influence on the peace process.

He said: “People should remember the totality of his legacy. I think there are two very different legacies in relation to Martin McGuinness, let’s not just focus on the latter part.

“Martin McGuinness never reconciled with victims. He reconciled with unionism but not with victims.”

Mr Stack added: “Martin McGuinness had questions to answer in relation to the Claudy bomb, and there were also questions over the Enniskillen bomb.”

He was opaque and selective with truth

The younger sister of an IRA bomb victim has claimed “the truth has died” with Martin McGuinness. Julie Hambleton said relatives of many of the terrorist group’s victims were still waiting for “truth and justice”.

She claimed: “He was very opaque and selective with the truth. With him the truth has died and that’s the big problem.”

Ms Hambleton, whose older sister Maxine was killed in the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings, offered her condolences to Mr McGuinness’ family.

She said many relatives of IRA victims were still waiting for answers about what happened to loved ones.

She added: “People are piling the praise on him but it isn’t valid. He didn’t come forward with the truth.”

Ms Hambleton, who leads the Justice4the21 campaign, said she hoped former IRA members would speak about what happened during The Troubles.

She said: “I hope lips will be looser, not just for our loved ones but for everybody’s sake.”

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