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Reliving the nightmare: the Troubles survivors sharing their stories on Victims Day

By Claire O'Boyle

Standing before a packed chamber at Stormont, three men yesterday recalled the devastating days their lives were torn apart by terrorism.

On the 13th annual European Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Terrorism, families from across Northern Ireland, the Republic and Britain who were affected by loyalist and republican terrorists gathered to remember the dead and injured of the Troubles - and to call for truth and justice.

Noel Downey was 26 when he lost his leg in an IRA under-car booby trap bomb in Lisnaskea in 1990.

"I remember the white flash. I was blind and deaf for a period which seemed to be ages," said the father-of-two.

"I reached over in my blindness and opened the door. I got out of the car and attempted to walk.

"I kept falling, falling down and falling down. I couldn't understand why. I kept getting up and trying to walk and I kept falling down again. It was only later I realised why. My left leg was gone... it was lying in the back seat of the car.

"There on the pavement were locals and friends. Those men kept me alive until the ambulance arrived. I am indebted for what they did.

"I remember sitting there on the pavement covered in petrol, looking back at my car as they worked on me, trying to keep me awake. Life was changed forever."

Holding back tears, Mr Downey (53) paid tribute to his then-fiancee and now wife, Helen, and talked about the huge impact his ordeal had on him psychologically, as well as physically.

"I have a prosthetic leg and I walk with a limp but I have had nightmares, flashbacks, anger and depression too," said Mr Downey, who was a member of the UDR at the time.

"I cease to be the Noel I was all those years previously. Helen was a young girl, not much older than our own daughter is now. She stuck by me through thick and thin and we celebrated 25 years of marriage last year. She is a special person."

Joining Mr Downey was Ken Funston, whose brother Ronnie was shot dead on the family farm in Pettigo, Co Fermanagh, exactly 33 years ago yesterday. "He was the quiet one in our house," said Mr Funston.

"Farming and football were all he was into, and he was there taking over the work on the farm because my father Oliver was too old to keep it up.

"On the day he was shot he did the same as he did every other day - he went out to feed the cattle at 7.45am. "Gunmen were sitting in wait for him and he was riddled with bullets.

"My mother Florence heard the shots from the house and she always remembered how she saw two men running away cheering. Ronnie's death destroyed her, and within a few years she had cancer.

"There's no doubt in my mind it was brought on by the stress of what happened."

One of the most hurtful things for the family was the thought they had been betrayed by a neighbour, someone who must have tipped the terrorists off about Ronnie's daily movements.

"My parents were from Donegal and moved to Fermanagh," said Mr Funston, who now works as an advocate for victims' rights.

"They'd always known and got along with their Catholic neighbours, so there was a real hurt there.

"The IRA wanted our family away from the border area. And sadly, because my parents were too old and devastated by what happened to carry on at the farm, they succeeded."

David Kelly, whose father, Irish Army Private Patrick Kelly, was shot dead by the IRA, told how Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness advised him six years ago to "move on".

"The men who killed my father are still walking around, free men," said Mr Kelly, who at just nine years old was the eldest of four boys when his father died. "It is very hard to take, given the effect it had on our family."

He said Mr McGuinness visited his home town while campaigning to become President of Ireland in 2011.

"I felt compelled to confront him: 'You want to be President of Ireland - can you assist me in finding out who murdered my father?' He told me it was time to move on. He said that to my face.

"It seems like there is a lack of willingness to pursue the perpetrators. The people who killed him would like him to be a footnote in the history books, but I say different," Mr Kelly added.

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