Sammy Brush attacks: A welcoming, friendly village, but no one will go on the record
More than three decades ago, Sammy Brush narrowly escaped with his life when he was ambushed and shot in an IRA gun attack. Today, still bearing the scars and living with shrapnel from a bullet embedded in his body, Sammy says he continues to be singled out by republican elements.
He lives in the heart of the small Tyrone village of Ballygawley, where he set up home 44 years ago. Widely-regarded as a popular and diligent public representative, the DUP man was spoken of in glowing terms by shoppers and business owners yesterday.
They were universal in their rejection of the attacks being waged against the veteran politician at the home he shares with his 85-year-old wife Olive.
But none was prepared to go on the record when the Belfast Telegraph visited Ballygawley.
Many were willing to talk about what was happening the councillor, but did not want to have their name published alongside those thoughts.
"It's quiet round here and nobody wants that sort of thing," one said. "It happens late on at night when there isn't anybody about. They should just leave the man alone."
Another, who said he was a friend of Sammy's, added: "Live and let live. People can have their political differences but what is going on is disgusting."
When asked for his name, the man replied: "I have to live around here, so no."
A neighbour of Sammy's said everybody in Ballygawley knew him and what he was having to endure. "It's not right. Those people need to catch themselves on," he added.
In June Sammy received an MBE for services to the community – the same community to which those targeting him belong.
Ballygawley yesterday seemed the unlikeliest of settings for a hate-filled sectarian campaign against an elderly resident. Hanging baskets line its pristine streets and those who live there were friendly and welcoming.
A weekend attack on Sammy's car – the second in less than a fortnight – brought the number of incidents at his property to 40.
Sammy told the Belfast Telegraph he believed the attacks increased following the arrest of two men and subsequent conviction of former senior Sinn Fein member Gerry McGeough in connection with the 1981 IRA murder bid on him.
Sammy's bullet-proof jacket saved his life when he was fired upon as he carried out his rounds as a postman.
More than three decades on, rogue elements within republicanism are still intent on targeting him, he says.
"They are attacking me because of who I am and what I am – my previous history with the security forces, as well having been both an Ulster Unionist and DUP councillor."
McGeough was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being found guilty in 2011 of attempted murder, although he was released two years later, on January 29, 2013, under the Good Friday Agreement terms. He is currently appealing his conviction.
McGeough is also at the centre of a row over claims that Downing Street asked police to release terror suspects in 2007, following pressure from Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams. However, Mr Adams dismissed the claim and former PSNI Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde said no such phone call from Downing Street was received.
Sammy believes republican anger over the McGeough case is fuelling the spate of attacks.
"Whenever these guys get alcohol into them and a bit of Dutch courage they think they'll have a go at me," he said. "A couple of weeks ago they tried to burst through the door and one shouted: 'You b*****d, the IRA will get you'."
An online campaign of support for Sammy began on Twitter last week, with the hashtag #IStandWithSammyBrush.
Sammy says he is encouraged by the support he has received from the community in Ballygawley and from across Northern Ireland. But he is scathing of Sinn Fein and the SDLP, who he accuses of turning a blind eye to his plight.
He added: "My wife's as determined as I am that we're not going. While she's annoyed, she's certainly not going to give in."