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Scottish MSP John Mason apologises for IRA 'freedom fighter' comments

A cousin of a Scottish soldier murdered by the IRA in Belfast over 40 years ago has branded comments describing the IRA as "freedom fighters" as an insult.

Scottish MSP John Mason has now apologised for the comments he made about the IRA murder of three young soldiers.

Fusiliers Dougald McCaughey and brothers John and Joseph McCaig were off-duty when they were lured from a Belfast bar in 1971.

The SNP man hinted in a heated Twitter row that the Scottish victims - aged just 17, 18 and 23 - might be somehow to blame for their tragic fates.

But Mr Mason insisted his comments were "general" and not directly linked to any one case.

David McCaughey, a cousin of Mr McCaughey, described the remarks as an insult to the family.

He told the BBC his family have asked Scottish First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon for a public apology and to take disciplinary action against Mr Mason.

"To turn around and say an organisation like the Provisional IRA are freedom fighters - that means you'd need to put ISIS, the Basque separatists and any other terrorist organisation down this freedom fighter route," he said.

"It was an insult to my family and also to other people who have lost their lives at the hands of the IRA."

"The man should be ashamed to be Scottish," he said.

The row erupted after the Glasgow Shettleston MSP was asked to back a campaign - run by his own constituents - to bring the republican killers of the soldiers to justice.

Refusing to "take sides" between British and Irish, Mr Mason added: "You say Irish murderers. Others say Irish freedom fighters. I support Scottish soldiers if they do good but not if they do bad."

The three murdered soldiers were lured from a Belfast city centre bar on March 10, 1971 to White Brae in Ligioniel, where they were shot.

Their families are now fighting to have the killers, men they claim are known to police and security services, brought to justice. There is nothing to suggest the soldiers did anything untoward.

Mr Mason has now said that he regrets the remarks.

He said: "I deeply regret the offence and upset that has been caused to the relatives who lost loved ones and am extremely sorry that this has happened. I condemn and deplore all acts of terrorism.

"I do not intend to make any further comment."

The soldiers memorial has been the subject of vandalism on numerous occasions.

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