Belfast Telegraph

SNP's Mason sorry for IRA 'freedom fighters' comments

By Allan Preston

A member of the Scottish Parliament who said the IRA could be regarded as "freedom fighters" has apologised after facing a furious reaction yesterday.

MSP John Mason made the comments during a heated Twitter exchange about the murder of three soldiers in Belfast over 40 years ago.

The SNP man hinted that the three Scottish victims might be somehow to blame for their tragic fates.

He initially refused to withdraw his comments, calling them "general" and not directly linked to any one case.

However, he backtracked after party leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon faced repeated calls to act.

"I deeply regret the offence and upset that has been caused to the relatives who lost loved ones and I'm extremely sorry that this has happened," Mr Mason said.

"I condemn and deplore all acts of terrorism."

His earlier exchange concerned the deaths in 1971 of teenage brothers John and Joseph McCaig along with Dougald McCaughey, aged 17, 18 and 23 respectively.

All three had been serving in the Royal Highland Fusiliers.

While off duty they had been out in a bar in Belfast's Cornmarket area.

After being enticed into a car with the promise of meeting girls, they were taken to White Brae in Ligoniel, where they were shot by members of the Provisional IRA.

Their bodies were found by children playing the next day. To date no one has stood trial for their deaths.

David McCaughey, a cousin of Mr McCaughey, described Mr Mason's remarks as an insult to his family.

Speaking to the BBC, he said: "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.

"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."

Mr Mason, MSP for Glasgow Shettleston, became embroiled in the controversy after he was asked by a constituent to back a campaign to bring the republican killers of the soldiers to justice.

Refusing to "take sides" he said: "You say Irish murderers. Others say Irish freedom fighters. I support Scottish soldiers if they do good, but not if they do bad."

The soldiers' families are fighting to have the killers - men they claim are known to police and security services - brought to justice.

Over the years a memorial to the soldiers has been vandalised on numerous occasions.

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