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Provos still getting away with murder and with a barrage of shamfaced lies

In the wake of the Kevin McGuigan slaying, Sinn Fein's routine rhetoric and air of outraged innocence over IRA killings, like that of Paul Quinn in 2007, remains the same, writes Suzanne Breen

Published 26/08/2015

Stephen and Breege Quinn at their home in Cullyhanna, Co Armagh, with a picture of their son Paul
Stephen and Breege Quinn at their home in Cullyhanna, Co Armagh, with a picture of their son Paul
Kevin McGuigan

In Belfast's Short Strand the family of Kevin McGuigan have struggled valiantly not to hand his Provisional IRA killers a victory by remembering him only as a victim.

Last week they followed his coffin onto the street where he was slaughtered singing You Are My Sunshine, celebrating his life with applause, smiling through the tears.

On social media they're posting photos of Kevin in good times - on a GAA pitch; at home, arms around his big brood of children, in hospital nursing his grandson.

Fifty miles down the road in Cullyhanna, south Armagh, is another home broken by an IRA that was meant to have gone away. This family are as defiant against the Provos as the McGuigans, but the image of their loved one's final moments still overwhelm them.

Breege Quinn wants to remember her son Paul bursting into the kitchen and lifting her up into the air as she washed the dishes, his eyes shining with mischief and vitality. He was like that, she says, always playing tricks on her, taking her by surprise.

But seven years after his murder a different scene is ingrained in her memory.

"Paul was lying in the hospital bed with a ventilator protruding from his mouth, his eyes half-open," Breege recalled.

"His head was swollen and there were gashes on his face. His right ear was torn off. Every major bone below his neck was broken. The doctors said nothing could be fixed. I couldn't even join his hands together to place a pair of Rosary beads in them.

"I try and I try to get that image out of my head, but it won't go."

Kevin McGuigan was gunned down in front of his hysterical wife in a cold-blooded and clinical fashion. But the shock and horror now expressed that the IRA would do this, to a member of its own community in peace-time, is the height of hypocrisy.

Paul Quinn's murder told us that it will do even worse. Paul was lured to a farm in Oram, Co Monaghan, in October 2007 where a dozen men in black military-style clothing were waiting. It was a brutally methodical beating.

From his toes to his groin, they battered him with iron bars. They used nail-studded cudgels on his upper body. It was eight against one. His friends, whom the IRA held nearby, could hear him screaming and begging for mercy.

At first his voice was loud and strong. "Stop, stop, f***, please stop!" As the assault continued, it grew weaker. Eventually it faded away. He was just 21 years old.

It isn't for a second to excuse or justify Kevin McGuigan's death to state his past.

As a former IRA member, he had taken life himself. He had been a hitman for Direct Action Against Drugs. He was murdered for allegedly killing ex-IRA commander Gerard 'Jock' Davison.

Paul never held a gun in his life. He was never in a paramilitary organisation. "He did cause a bit of bother once," recalled Breege. "One night he had a few drinks too many. Coming home he knocked the pillar off the church gate. But the priest laughed when he returned to fix it the next day."

What incurred the Provos' wrath were two incidents where Paul had used his fists. He punched the son of the local IRA commander following a road rage incident. Afterwards, a member of the IRA commander's family threatened him with a hammer and warned: "There'll be a body in a bin bag at the side of the road for this."

Paul didn't listen, though. He didn't give the local IRA the respect they thought they deserved. He assaulted another IRA member who had insulted his sister in a taxi depot. These minor incidents sealed his fate. "Now you know who the bosses are!" his friends recall hearing the IRA gang shout as they beat him.

And yet those in high political and public office turned a blind eye to Paul Quinn's murder. Yes, they issued statements of condemnation, said it would be deeply disturbing if IRA involvement was proved, and offered their condolences to his parents. But they took no decisive action. Sinn Fein continued to walk the corridors of power unhindered.

Campaigners for the Quinns weren't shy about detailing the "chain of command" involved in his murder. The order had come from the IRA's south Armagh commander and been approved by a long-time local Provisional who sat on the Army Council, a man known in the media as "the Surgeon".

Even when the International Monitoring Commission (IMC) pointed the finger at IRA "members or former members", as did the then PSNI Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde, it made no difference.

The Shinners escaped with spouting the same spiel about Paul Quinn's killing as they're now circulating about Kevin McGuigan's. In 2007 then-MP Conor Murphy said he'd spoken to the IRA and received "solid assurances" it wasn't involved. "There are wild and baseless allegations being made," he thundered.

The name of the victim has changed but, seven years on, Sinn Fein's routine rhetoric and air of outraged innocence remain the same.

Back then in 2007 the voices who spoke most honestly about Paul Quinn's murder were former Sinn Fein Assembly Members Jim McAllister and Pat McNamee. McAllister had left Sinn Fein in the late 1990s, disillusioned but still a republican, and on friendly terms with the party.

He had known Paul Quinn's father, Stephen, from when they were both 16 and working on building sites in England together. "I hadn't spoken with Stephen in years," McAllister told me. "But the moment I heard about Paul's murder I drove to the house. Given my background I thought I'd be chased, but I was welcomed."

In the wake of Paul's murder in October 2007 I spent hours in McAllister's ramshackle home in Cullyhanna listening as he exposed the ugly truth about the local Provos. A Long Kesh harp sat in the corner of the living-room and half-a-dozen old clocks chimed every 15 minutes.

His modest abode stood in stark contrast to the Southfork-style mansions I've seen - the huge, hulking homes owned by Provo bigwigs who had made their money smuggling and diesel laundering.

"Local people know the truth," McAllister said to me.

"They know about the mobile diesel plant near Crossmaglen run by IRA men. They know who is still laundering fuel in Provo ranks.

"They know about the industrial alcohol imported from Lithuania and Czechoslovakia (sic) diluted and sold by the Provos even though it's dangerous to drink."

And the former Sinn Fein representative added: "Sure if Gerry Adams finds himself with a few minutes free and wants to know who these people are, let him come down here and I'll tell him."

Gerry never made that visit and Jim McAllister died two years ago. Regrettably, no-one else from within the republican community has emerged to challenge the Provos so passionately on their own turf.

The Quinns have been treated abominably by all politicians bar the local SDLP. In August 2009 they asked to meet Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness at Stormont. Six years later, neither man has even had the decency to reply.

"We find that extremely offensive," said Breege. "It seems like Paul's life doesn't matter." That's a searingly cynical statement, yet one with which it's impossible to argue.

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