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Why Kyle Paisley should rethink and agree to meet Eugene Reavey without further delay

Pastor's action simply adding to hurt for a man who lost brothers in a bloody loyalist attack, says Alban Maginness

Published 28/09/2016

Eugene Reavey lost three brothers in a loyalist attack on the family’s home in 1976
Eugene Reavey lost three brothers in a loyalist attack on the family’s home in 1976

On Sunday, January 4, 1976, three masked men entered the home of the Reaveys, a Catholic family living at Whitecross in Co Armagh.

The gunmen opened fire with sub-machine-guns and killed John and Brian Reavey outright. Anthony, another brother, was seriously wounded, but, after the gunmen left, he managed to crawl to a neighbour's house to get help. Although he survived the immediate attack, he died on January 30.

Fortunately for the rest of the Reavey family, their mother had taken them to visit an aunt and they, therefore, escaped the murderous assault on their home. The purpose of the attack by loyalists was to strike terror into the Catholic community in that part of Co Armagh.

To reinforce that terror, on that same evening another murderous attack took place on another Catholic family, the O'Dowds, at Ballydougan - again in Co Armagh. Three of the O'Dowds were shot dead in cold blood.

These two sets of sectarian murders of innocent Catholics were carried out by the so-called Glenanne Gang. This was a hybrid loyalist paramilitary gang, made up of UVF men, RUC officers and British soldiers.

These murders were not simply mindless expressions of sectarian hatred, but were calculated to intimidate the Catholic community through brute terror and to hopefully provoke the Provisional IRA into some form of violent revenge in order to break their ongoing ceasefire with the Government.

The ceasefire had commenced in February 1975 and was still extant in January 1976, although it ended the next month.

The Reavey family immediately appealed for no retaliation. However, on the following day, January 5, 1976, gunmen murdered 10 innocent Protestant workmen at Kingsmills.

There is little doubt that the gunmen were from the Provisional IRA, although they used a cover-name to admit this appalling sectarian atrocity.

The idea that the Kingsmills attack was a revenge attack for the murders of the Reaveys and O'Dowds is not probable, given the fact that the operation would have required greater preparation than overnight planning.

It was much more likely that the Provisional IRA were conscious that their prolonged negotiations with the Government were coming to an unsuccessful end and that they were prepared to stage a spectacular outrage to demonstrate their ruthless firepower to the British and to teach the UVF a lesson that they could meet their sectarian attacks with even worse sectarian attacks on the Protestant community.

Kingsmills was, therefore, probably planned well in advance of the Reavey and O'Dowd murders, although those murders were presented as a "justification" for the Kingsmills attack.

The murder of the Reavey brothers was a heavy cross for the Reavey family to bear and, while they suffered grief, they also had to bear harassment and intimidation by the RUC, the UDR and the Army in the aftermath of the murders. They bore all of this with great patience and dignity.

Their suffering at the hands of the police and security forces was belatedly recognised in 2007, when the PSNI publicly apologised for their harassment at the hands of the security forces.

But perhaps the greatest of injustices was the naming by the Rev Ian Paisley in parliament in 1999, under the absolute protection of parliamentary privilege, of Eugene Reavey as having "set up the Kingsmills massacre".

Eugene Reavey demanded the withdrawal of this most serious and dangerous slur on his name. Despite his demand - and the public contradiction of this falsehood by the-then Chief Constable, Ronnie Flanagan - Ian Paisley refused to withdraw his claim.

This outrageous slander not only destroyed Eugene's character in the eyes of many who were inclined to believe what Paisley said as gospel, but it also seriously damaged his agricultural business and led to many years of vilification of Eugene and his family.

Given the magnitude of what happened to Eugene Reavey, is it any wonder that last week's last-minute refusal by the Rev Kyle Paisley to meet with Eugene Reavey was most disappointing?

Although Eugene Reavey clearly deserves an apology from the Paisley family, he has not sought one. It is still unclear and puzzling why Kyle Paisley, sadly, declined to meet Eugene.

Rev Kyle Paisley is a dedicated pastor and has shown himself to be compassionate and caring about other matters in the past. Therefore, it is a pity that the proposed meeting between him and Eugene Reavey has not taken place, because it could do a lot of good to repair some of the deep hurt and pain caused to the long-suffering Eugene Reavey and his family.

I do not think it is too late for such a meeting to quietly take place in the near future.

It would be much to Kyle Paisley's credit to reconsider and to allow such a potentially beneficial meeting to take place soon.

Belfast Telegraph

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