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A disappointing day, but Paul Quinn's parents vow to fight on for the apology they've waited 13 years to hear


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A placard on a lamppost on main street in Cullyhanna (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

A placard on a lamppost on main street in Cullyhanna (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

A placard on a lamppost on main street in Cullyhanna (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Cullyhanna stands six miles from the border, halfway between Newtownhamilton and Crossmaglen.

The village is home to just a few hundred people. The church stands on a rise, the border with the Republic in the distance across the wild fields and rolling hills. It's a bleak landscape.

Today the village is quiet, almost oblivious to the political storm raging around it.

The people stay silent and that makes the words of Breege Quinn all the more important. She has stepped out from the shadows of silence, secrets and lies.

For 13 long years the Quinn family have suffered, after 21-year-old Paul was murdered in 2007 at the hands of the IRA, beaten so severely with iron and nail-studded bars in an isolated barn in Oram, Co Monaghan.

As you arrive at the Quinn home, you're met by two playful dogs, a bouncy young Alsatian and an older spaniel. They're only too pleased to see you.

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Stephen and Breege Quinn at their son Paul’s graveside (Liam McBurney/PA)

Stephen and Breege Quinn at their son Paul’s graveside (Liam McBurney/PA)

Stephen and Breege Quinn at their son Paul’s graveside (Liam McBurney/PA)

It's the same warm, friendly welcome from Paul's parents, Stephen and Breege. They appreciate the attention their son's murder is now receiving and you know this is something they will not let go.

What they want is justice and Breege has waited for far too long. She carries the strength. A man of few words, Stephen carries the sadness. "I've had no breakfast today," says Breege in welcome. "It's been non-stop since 6.30am."

Already you get the sense of the woman who will stop at nothing to protect her family.

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Breege and Stephen Quinn parents of Paul Quinn at home in Cullyhanna on February 5th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Breege and Stephen Quinn parents of Paul Quinn at home in Cullyhanna on February 5th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Breege and Stephen Quinn parents of Paul Quinn at home in Cullyhanna on February 5th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Breege and Stephen Quinn accompany us to the graveyard, a well worn road Stephen has travelled almost every day since the murder. Life has never been the same. Never will be.

Along the way we pass several posters on telephone poles. The image of her son stares down at her. You know she longs for the day she can pull them down having finally got her answers. For now, the Quinns pass those posters every day.

On the approach to the village church, a monument to fallen IRA men is a permanent reminder of the village's troubled history in the conflict.

Today the winter sun is high in the clear blue sky. Sunlight catches on the wings of crows overhead.

The only sound is their squawking in the tree line along the edge of the graveyard.

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General view showing the grave of Paul Quinn in Cullyhanna on February 5th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

General view showing the grave of Paul Quinn in Cullyhanna on February 5th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

General view showing the grave of Paul Quinn in Cullyhanna on February 5th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

All is peaceful, so much in contrast to the way Paul Quinn lost his life 13 years ago and the suffering his mother and father ever since. Dark clouds still hover over the family.

The couple stand quietly, a moment of peace together at the graveside of their son, reflecting on the last 13 years, and on the past few days when Paul's murder has back in the spotlight.

A mother will tell you she will do everything in her power to protect her child. For Breege Quinn, that means even long after his death.

In the ground lie the broken bones of her son. Every major bone in the body of the 21-year-old was broken. Alive when transferred to hospital, he survived for two more hours.

His hands were so badly warped he could not hold rosary beads in his coffin.

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General view showing the grave of Paul Quinn in Cullyhanna on February 5th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

General view showing the grave of Paul Quinn in Cullyhanna on February 5th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

General view showing the grave of Paul Quinn in Cullyhanna on February 5th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

As if the murder of a son isn't enough to bear, the words of Sinn Fein representative Conor Murphy branding Paul Quinn a criminal have tormented he Quinn family ever since.

"Paul Quinn was involved in smuggling and criminality and I think everyone accepts that," were the politician's words that caused 13 years of hurt.

As we return to the family home and talk again, the phone rings. Messages have also been left, many of them, but Breege takes this call to hear the news that Conor Murphy has issued an apology.

The mood changes instantly, hope gathering that there might be light at the end of the darkest tunnel. But listening to the new words of Conor Murphy as they're played down the phone line, Breege remains unmoved.

"I have consistently condemned the killing of Paul Quinn, I have said that those responsible for this murder are criminals and they deserve to be brought to justice," the Sinn Fein MLA told RTE.

"I have consistently called for anyone that has information that will help lead to their apprehension to bring it to the investigating authorities on either side of the border. Remarks that I made at the time of his killing are a matter of regret. I am sorry that has added to the grief that the family have felt and I want to apologise to them for that. I want to withdraw those remarks and of course my offer to the family to have dialogue with them on the issue remains open and I hope to be able to meet them in the near future to discuss this."

Unsure what to do next, Breege looks around the kitchen, arm in arm with her husband. She shakes a little. "He hasn't apologised to us," was her initial reaction.

"I have yet to see Conor Murphy on national television apologising for the hurt he has caused to Stephen and Breege Quinn by blackening our son's name. Until I hear those words it's not enough. He can say he wants to meet with us all he likes.

"He's not welcome at my home until I have justice for Paul."

She said Murphy had failed to tell the truth for 13 years "and he still doesn't know why he said those words in the first place. Those words have torn our family apart".

"He's not fit to be in government," she says.

You feel for Breege. She is not political, she doesn't care about an election in the Republic that has ignited new interest in Paul's murder, but she's pleased in her own way that it's brought the matter to wider attention.

She's a mother caught in a media spotlight.

She has Sinn Fein's attention, though her fight isn't quite over yet.

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