Belfast Telegraph

Former IRA man up for prize founded in name of murdered diplomat

By Gareth Cross

A former IRA member has been nominated for an award founded in the name of a British Ambassador murdered by the IRA.

Tony Doherty, whose father Patrick was killed on Bloody Sunday, has been nominated for the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Literary Prize. The Derry author is one of four writers from Northern Ireland nominated for the award.

The former British Ambassador to Ireland, Christopher Ewart-Biggs (55), was killed by a landmine planted by the Provisional IRA while travelling through Dublin in July 1976.

His fellow passenger, civil servant Judith Cooke (26) was also killed in the incident.

After Mr Ewart-Biggs' death his widow Jane became a life peer in the House of Lords, often campaigning to improve Anglo-Irish relations.

In 1977, she founded the Ewart-Biggs Literary Prize in memory of her husband with the goal of promoting peace and reconciliation in Ireland. Past recipients include Brian Friel, Frank McGuinness, Sebastian Barry and Brian Keenan.

In a 2017 interview with The Irish News, Mr Doherty said that he did not regret joining the IRA but that he was relieved to be arrested after his first operation.

DUP MP Gregory Campbell said that because Mr Doherty has been unrepentant about his IRA past he is not an appropriate nominee for the award.

"Having him nominated for an award like this is not appropriate," the East Londonderry MLA said.

"Whatever the merits of his publication my view would be that they should examine what the writers' attitude was and is to violence before nominating them for such an award."

Responding to Mr Campbell's comments, Mr Doherty said he did not agree with them but that he was entitled to his opinion.

"I am happy to be shortlisted for this award and delighted that my work has been recognised," he said. "I am particularly happy to be associated with the award after learning of the work Jane Ewart-Biggs did for peace and reconciliation which has been carried on by her family.

"I have been very open in the past that my reasons for joining the IRA stem directly from the actions of the British Army on Bloody Sunday."

Mr Doherty's father Patrick was one of 13 men shot dead on Bloody Sunday in 1972. He went on to join the IRA in 1980. He is nominated for the prize alongside Belfast writers Connal Parr and Frank Ormsby, and Peter Leary from Fermanagh.

Speaking for the judges, Professor Roy Foster described Mr Doherty's work as a "memoir of Derry's Bloody Sunday, from an unbearably close vantage-point."

The winner of the prize, worth £5,000, will be announced on April 11 in Belfast.

Belfast Telegraph

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