Belfast Telegraph

McCreesh vigil by dissidents is dancing on my brother’s grave, says IRA murder victim’s sister

Alan Johnston who was killed by the IRA in 1988
Alan Johnston who was killed by the IRA in 1988
Alan Johnston's grave
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

The sister of a young man murdered by the IRA more than 30 years ago has accused dissident republicans of dancing on his grave.

Sandra Harrison, whose brother Alan Johnston was killed in 1988, spoke out ahead of a commemoration event this weekend by Saoradh.

The group, believed to be the political wing of the New IRA, will commemorate IRA hunger striker Raymond McCreesh with a black flag vigil in Newry tomorrow.

Ms Harrison has called for an end to the glorification of terrorists and asked how such public displays fit with republican calls for an 'all-inclusive' society.

Mr Johnston was just 23 when he was shot in the back by the IRA on his way to work on February 15, 1988.

The part-time UDR Lance-Corporal, a member of the Young Unionist Association, had arrived to begin his shift at Kilkeel Joinery Works when he was followed by a gunman who opened fire at close range.

The IRA claimed that one of its units had been involved in a "brave action in Kilkeel".

Tomorrow, Saoradh will commemorate McCreesh at the Newry children's play park named after him.

Ms Harrison, who is chair of victims charity MAST (Mourne Action for Survivors of Terrorism) in Kilkeel, said the event shows dissidents "still take delight in rubbing our noses in it".

"Alan was a fantastic, law-abiding young man, on his way to work, a lunchbox in one hand, a toolbox in the other," she recalled.

"He was shot in the back by a coward. He didn't stand a chance.

"We've picked up the pieces but we're living and seeing it every day, watching Sinn Fein in government, accepting Northern Ireland for what it is today.

"We've remained dignified, kept our pride, but there's nothing dignified or proud about what this commemoration stands for.

"Our wounds are still there. They're not being allowed to heal by people who still, no matter how much society casts them aside and reviles them, feel it appropriate to celebrate a terrorist. That's what Raymond McCreesh was."

McCreesh, from Camlough, south Armagh, was one of 10 republican prisoners who died in a hunger strike in the Maze Prison in 1981. His convictions included attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, possession of firearms with intent to endanger life and IRA membership.

McCreesh was caught with a shotgun which had been used in the 1976 Kingsmill massacre, when 10 Protestant workmen died.

Ms Harrison added: "He was no hero to celebrate. How long can these people carry on trying to glorify what McCreesh and his like put our country, our community, through?

"Time after time take another kick in the teeth.

"We're disgusted every time and it's gut wrenching to see them out there in the streets as if these actions are something to celebrate, showing their faces as if they have something to be proud about.

"Murder is nothing to be proud about.

"We know they want a reaction. They do this to get into our faces even though society has shunned them and what they stand for, condemned them, particularly these past few weeks since the murder of Lyra McKee," she added.

Ms Harrison said most in society did not want events like the one tomorrow.

She added: "We've never had an apology over Alan's murder. We've never had justice of any sort. But we're strong, we'll keep going. Despite the disgust at the actions of Saoradh, the strength of the victims will shine through.

"We are very proud of our loved ones who lost their lives, murdered, and we have nothing to be afraid of. We have truth on our side.

"But if republican politicians continue to call for an 'all-inclusive' society, can they tell me what they mean?

"Does that include me and so many others who are appalled by the continued celebration of terrorists who took loved ones from us, murdered them and now celebrate people like Raymond McCreesh?

"Is constantly getting in the faces of the community, winding them up, dancing on the graves of our family members part of that all-inclusive society republican politicians aspire to?"

The naming of McCreesh Park sparked a long-running controversy. Unionists demanded the name be changed, while republicans insisted it be retained, with the SDLP caught in the middle.

Last autumn, unionists and the SDLP backed plans to sell the park, stating that the current facility was "surplus to requirements" and the naming of the area would be a matter for the new owners.

Ahead of tomorrow's planned commemoration, Saoradh spokesperson Stephen Murney said the group was "immensely proud of the sacrifice Raymond McCreesh made for his country's freedom" and hailed him a hero.

"This commemorative event will give everyone the opportunity to remember Raymond in a dignified and fitting fashion," he said.

"No better place to have this event than in the heart of the community who hold him in such hi gh esteem.

"Ray McCreesh was a revolutionary IRA volunteer and local hero.

"He made a massive sacrifice and suffered for us all in an unimaginable way."

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