Mother’s heartache after IRSP remove wreath from spot where Army son died
The mother of a Catholic soldier who was murdered by the IRA wept after hearing that a poppy wreath was taken from the spot where her son died in west Belfast.
Jean O'Connor, who is in her late 70s, said she could not understand why Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) activists removed the tribute, which was laid in the lower Falls area in the early hours of Sunday morning by one of her son's former colleagues.
The republican group claimed the wreath would inevitably be attacked - and handed it over to a trade unionist before it was taken to Shankill Somme Association.
It was then placed in a memorial garden.
Last night Mrs O'Connor said: "I'm a Roman Catholic and so was Iain. The poppy is for everyone."
The pensioner, from Preston in Lancashire, broke down in tears as she recalled the pain of losing her 23-year-old son on March 30, 1987.
Two blast bombs were dropped from a Divis Flat balcony on Cullingtree Road just three days after he arrived on his tour of Northern Ireland.
One of the bombs entered the open hatch door of the army patrol vehicle he was travelling in.
Upon realising the extent of his injuries, a priest who had rushed to help offered the Last Rites.
Mrs O'Connor said: "Northern Ireland has caused me so much heartache. It has affected his two brothers as well, but I still cry after 31 years."
She said her son's former comrade felt placing the wreath was the reverent thing to do on his trip to the place where he once served alongside Private O'Connor.
The young soldier was killed one day after Mothering Sunday and before he made his first life insurance payment - his mother never received a penny in compensation.
Mrs O'Connor, who subsequently divorced from Iain's father Jim who died in 1998, has previously recalled how she had no money and was forced to get a bank loan to buy a black dress for her son's funeral.
A Sinn Fein worker who acted as a look out and made his flat available to the IRA in the attack was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the killing but was released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
An IRSP spokesperson said the wreath was removed before it would "inevitably" be vandalised or destroyed by angry residents.
They insisted everyone has the right to remember their dead in a "dignified and respectful" manner but added: "Putting this wreath in an area where it is not wanted will not pay testimony to that".
The group also claimed the poppies were left under the eye of a police patrol and demanded answers on behalf of residents who have "suffered greatly" as a result of "Crown forces brutality."
"We will ensure that this narrow-minded sectarian agenda that they tried to inflict today will be opposed," they added.
A PSNI spokesperson said they could not find any details of officers officially attending such an event.
SDLP councillor Tim Attwood said there must be "respect, generosity and sensitivity" when it comes to commemorating everyone who died in the conflict.
"As we approach the upcoming decade of centennial events and the 50th anniversary of the Troubles, it is important we develop ethical and shared remembering," he said.
Mr Attwood added: "Everyone should recognise the 3,600 people killed and the thousands injured in the conflict. Every family has the right to remember the loss of their loved ones."