The son of a man murdered in a random sectarian attack 45 years ago has said the Government’s proposal to end all Troubles prosecutions is not only a disgrace, but there is “no incentive for anybody to provide any kind of information” in an alternative process.
Another described it as creating a “hierarchy of murder”.
Damien McNally was four months old when his father Paul (26) and another man were shot by two gunmen in June 1976 after leaving Sean Graham’s bookmakers on the Crumlin Road in Belfast. They were shot a short distance from Mr McNally’s Ardoyne home.
As the gunmen fled the scene, a passing Army patrol opened fire on them but they made their escape in a car which was later abandoned on the Shankill Road.
No one has ever been convicted for the murder of Mr McNally, who died in hospital while the man who was with him survived.
His son said while most families in their position know there will never be any convictions for the murder of their loved ones, to have a due process in place helps them with “an acknowledgement process”.
“It’s so important people have that rather than what’s being proposed today,” said Mr McNally, who works for cross-community victims and survivors group WAVE Trauma Centre.
“The big concern for everyone is this emphasis on information recovery because there’ll be no incentive for anybody to provide any kind of information.
"These expectations that information is going to be made available either by paramilitaries or by the state, people have serious reservations over that. These proposals are a disgrace,” he said.
There has been no consultation with victims and very little engagement from the Secretary of State, he said. Many of our own politicians in Northern Ireland have also let down victims, he added.
“There tends to be a reaction to these statements and not much beyond that. There needs to be more beyond big ideas and thinking, nothing has been delivered for victims here. Politicians here have to take a large part of the responsibility for that.”
Now a dad himself, the loss of his father carries as much significance as ever. “I realise what a gap I had in my own life and what a gap my mother had to deal with and what my father missed — not seeing us or his grandchildren growing up. It’s one of the ones I really struggle with now.”
Paul McNally died two days after he was shot. “He knew he was dying and he was panicking about what was going to happen to us.
" I still wake up at night thinking about what was going through his head at that time because it must have been horrendous and just the sense of injustice from it,” he said.
“You have your good and bad days but that’s one of the big things I struggle with — how unfair it was and what other people go through.
" You get to this stage, not much would surprise you but I think today has surprised me and a lot of people – the sheer arrogance, the lack of care, how it’s dressed up as wanting to reconcile people and it’s going to do the opposite.”
Louie Johnston, son of RUC officer David Johnston — killed by the IRA yards from the town’s RUC station in Lurgan in 1997 alongside his colleague Constable John Graham — described the proposal as a “slap in the face”.
“It feels like victims have run out of another cheek to turn,” he said. Mr Johnston accused the Government of having created a “hierarchy of murder” in Northern Ireland and across the UK whereby killings by terrorists during the Troubles are deemed to be of lesser value.
He said the Government is now effectively “terrorism’s biggest enabler” after moving to strip all consequences of the crimes.
In a direct appeal to the Secretary of State, he asked whether Brandon Lewis could imagine what it was like for Mr Johnston’s children to say goodbye to him without knowing they would never embrace him again.
“Can you imagine what it is like to have an empty seat at every wedding, graduation, Christmas and birthday, or to have to sit and explain to your own son why he does not have his grandfather? You have not walked the shoes the victim has walked,” he said.
“Let justice prevail,” he appealed. “The eyes of history are watching.”
Eileen McKeown, a daughter of Joseph Corr, who was one of 10 people killed in west Belfast in disputed shootings involving soldiers in August 1971, said the proposals “will not be tolerated and will be legally challenged”.
“The Ballymurphy Massacre inquest findings show how the law should work independently,” she said.
“All victims need to know the truth, they need to know what happened to their loved ones. We all bleed the same blood so everybody needs truth and justice and then maybe they can start living their lives.”