Belfast Telegraph

Poyntzpass friends murdered to clear killers' drug debt, says mum 20 years on

By Brett Campbell

The only surviving parent of one of two life-long friends gunned down in a Co Armagh pub in one of the most sickening attacks of the Troubles says she will "never forgive" their loyalist killers.

Philip Allen and Damien Trainor, one a Protestant and the other a Catholic, were shot dead by the LVF as they sat in the Railway Bar in Poyntzpass 20 years ago today.

Philip's mother Ethel (74) told the Irish News that she believes Banbridge man Stephen McClean and Noel McCready, from Seapatrick, carried out the attack in order to clear their drug debt.

"I don't know why they picked Philip and Damien but I was told that they owed £1,000 for drugs and if they killed two Catholics that was their bill paid for. And that came from a reliable source," she said. "But they didn't kill two Catholics, they didn't care. Why was them boys' two lives only worth £500?"

McClean and McCready were both found guilty in 1999 and given life sentences for the sectarian killings, but they were released a year later under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. They were later arrested after a man was beaten in a dispute over a paramilitary flag and, although acquitted, they had their early release licences revoked and returned to jail until 2010.

A third man, Ryan Robley from Banbridge, was also sent to prison for his role in the murder.

Suspected informer David Keys was murdered by the LVF while he was in jail just days after the shooting.

Mrs Allen said she cannot forget or forgive the men. "I don't know whether that's because I'm not religious," she said. "I don't know how anyone can stand up and say that 'I forgive them for what they done', I can't. I have only three grandchildren, I could have had six grandchildren. I could have seen Philly happily married."

But Ethel, who has many unanswered questions, said she might be willing to meet the killers who she believes knew Philip and Damien. "Why did they do it whenever they knew the boys - were the two boys easy targets?

"The pub was full because there was a sale on, there was plenty of other ones there - why was it just them two?"

At the time of his death her son had been engaged to his long-term girlfriend Carol Magill, Damien was to be his best man.

The heartbroken mum, who struggles to think of McClean who is now married with two children, will lay flowers on her son's grave today. "It hurt that he was able to live and get married and my son wasn't," she said.

"I find it hard to talk about."

Bernie Canavan (84), mother of former Armagh manager Brian, was working in the family-owned pub when the gunmen burst in and ordered the men to lie down - she fled in terror believing she was the target.

"It wasn't long 'til they started to shoot," she recalled.

"We thought the ambulance never would come.

"They actually said they didn't die until they were up the road but Damien must have been unconscious - he never spoke."

Bernie's husband Dessie considered closing the pub down but the shocking double murder united nationalists and unionists in the run-up to the signing of the historic agreement. "I took a notion that I wouldn't let them close me," she said.

The SDLP's Seamus Mallon, former UUP leader David Trimble and former Secretary of State Mo Mowlam were among the politicians to visit the relatives in what was a powerful display of unity.

Belfast Telegraph

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