Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein leader O'Neill doing nothing to help community relations, says son of murdered RUC officer

By Allan Preston

The son of an RUC officer murdered by the IRA has said Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill is doing nothing to help community relations in Northern Ireland after her decision to attend a commemoration for eight IRA men killed by the SAS during a raid on Loughgall police station.

The Rev David Clements' father Billy Clements was murdered by the notorious East Tyrone IRA brigade during a raid at a police barracks in Ballygawley on December 7, 1985.

His father's gun was taken by his attackers and later recovered at the Loughgall ambush on the evening of May 8, 1987.

Eight members of the IRA's East Tyrone unit were killed by undercover SAS soldiers as they tried to bomb the Loughgall police station using a hijacked digger.

The IRA men shot were: Jim Lynagh, Padraig McKearney, Gerard O'Callaghan, Tony Gormley, Eugene Kelly, Patrick Kelly, Seamus Donnelly and Declan Arthurs.

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A civilian, Anthony Hughes, was also killed in the crossfire with his brother badly wounded.

It remains the greatest loss of life for the IRA in a single incident.

This Sunday, Mrs O'Neill will be the key speaker at an event marking 30 years since the death of what has been billed the 'Loughgall Martyrs'.

"She has her own agenda by attending, but it doesn't help relations with people in the unionist or protestant community, particularly those directly affected by the IRA," said Rev Clements.

"I think families have the right to remember their dead in whatever way they feel is appropriate for them.

"The other side though is to recognise that what the IRA were doing through the 70s, 80s and 90s was killing ordinary people. Some of them wore a uniform like my father did, but he was a godly Christian man who had respect for all sides in the community.

"He went regularly to a prayer meeting in a Catholic convent in Omagh and was very friendly with the nuns there. He was a good man who was serving the community as a policeman.

"The East Tyrone Brigade of the IRA essentially executed him when they attacked the police station in Ballygawley. He was shot once and shot again at very close range to finish him off."

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Rev Clements said the discovery that his father's gun was taken by the IRA to use again had deeply distressed his mother at the time.

Forensic tests on the weapon found in Loughgall later confirmed it had been fired three times.

"For me, the death of the East Tyrone brigade of the IRA at Loughgall was in part an answer to a prayer," he said.

"I prayed for the people who murdered my father, that they would desist from their violence, become Christian men and I would shake their hands.

"I had known some paramilitary people from both sides who had been converted, it was something that could happen.

"So I prayed for that sincerely in my heart but then I also prayed that if they wouldn't desist that God would stop them in their tracks.

"That's what I believe happened in Loughgall. I remember vividly where I was on the road going back to my flat in Enniskillen in May 1987 when I heard the news, I just had this strange feeling in my spirit that the people who murdered my father were now dead."

He continued: "My view on the Loughgall Martyrs, as they call them, is that they got their just deserts and they're in the hands of God.

"I would much rather be the son of a policeman who was murdered by the IRA than a relative of a member of the East Tyrone Brigade of the IRA."

In January, Rev Clements wrote to the late Martin McGuinness urging him to show recognition that the IRA's armed struggle was wrong. "The difficulty in dealing with staunch republicans for me is that they regard what they did to my dad as legitimate," he said.

"Until we can come to a place where we can say that 'it wasn't just a mistake', it was ill-conceived, it was unjustified and unjustifiable.

"Those were the words David Cameron used about Bloody Sunday, which I think was helpful.

"When Michelle O'Neill can stand up and say that about what the IRA did to my dad (I'll listen)."

Mrs O'Neill has also faced criticism from unionist politicians over her decision to attend.

The UUP MLA Doug Beattie said society should be grateful to the SAS for killing the IRA unit in Loughgall.

"The truth is that the IRA men who chose to turn up at Loughgall on May 8, 1987 were heavily armed, all wearing body armour and were extremely dangerous," he said.

"They were not 'martyrs', they were criminals. They were there to commit murder and murder is a crime."

Yesterday, Mrs O'Neill also came under attack from DUP leader Arlene Foster,

"It is disappointing that when I am trying to make this a shared place for everybody in Northern Ireland that other leaders are doing things that frankly are wrong and backward-looking," she said.

"I am thinking of what is happening in Loughgall on Sunday and I think that is something that Sinn Fein needs to reflect on because we have heard a lot during the election about respect and they need to understand what that means in terms of the past and indeed in terms of the future as people look to the future here in Northern Ireland."

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