Belfast Telegraph

Son of Irish soldier killed by IRA David Kelly pursues Garda boss to find answers

Patrick Kelly was part of an Irish Army and Garda patrol looking for a kidnapped supermarket boss when the IRA shot him dead. Ivan Little reports

David Kelly holding a picture of his dad Patrick Kelly
David Kelly holding a picture of his dad Patrick Kelly
Army and Special Branch officers at the scene in 1983 during the Tidey kidnapping case
Former IRA leader Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane
David Kelly confronts Martin McGuinness in 2011
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris
Patrick Kelly
Citation for the medal
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

The son of the only member of the Irish Defence Forces to die during the Troubles has said he is "disappointed" that the head of the Garda Siochana, Drew Harris, still has not responded to his pleas for a fresh investigation made at a meeting a year ago.

David Kelly, who once called Martin McGuinness a liar to his face over the IRA killing, said he desperately needs answers about his father's 1983 murder from the Garda Commissioner, who is a former PSNI Deputy Chief Constable.

The 45-year-old caretaker said the IRA bullets that took his father's life also ripped apart the lives of his family, who ended up residing in a squat and a homeless shelter for a time in London.

The facts surrounding the killing in a remote wood in Co Leitrim on December 16, 1983 may have been largely forgotten.

However, Mr Kelly says: "It's important for people to know what was done to an Irish soldier on Irish soil by a fellow Irishman who would have called himself an Irish patriot.

"My father, who served three tours as a peacekeeper in Lebanon and one in Cyprus, was murdered by another Irishman barely 25 miles from the place where he was born and raised."

Private Patrick Kelly was part of an Irish Army and Garda patrol searching Derrada Wood at Ballinamore not far from the Fermanagh border for kidnapped Quinnsworth supermarket boss Don Tidey, who had been abducted three weeks earlier.

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Pte Kelly (36) was shot dead along with a trainee Garda, Gary Sheehan, by members of a four-man Provo kidnap gang.

Mr Kelly was only nine at the time, a week before Christmas, and he was waiting by the window of his home in Moate, Co Westmeath, for his father to come home.

He recalled: "I saw police officers, soldiers and a priest coming up the path and I knew instinctively that something terrible had happened. An in-law, who was also an Army man, sat me down to explain that my dad was dead and I just went into myself.

"But it was all over the news bulletins on TV and three days later we had a state funeral.

"Dad was the first home soldier to be killed on Irish soil in the south since the Civil War.

"I was just getting to know him. I remember him playing Elvis Presley music all the time and he loved to fix up cars in the back garden. We didn't have holidays because my dad didn't have much money and I'm told he just wanted to provide for us."

Being left without a father devastated Mr Kelly.

"People around us supported us as best they could and we received letters of sympathy from all over the island of Ireland. But the rest of the world moved on and we struggled to survive," he added.

"There were four of us sons and I was the eldest, with the youngest boy only 13 weeks old. My mother was very quiet and she never talked to us about the killing."

However, more nightmares were later to completely shatter the Kelly family, who went to England several years after the murder to start a fresh life with a new man in their mother's life.

Mr Kelly continued: "Things didn't work at all and for a while we lived in a drug addicts' squat before we were thrown out and had to walk the streets in Cricklewood until we could find room in bed and breakfasts and shelters before we were given a council home in a tough area of London."

Members of the family, whose lives had been so deeply impacted by the IRA, encountered anti-Irish feelings in the wake of the continuing Provo campaign in England. Mr Kelly decided to concentrate on his school work but he describes how he was affected - and still is - by the domestic abuse that he had witnessed exacted on his mother

One later by-product of the turmoil and the unresolved grief was his inability to settle at Queen's University in Belfast, where he studied from 1994 to 1996, when he also developed a chronic skin disease which still plagues him today.

Mr Kelly's brothers returned one by one to Ireland, where Andrew Kelly joined the Irish Defence Forces.

An annual memorial Mass for the murdered soldier is held on the anniversary of his death every year.

"I learn something new about him all the time. No one had a bad word to say about him," added Mr Kelly.

Police sources believed that four IRA men who had escaped from the Maze during the 1983 breakout were involved in the Tidey kidnapping and the subsequent murders of Pte Kelly and Garda Sheehan.

Mr Kelly believes the identities of his father's murderers are known to the Garda but no one has ever been convicted.

Former IRA leader and Maze escaper Brendan 'Bik' McFarlane from Belfast was cleared in 2008 of the Tidey kidnap and arms charges after a trial at Dublin's Special Criminal Court, which he had fought a 10-year legal battle to stop going ahead.

McFarlane walked free after three judges ruled his alleged confessions were inadmissible.

Mr Kelly was in the public gallery of the court throughout the 10-day trial along with his mother, who passed away in 2010.

He said after the acquittal he resigned himself to the fact that no one would ever be brought to book and that he would have to suffer in silence.

But even so, his father's murder continued to haunt Mr Kelly.

And in 2011 he confronted Martin McGuinness as the former IRA commander visited Athlone as part of his campaign to become the Irish President.

Television cameras captured the moment that Mr Kelly, clutching a framed picture of his father, told Mr McGuinness that he believed he knew the names of his killers, a claim denied by the presidential candidate.

"You're a liar. I want justice for my father. Murder is murder," said Mr Kelly, who urged Mr McGuinness to get his "comrades" to hand themselves in to the police.

Looking back, Mr Kelly said: "It was very emotional for me to come face to face with Mr McGuinness, especially as it was in Athlone, because that was the town where my father was based."

In 2012, after a plaque was unveiled in honour of Pte Kelly in his home town of Moate, the soldier was posthumously awarded the Military Star by the then Irish Defence Minister Alan Shatter.

"That was a big day for us," Mr Kelly said.

"But what we still need now is justice and an acknowledgement from the IRA that they killed my father.

"They've been spreading a malicious rumour that my dad and Garda Sheehan were killed by so called 'friendly fire', which is why I also asked Drew Harris to make public the ballistic reports relating to the double killing.

"I also encouraged him to follow the evidence and investigate what became of the other suspects."

Mr Kelly said that during the Dublin trial he met a soldier who was standing beside his father in Derrada Woods. "He told me that Garda Sheehan was hit in the head by a bullet from an AK47 rifle and that my father was riddled with a flurry of gunfire from his ankle right up to his neck. But he didn't die straight away. He survived for about 10 or 15 minutes," he added.

"My father's colleague said that after he got up from the ground following an explosion from a stun grenade, one of the gunmen who was pointing a rifle at his face said to him: 'Drop your weapon you Free State b****** or you'll get the exact same as him.'"

Mr Kelly said the kidnappers took a number of soldiers and police hostage before fleeing, but Mr Tidey was freed.

And while he was glad that Drew Harris met him - "which was no more than my father and Garda Sheehan deserved" - Mr Kelly is eager for answers.

He added: "But I haven't heard anything back from him and that's something that worries and disappoints me. I'm hoping the response comes soon.

"I feel that victims in the south and probably the north too are caught between two opposing forces.

"On one hand the Provisional Republican movement refuse to condemn the murder and won't provide any information and on the other side is the State who seem insensitive to where the families are."

A Garda spokesman said: "Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has appointed a senior officer, Assistant Commissioner John O'Driscoll, Special Crime Operations, to examine the investigation file. Assistant Commissioner O'Driscoll will be in contact with David Kelly in relation to that examination."

Speaking generally, Mr Kelly feels victims have been forgotten about by too many people.

"It would appear to me that we are like a pain in the neck to them," he added.

"I was at a seminar in Queen's University last week looking at the legacy of the Troubles and the mood music I was getting was that we should draw a line under everything.

"I feel that there is already a de facto amnesty in operation and that my father's killers are going to get away with what they did.

"I'm not looking for anyone to serve a prison sentence but I just want them to acknowledge the truth."

As well as making contact with bereaved relatives in the north like the Enniskillen bomb families, Mr Kelly has also met with other people who have been victims of the IRA south of the border, including Austin Stack, the son of murdered prison officer Brian Stack, and Ann McCabe, the widow of murdered Garda detective Jerry McCabe.

Mr Kelly added: "There's a sense that we are all invisible in the south.

"And I think there are other issues that victims down here like the Dublin and Monaghan families need to address, like the pensions that are being talked about in the north."

Mr Kelly said he has visited the scene of his father's murder once, but doubts that he will ever go back again.

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