New IRA’s claim that PSNI woman’s child wasn’t a target is beyond contempt… and has chilling echoes of their predecessors
The New IRA idiots who placed a firebomb device outside the home of a part-time police officer have learnt absolutely nothing from the murder of Lyra McKee.
Another young woman’s life could have been snuffed out in a reckless act that wouldn’t have advanced the cause of Irish unity one iota.
The dissidents claimed that the Dungiven officer’s three-year old daughter wasn’t a target. Had the device exploded it would hardly have discriminated between mother and child. But please let’s not pretend that the New IRA operates on a different moral plane from the one that preceded it.
Eighteen miles up the road from Dungiven, the Provisional IRA shot dead young mother Joanne Mathers in Derry 40 years ago this month. The New IRA picked an incredibly soft target – a civilian worker who spent about 10 hours a month as a community policewoman.
Joanne Mathers was hardly a lynchpin of the ‘British state in Ireland’ either. She received a death sentence for collecting census forms. The 29-year-old was standing chatting to Patrick McLaughlin at the door of his Gobnascale home in April 1981 when a masked gunman approached.
He pressed the revolver against her neck and fired. She screamed and ran into the house as did Mr McLaughlin who shut the glass door behind him to try to block the IRA man.
The assassin smashed through the door and, as Joanne lay dying, picked up the census forms and ran away from the house brandishing his gun in the air to deter anyone who might try to stop him.
The New IRA admitted its murder attempt on the life of the Dungiven woman. The Provisional IRA lied through its teeth about Joanne Mathers. Its Derry Brigade released a statement accusing anti-republican elements of “frantically trying” to discredit the movement – a 1980s version of ‘blame the securocrats’.
Forensic evidence concluded that the murder weapon had been twice used before in IRA punishment attacks in the city.
Joanne’s husband Lowry has spoken movingly of what their two-year-old son lost: “Shane missed so much not having his mother. I would pick him up at school every day and would look out the car at all the mothers coming to pick their children up.
“She wasn’t there to comfort him when he was sick. She wasn’t there to run to when he was hurt. She didn’t get to see her son grow up or graduate from university.” Mary Travers and Jean McConville were among the female civilians brutally taken from their families.
The New IRA’s firebomb device last week failed to explode and so horror was averted. In February 1978, the Provisional IRA planted a blast incendiary on a meat hook outside a window of the La Mon hotel.
Explosives were attached to four gallons of petrol, sending a napalm-like wave, similar to that seen in Vietnam, through the room where the Irish Collie Club was meeting.
Twelve people died including three sets of married couples.
I met some of the survivors over a decade ago. “The lights went out. The room was black except for the flames. People started running and screaming, their clothes and hair ablaze. The smoke choked us. It was like a scene from hell,” Lily McDowell told me.
She passed out and was dragged by the ankles from the blazing room by another guest. Outside, she was wrapped in a tablecloth and “handed over like a mummy” to her husband Billy.
Lily, who died in 2013, suffered third-degree burns to half her body and spent months in hospital, mostly on a water bed. She went on to have six operations, numerous skin grafts, and two nervous breakdowns. The top of one arm was fused to her back and had to be surgically separated.
It’s important to always place dissident republican violence in this context. The New IRA isn’t an anomaly. Its tactics come straight from the Provisionals’ playbook. It simply operates with less support and ‘success’.