Belfast Telegraph

Eilis O'Hanlon: Bea Worton said it best: she wanted her son Kenneth's killers named 'just to see who we have been mixing with all these years'... no one has a right to hide from their past

It's a disgrace that the mother of one of 10 Protestant workmen murdered at Kingsmill was buried yesterday without ever receiving the justice she deserved, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

The funeral of Beatrice Worton yesterday
The funeral of Beatrice Worton yesterday
Beatrice Worton
Ms Worton’s son, Kenneth was one of 10 Protestant workmen killed by IRA gunmen in what became known as the Kingsmill massacre
Eilis O'Hanlon

By Eilis O'Hanlon

Republicans are fond of hiding their true colours behind glib slogans. Their latest catchphrase made its most recent appearance at the funeral of former IRA chief of staff Kevin McKenna, where Gerry Adams told mourners that the Provos "never went to war, the war came to us". Never has a man sounded so defensive and so defiant at the same time.

Before that, it was Martina Anderson MEP, who, on being accused of hypocrisy for condemning Islamist suicide bombings, despite being a convicted bomber herself, declared: "The IRA did not start the war, the war came to us."

Michelle O'Neill has also been singing dutifully from the same hymn sheet. When she attended a vigil to four local IRA men killed in an SAS ambush in her home village of Clonoe, the Sinn Fein deputy leader defended the dead volunteers by saying: "They never went looking for war, but it came to them."

It's almost as if republicans have all been drilled with regimental discipline to repeat the same yarn in exactly the same form of words in order to hypnotise the unwary into falling for fairytales; but that would be ridiculous, right?

Either way, it's nonsense to suggest that the IRA never sought out war. A man hardly finds himself becoming chief of staff of a terrorist organisation by accident.

The people to whom the war came, despite not seeking it, were innocent victims and their families, such as Bea Worton, mother of one of the 10 Protestant workmen murdered in the Kingsmill massacre of January 1976.

Mrs Worton has now died at the age of 91, having never seeing justice for her son, Kenneth, who was just 24 when he was murdered.

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The atrocity was admitted at the time by a republican splinter group, but was later confirmed to have been carried out by members of the Provisional IRA, the same organisation which Gerry Adams says was "right" to wage a decades-long terrorist campaign in pursuit of a united Ireland.

Bea Worton, whose funeral took place in Markethill yesterday, certainly never went looking for trouble. It came to her door uninvited and she responded to tragedy with dignity and grace, not just in winning a new and long overdue inquest for the dead of Kingsmill, but taking up the mantle for other victims, too.

She was unswerving in her opposition to the naming of a children's park in Newry after convicted IRA gunman Raymond McCreesh, who was carrying one of the rifles used in the massacre when he was arrested a few months later. She always believed that McCreesh was one of the men who killed her son.

No mother expects to outlive her child by 40 years, but what makes her passing politically, as well as personally, lamentable is that she was the last surviving mother of the 10 men who died that day.

All of them went to their graves without seeing out a conclusion to the new inquest and without hearing their sons' killers publicly named and shamed. As such, she stands as a symbol of the collective failure to honour victims.

One reason for the delay in bringing the inquest to a conclusion, despite it having been ordered by the Attorney General in 2013 and commencing in 2016, is because the Dublin government has been slow in making progress on a Bill to allow the coroner to travel south to question members of the Garda Siochana. Authorities in Northern Ireland have been waiting five years for the files that they need.

The Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill has now passed the first stage in the Dail, but dozens of pre-inquest hearings into this and other controversial killings have been held in the meantime without coming to a conclusion.

Last autumn, the Belfast Telegraph made Freedom of Information requests to discover the 25 legacy cases with the highest number of preliminary hearings.

Kingsmill came top, with 35, while there were 27 pre-inquest hearings into alleged RUC "shoot-to-kill" incidents. Relatives told at the time how they were making long journeys to attend these sittings, only for them to be adjourned after a couple of hours.

The stalemate at Stormont merely adds to the agony, as a financial package to deal with legacy issues remains largely in cold storage pending agreement between the political parties.

A portion of the promised money was included in the 2019/20 Budget in an effort to speed up the backlog, but the cumbersome truth is that there are 52 legacy cases outstanding, involving the deaths of 93 people, and it's going to take many more years before they can be satisfactorily closed.

How to deal with the past can't avoid being contentious and it's not unreasonable for unionists to fear that the official approach to the Troubles has become unbalanced, with more emphasis on violence by the state, rather than the greater number of killings by paramilitaries.

There is always a risk that republicans will use the process to rewrite history, with themselves as the real victims. That's certainly their intention.

The murders of over 700 members of the security forces still remain unsolved. Any stitched-up deal which tries to tie up the legacy issue without tackling that injustice would be unworthy of the name.

The 17,000 responses which the Northern Ireland Office received to its consultation exercise on the issue between May and October last year shows, nonetheless, the appetite that exists to get a deal over the line.

Even if some strident voices are being heard above the others, constantly putting off the moment of truth on legacy matters won't make those final decisions any easier.

When he stepped down at the end of June, retiring PSNI chief constable George Hamilton told The Nolan Show that he'd been asking for a political resolution to the issue from the first day he came into office.

"Everybody seemed to agree what needed to happen," he observed, "and five years on we're still waiting for that to be delivered."

The tragic consequence of these delays is the death of women like Kenneth Worton's mother before receiving the justice they deserved. There will inevitably be more of the same, going to their graves without answers. No one in Northern Ireland is getting any younger.

Bea Worton said it best: she wanted to see her son's killers named "just to see who we have been mixing with all these years". That's what it's always been about. No one has a right to hide from their past, any more than they do behind slogans.

Her death is an unhappy reminder that time is finite for victims' families. They cannot afford to wait indefinitely for the truth.

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