Belfast Telegraph

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'Martin McGuinness destroyed my family' - widower’s raw fury over IRA murder

Lowry Mathers and his wife Joanne Mathers, and their son Shane, from outside Bready, pictured a year before the 29 was shot dead as she collected census forms in the Gobnascale area of Londonderry.
Lowry Mathers and his wife Joanne Mathers, and their son Shane, from outside Bready, pictured a year before the 29 was shot dead as she collected census forms in the Gobnascale area of Londonderry.
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

The husband of a young mum brutally slain by the IRA as she collected census forms in Derry city has said he will never forgive ill Martin McGuinness, given his role in Sinn Fein and the IRA, for “destroying” his family.

Joanne Mathers was just 29 years old when an IRA gunman shot her dead on the doorstep of a Gobnascale home while she talked to the householder on an April afternoon in 1981.

Regarded as one of the most ruthless killings of the entire Troubles, the murder occurred in the midst of a republican campaign to stop the public co-operating with census takers after the terrorists claimed the forms were being used to gather intelligence.

Almost 36 years later, Joanne’s husband, Lowry, 67, who had to raise the couple’s then one-year-old son, Shane, alone, said he was still haunted by the loss of his wife and the fact that no one has been brought to justice for the heartless murder.

He also explained that he could not bring himself to forgive Sinn Fein or McGuinness, who was allegedly IRA chief of staff at the time of the shooting.

“I’m sorry, but I definitely don’t wish him well in his retirement,” said Lowry, who now lives near Strabane.

“People may well say he is a champion of peace but Joanne was murdered when she was just 29 years old, and I was left to bring up a child of just a year-and-a-half old by myself.

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“I had to navigate through all those milestones in his early years without her. 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, greeting them at the end of the day.

“She wasn’t there to comfort him when he was sick and wasn’t there to run to when he was hurt. She didn’t get to see her son grow up or graduate from university.

“He is 37 years old now and he lost out on so much when she was taken away from him.”

Lowry said he believed that former IRA commander McGuinness may be able to name his wife’s callous killer.

He added: “Joanne was a great wife and she was a loving mother to Shane. She was very clever and loved life.

“She had a lot of good friends, both Catholic and Protestant, and didn’t see any harm in anyone.

“Joanne had her whole life ahead of her, but she was not lucky enough to live to retirement. How can I forgive?”

Lowry also stressed that even more than three decades after the murder that destroyed his family, he is still haunted by the thought he could meet her killer in the street.

“If Martin McGuinness is the person that quite a few people think he is — this champion of peace — the very least he could do is report to the police anything he knows about the name of the person who murdered Joanne and have them arrested,” the widower pointed out.

“He must have known what was going on in Derry at that time. It was an organisation that he was the head of.”

But yesterday Martin McGuinness denied he has information about the murder.

He said: “I can state categorically that I have absolutely no knowledge about the tragic killing of Joanne Mathers.

“Dealing with the legacy of the past remains one of the key outstanding challenges of our peace process.”

Lowry admitted he felt bitter about people showering praise on McGuinness following the announcement of his retirement from politics. “I started my life sentence on April 7, 1981, and there is no way I could forgive for what was done to us,” he said.

“It was 36 years ago, but still every time I go into Derry to do shopping I look at the men passing me in the street and I think, ‘Was it him?’ That is just the way it is.

“I feel very bitter about it and all of these people praising Martin McGuinness. If they were in my shoes, (they would feel) differently.

“When I see people on television, even unionists, saying how great he is, I just get up and turn off the television. I can’t bear to listen to it. I feel no sympathy whatsoever for Martin McGuinness. My life and very much my son’s life has been ruined.

“My son was denied so much because the IRA murdered his mother, but I am very, very proud of him and the man he has become.”

Last week, DUP MP Ian Paisley Junior paid what some saw as a surprising tribute to McGuinness, saying that his “remarkable journey not only saved lives, but made the lives of countless people better”.

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