Community reactions to 1988 killings charted by NIO
AMONGST files from 1988 released in Belfast this week is a memo on recent atrocities in Northern Ireland and the reactions of the two communities to them.
Written by J E McConnell of the NIO’s Political Affairs Division for direct rule ministers in March 1988, it highlights the address of Cardinal Tomas O Fiaich at the funeral of Aidan McAnespie, who was shot dead by a soldier at a border checkpoint at Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone.
The military claimed he was killed by "an accidental discharge" but this was disputed. The Cardinal’s remark that he "could not fail to call murder the killing in broad daylight of one of the best known men in the parish" was attacked by the UUP’s David Trimble as "tantamount to incitement".
Turning to the murder of three mourners at Milltown cemetery in Belfast during the funeral of three IRA members killed by the SAS in Gibraltar on March 16 1988, the official noted the divergent views in the two communities.
"The unionist community viewed this as a bizarre and isolated attack by an unbalanced individual. However, there was greater suspicion within the nationalist community (many of whom saw at least the possibility of a link between Stone and a paramilitary group) and the ease with which he carried out his attack (why did the RUC van move away?)"
In the official’s view these type of questions may have generated a level of hysteria and tension which "boiled over into the murders of two undercover soldiers at a republican funeral three days later".
The military deaths occurred during the funeral procession of IRA man Kevin Brady, one of those killed by Michael Stone.
Army corporals Derek Wood and David Howes, who had arrived in Northern Ireland the previous week, were beaten by a mob and then driven away to be killed by the IRA.
The two soldiers drove towards the IRA cortege at high speed and then tried to reverse their car but found their exit blocked by black taxis.
One of the soldiers fired a warning shot before they were overpowered, beaten and stripped before being shot dead.
According to McConnell, whatever engendered the mob violence that occurred, "the murder of the two soldiers has affected the unionist community in a very deep and personal way. They are particularly incensed that it occurred because the RUC were standing back to allow the funerals to proceed."