Northern Ireland news

Clergy raised IRA murders of isolated Protestants

Sir John Wheeler

PROTESTANT clergymen told an NIO minister during the Troubles in 1993 that the IRA had extended its definition of "legitimate targets".

Young Protestant farmers about to set up home, they said, were being deliberately targeted.

The issue was raised at a meeting between ministers from the Presbytery of Tyrone and Sir John Wheeler on November 22, 1993. The clerics included the Rev William Bingham from Pomeroy, a leading Orangeman; the Rev Norman Brown and the former Presbyterian Moderator, Dr Godfrey Brown.

Opening for the delegation, Dr Brown explained that they had not come with a shopping list of demands but rather wished to convey to the government the feelings of their threatened and isolated community.

They had already written to the Prime Minister John Major asking him to visit Tyrone.

Rev Bingham emphasised that the fear felt by their community was no reflection on the work of the security forces. He described his own parish of Pomeroy – a small community which has suffered greatly during the Troubles. Within his area there had been 12 fatalities and he claimed that a common profile marked the victims: "Young men in their late twenties or early thirties, farmers who were about to inherit land, part-time members of the security forces, engaged to be married and planning to set up home in the area."

This left the isolated Protestant community feeling that it was IRA's intention to drive them out of the area and to put pressure on young Protestant families through actual violence or the threat of it. Rev Bingham said that his congregation felt they were paying a price for their `Britishness'. The local Presbyterian community needed reassurance.

Rev Brian Cruise from Kildress, Co Tyrone highlighted the IRA attack on one of his parishioners on the previous evening. He was also concerned that the IRA's idea of legitimate targets had widened well beyond the security forces. Rev Ivor Smith said that the last few years had been intense and he had lost two parishioners.

Sir John said he could empathise with the congregation since he represented Central London which had suffered from terrorism. He assured them that "while there were no panaceas", the security forces could use improved information technology to exploit the intelligence they had. The minister said the delegation should rest assured that Northern Ireland was safe in the prime minister's hands.

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