Leading article

The agony of Maria McShane

There have been many horrendous episodes during The Troubles of the last 40 years and beyond but the story of Maria McShane and her son Gavin must be regarded as among the most appalling.

Mrs McShane somehow survived a no warning loyalist attack on a bar in her home town of Keady, Co Armagh, which killed two other innocent civilians back in 1976 when she was pregnant with Gavin.

She suffered serious head injuries and lost an eye in the explosion, which was carried out by the notorious Glenanne gang acting in documented collusion with the forces of the state, but Gavin remained safe in her womb.

Mrs McShane always regarded him as her miracle baby when he was born a matter of months later and he grew up to be a fine young student at a college in nearby Armagh city.

In a cruel twist of fate, another loyalist gang entered a taxi depot and randomly shot dead Gavin and a fellow pupil in 1994 when they were both aged just 17.

The gunman, who has never been arrested despite being linked to a string of other killings, was confident enough not to wear a mask, and it has been established that he used a police personal protection firearm.

In addition, files relating to the RUC investigation into the taxi depot murders were subsequently shredded because they were reportedly contaminated with asbestos.

It needs to be accepted that all sections of our divided community have suffered dreadfully down the decades, with republicans, loyalists and on occasions police and military elements carrying out shocking outrages.

However, crimes directed against the ordinary population by those who are supposed to have the official responsibility of protecting them must be regarded in a particularly grave light.

Mrs McShane is now taking a civil action over her son's death, as we reported on Saturday and today, but there can be no guarantee that her case will reach an appropriate outcome.

As has been regularly proposed in these columns, a wider process which can allow the truth to be told and bring closure to our grieving victims from all sections of society is urgently required.

It may well be that prison sentences are not involved, but our elected representatives in Westminster, the Dail and above all Stormont need to provide us with solutions

Those who have suffered at the hands of republicans, loyalists and the forces of the state, including Maria and Gavin McShane, deserve nothing less.

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