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Post office worker's murder shattered the peace process - The Irish News
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Post office worker's murder shattered the peace process

It was just three months after the IRA declared its ceasefire when innocent postal worker Frank Kerr was murdered as he carried out his day's work. On the 20th anniversary of his death, Suzanne McGonagle looks back at the killing of the 'first victim of peace'

IT was supposed to be the start of a peaceful future when the IRA announced that it was declaring a 'complete' ceasefire.

Their statement on August 31 1994 raised hopes for peace and an end to 25 years of conflict that had led to the deaths of more than 3,000 people.

But less than three months later, that peace was shattered.

Postal worker Frank Kerr from south Armagh was shot in the head as he worked at the mail office in Newry.

The IRA admitted its members were involved in the raid on the office but denied it was a breach of the ceasefire.

Twenty years on and Mr Kerr's killer has never been brought to justice.

Mr Kerr's murder is one of those being probed by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET). However, it remains unclear what the status of the investigation is.

The identity of the man believed to have murdered him is understood to be known to police, yet he has never faced any charges in connection with the murder.

It is also believed that Mr Kerr's killer may have been involved in the brutal murder of south Armagh man Paul Quinn, who was beaten to death in a barn in Co Monaghan in 2007.

As family and colleagues of Mr Kerr today mark the 20th anniversary of his murder, an SDLP councillor has recalled his stark memories of how the 53-year-old "suffered the supreme sacrifice for his job" as he struggled with the IRA gang.

Frank Feeley has also described how the killing shattered hopes for peace in 1994.

It was at 9.40am on November 10 1994 when three men dressed in postmen's uniforms pulled up at the Newry sorting office gates in a Royal Mail van and drove through.

After tying up a number of employees they ordered another worker to take them to the registered mail office where cash was stored.

A struggle ensued between the gunman and Mr Kerr and he was shot in the head. He was rushed to the nearby Daisy Hill Hospital but died hours later.

A single man who lived alone in a farmhouse in Camlough, he was the first person that the IRA killed after its ceasefire.

The organisation admitted the robbery and killing but claimed the operation had not been sanctioned by the leadership and was instead carried out by individuals acting on their own.

It was not the first time that the postal worker had faced criminal gangs as he carried out his work.

He was abducted in November 1973 by the Provisional IRA whilst making deliveries in south Armagh.

His van was robbed and he was held hostage for four days.

At his funeral, Royal Mail workers formed a guard of honour for the "first victim of the peace" as workers from all over Ireland turned out to mourn their colleague.

The priest at his Requiem Mass, Fr John Travers, said Mr Kerr's family had requested his death must not be used as an excuse to derail the peace process.

"His death must not be an excuse to throw up our hands in horror, but must challenge us to proceed with the search for peace and reconciliation," he said.

A statement from Cardinal Cahal Daly, read out at the funeral, described the killing as "a foul and despicable deed".

"This cruel and callous murder is at a time when everyone was rejoining in God's great blessing for peace," he said.

Cardinal Daly also said at the time that the murder cast a cloud over the peace process on which great hopes were placed.

"The present opportunity for peace is one which we must not lose or allow to be lost through any further acts of this kind."

Mr Feeley last night recalled the shock of people in Newry and further afield at Mr Kerr's brutal murder.

"The man was just doing his job. He felt he was doing the right thing," he said.

"He resisted giving over the money, he was very conscientious with his job and he didn't believe he should hand over the money.

"He was an incredible man, a very nice man. He was held in very high esteem by the post office and the workers.

"People were absolutely shocked in Newry and post office workers were totally shocked at his murder. It was so brutal.

"I remember waiting for his coffin coming out of his wee house near the lake, it was just so very sad.

"It was a huge funeral, there were a lot of people there, everyone was just so shocked."

Mr Feeley said the killing came at a time when people in Northern Ireland believed they were entering peaceful times.

"We felt that that period was coming to an end. Newry had suffered more than most down the years, it was bombed out of existence, the hotel, the pubs - they were all affected," he said.

"People didn't expect it, it was extraordinary that this murder was carried out, especially at that time when we were supposed to be in peace.

"But [the IRA] saw it as a robbery gone wrong.

"In a way, it was seen as the south Armagh division doing their own thing - they were probably the most powerful division of the IRA.

"It did shock everyone and the condemnation from everyone at the time illustrated that.

"Mr Kerr was being a conscientious man carrying out his job. He suffered the supreme sacrifice for his job."

It has been reported that Mr Kerr's killer was involved in the murder of a young man in Cullyhanna in 2007.

Paul Quinn (21) was lured from his home to a farm near Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, where he was beaten to death by the Provisional IRA.

His mother Breege Quinn last night said the family believed the man who led the gang who killed her son was also involved in the murder of Mr Kerr.

"He [Mr Kerr] was a victim of the peace as well," she said.

"He was shot after the IRA were supposed to have called a ceasefire.

"We believe some of those involved in Mr Kerr's murder were also involved in Paul's killing too. It is very sad that they were able to do this again.

"It is so very hard to live with, seven years have gone by since Paul's death, but it feels like yesterday.

"All we want is truth and justice, but how can we get it

when there's so many lies being told."

A service will be held in Newry today to mark the 20th anniversary of Mr Kerr's death.

Morag Turnbull from Royal Mail said: "On the November 10 Royal Mail will be holding a special service in Newry Delivery Office for colleagues to remember their colleague Frank Kerr".

"There are also plans in place to replace the summer seat outside of the Newry office and erect a plaque on it in memory of Frank".

* SUPREME SACRIFICE: Left, Frank Kerr who was shot dead by members of an IRA gang during a post office raid in 1994. Above, from left, Paul Quinn who was beaten to death by members of the IRA in 2007; Mr Quinn's mother Breege Quinn; SDLP councillor Frank Feeley


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