Northern Ireland

Ten murders at Kingsmill an ‘overtly sectarian attack by IRA’, coroner rules

A little-known republican paramilitary group had claimed responsibility for the 1976 shootings.

Alan Black, who was shot multiple times, was the sole survivor of the attack
Alan Black, who was shot multiple times, was the sole survivor of the attack (Oliver McVeigh/PA)

The shooting dead of 10 Protestant workmen at Kingsmill in Co Armagh in 1976 was an “overtly sectarian attack by the IRA”, a coroner has ruled.

The atrocity at Kingsmill, which was one of the most notorious of the Troubles, was claimed by a little-known group calling itself the South Armagh Republican Action Force.

It was long seen as a front for the IRA, which was supposedly on ceasefire at the time of the sectarian massacre.

Alan Black, centre, was shot multiple times in the attack
Alan Black, centre, was shot multiple times in the attack (Oliver McVeigh/PA)

Delivering his findings in the long-running inquest, coroner Brian Sherrard heavily criticised the IRA, and its political representatives, for failing to engage with the proceedings.

The 10 workmen were murdered on January 5 1976 when their minibus was ambushed outside the village of Kingsmill on their way home from working at a textiles factory.

Those on board were asked their religion, and the only Catholic was ordered to run away.

The killers forced the 11 remaining men to line up outside the van before opening fire.

Alan Black, who was shot multiple times, was the sole survivor.

No-one has ever been convicted.

Mr Sherrard dismissed the suggestion that the IRA had not committed the murders as a cynical lie.

The coroner said the “glaring omission” in the proceedings had been the absence of any evidence from those who caused the attack.

“The glaring omission in the inquest was the absence of any disclosure or evidence from those who caused the deaths,” he said.

Posters of the men killed in the attack
Posters of the men killed in the attack

“Unlike other legacy inquests which have examined the actions of the state in directly causing death, those responsible for the deaths at Kingsmill have not given an account either personally or through any organisation or any political party.

“Numerous calls to assist and provide answers were met with silence.

“Accordingly, the inquest did not receive disclosure from any individual concerned in the attack, nor their organisation, nor their political representatives, although expert evidence was given that records may well exist.”

Mr Sherrard said there had been no recognition from the perpetrators of the “utter wrongness” of the Kingsmill attack.

He said: “Neither did the inquest hear evidence from the perpetrators regarding matters such as the motivation for the attack, its planning and personnel and its execution.

“There has been no recognition by any perpetrator or their organisation or political representatives as to the utter wrongness of the attack which served to end the lives of 10 men and to devastate the lives of untold others.”

The Kingsmill memorial wall in Co Armagh
The Kingsmill memorial wall in Co Armagh (Niall Carson/PA)

As Mr Black and bereaved relatives watched from the public gallery of the court in Belfast, Mr Sherrard outlined extensive ballistics evidence linking the weapons used at Kingsmill to a series of attacks carried out by the IRA.

He said the “unassailable” evidence showed that the guns fired at Kingsmill were the “exclusive property” of the IRA.

Mr Sherrard rejected the claim that the “rogue” republican group had carried out the attack as a “lie”, insisting it was perpetrated by the IRA, which used a “cynical ploy” to mask its involvement in “nakedly sectarian killings”.

The Kingsmill shootings were seen as a retaliatory action in response to loyalist attacks against two Catholic families the day before in which six men were fatally injured.

Mr Sherrard acknowledged the “ostensible” link to the attacks on the O’Dowd and Reavey families, but he made clear that planning for the Kingsmill shootings had started “long before” the targeting of those two families.