Northern Ireland

The IRA man and Maze escapee from loyalist Tigers Bay

Harry Murray on the far right, pictured on the 25th anniversary of the escape from the Maze prison.
Harry Murray on the far right, pictured on the 25th anniversary of the escape from the Maze prison.

WHILE Ian Paisley's comments about the "Catholic IRA" have been fiercely criticised, not all republican paramilitary recruits have been Catholics.

In the recently released book Anatomy Of A Killing, award-winning author and journalist Ian Cobain spoke to one high profile IRA man - who was involved in the 1983 Maze escape - who was a Protestant from the loyalist Tigers Bay area of north Belfast.

Harry Murray was jailed for the murder of police photographer Millar McAllister who was shot dead in April 1978 at his home in Lisburn, Co Antrim.

The 36-year-old RUC man was shot three times and was targeted after an IRA suspect, who was being held in Castlereagh holding centre, recognised him from a byline picture in Pigeon Racing News and Gazette. The RUC officer was a keen pigeon fancier who penned a monthly column under the pseudonym 'The Copper'.

After tracing him through his racing pigeon connections, Harry Murray and another IRA member were sent to carry out the killing.

The unit had an informer among them, and Murray and the other IRA personnel involved were arrested within hours.

One of the suspects was found hanging in his cell after a lengthy interrogation, sparking accusations in Republican circles that he had been murdered by the RUC.

While he was among a minority he was the not the only Protestant to join a republican organisation.

INLA leader Ronnie Bunting, who was murdered in 1980, was also a Protestant and the son of a British Army major.

In Murray's case he became sympathetic to the republican cause after being driven out of his home in Tigers Bay by loyalist paramilitaries following his marriage to a Catholic woman from a republican family.

He was a former member of the Royal Air Force who had served overseas.

His military career ended abruptly after one too many breaches of discipline. Speaking to journalist Ian Cobain he said “I just couldn’t take orders".

He married and moved across the interface to a nationalist area of north Belfast.

In 1983, while serving time for the killing of the RUC officer, Murray took part in the IRA jailbreak from the Maze. He was wounded and recaptured, saying he was set upon by prison officers who berated him as “a turncoat b*****d”.

Released from prison in 1993 he told Cobain "I thought what I did was right. He [McAllister] was the enemy. It had to be done".

Read more: Ian Paisley stands over 'Catholic IRA' remarks