Northern Ireland

Eugene Reavey calls on Ian Paisley to apologise for 'cowardly' solicitor slur

Eugene Reavey was wrongly accused of masterminding the Kingsmill massacre
Eugene Reavey was wrongly accused of masterminding the Kingsmill massacre

The Co Armagh pensioner wrongly accused by the late Ian Paisley of carrying out the Kingsmill massacre has called on his son to apologise for disparaging comments about solicitor Gavin Booth.

Eugene Reavey said North Antrim MP Ian Paisley Jnr was "cowardly" and that he had "failed to learn the lessons of his father's mistakes".

The DUP MP used the cover of parliamentary privilege to call Mr Booth, a fully qualified solicitor and partner in Belfast-based Phoenix Law, a "shameful snake-oil salesman", before accusing him of a "vindictive" legal action against a former RUC officer.

The remarks, made on Tuesday during a debate on the British government's controversial legacy bill, have been widely criticised.

Under parliamentary privilege, MPs are protected against civil or criminal liability for actions or statements made in the course of their legislative duties.

Mr Paisley has declined to comment further.

Ian Paisley. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Ian Paisley. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

Mr Booth plans to write to the House of Commons speaker asking that Hansard – the official record of proceedings – be corrected.

The Co Down-born lawyer acts on behalf of the family of Colum Marks, an IRA man shot by an RUC unit in disputed circumstances in 1991.

Read more: Eugene Reavey: A story of love and loss. Part One

A story of love and loss. Eugene Reavey Part 2

He also represents Eugene Reavey, who in 1999 was accused by the late Ian Paisley of carrying out one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles

The then DUP leader used parliamentary privilege to claim the 75-year-old masterminded the 1976 Kingsmill massacre in which ten Protestant workmen were shot dead.

The then RUC chief constable Ronnie Flanagan said Mr Paisley, who named 20 men in connection with IRA activity in south Armagh, was wrong. 

The Kingsmill killings came a day after two of Mr Reavey's brothers - John Martin (24) and Brian (22) - were shot dead by loyalists at their Whitecross home.

A third brother, Anthony (17), died several weeks later from his injuries.

Mr Reavey never received an apology from the long-standing North Antrim MP, who died in 2014.

In 2020, the House of Commons record was corrected during a debate sponsored by SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.

Afterwards, Mr Reavey told The Irish News: "The record now states that I am an innocent man."

But the father-of-seven said this week's remarks by Mr Paisley "brought back the hurt and fear" that his father's comments had triggered 24 years ago.

"He's failed to learn the lessons of his father's mistakes, as it's exactly the same as what his father did to me," Mr Reavey said.

"He knows he can get away with it but that doesn't make it right. He should apologise for those cowardly comments."

Mr Booth said he would be seeking to have the House of Commons record corrected. 

Solicitor Gavin Booth. Picture by Mal McCann
Solicitor Gavin Booth. Picture by Mal McCann

"I'll be writing to the speaker asking that the record be corrected, as I have professional qualifications, I'm a fully qualified lawyer, and I'm not a snake oil salesman," he said.

"The remarks were deeply offensive and called my professional integrity into disrepute."

The Phoenix Law partner described Mr Paisley's comments as "dangerous".

"I know things have changed since the Troubles but it only takes one person to take issue with me based on these dangerous remarks," he said.

In addition to the similarities with Mr Reavey's case, the DUP MP's comments also had echoes of claims made under parliamentary privilege by Douglas Hogg in 1989.

A week before lawyer Pat Finucane was shot dead by loyalists in his north Belfast home, the Tory MP claimed "some solicitors were unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA".

Paul O'Connor, director of the Derry-based Pat Finucane Centre, said interventions like Mr Paisley's "say more about the individuals who made them than those they were pointing the finger at".

"As we saw with Pat Finucane words can be lethal though no-one is suggesting that was the intention this week, but the intention was to abuse parliamentary privilege in order to denigrate the reputation and professionalism of a very diligent member of the legal profession who is doing his job," he said. 

"During the same debate we also had Conservative backbenchers talk about ‘republican lawyers’ in this jurisdiction."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said: "Lawyers are expected to serve their clients to the maximum extent possible. 

"It is up to the courts to then pass judgment on the merits of cases."