Since its foundation in 1970, the Provisional IRA’s ‘Army Council’ has authorised five types of War Crimes (in the case of an armed conflict not of an international character, serious violations of Article 3 common to the Four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949).
Previously, in Part 1, I examined the IRA’s use of child soldiers.
Here I examine the IRA’s policy of deliberately murdering non-combatant civilians.
IRA Shoot to Kill Murders
There were a number of different reasons why the IRA decided to deliberately murder civilians, but a primary purpose was to achieve terror, shock and publicity. While the optics of these murders clearly showed a bias toward murdering Protestant Unionist civilians, murders of Catholic Nationalist civilians also occurred in order to similarly terrorise and to stem opposition in areas the IRA wished to control.
On 02.02.77, in Martin McGuinness’ home town, the IRA decided to carry out the spectacular murder of a totally innocent civilian and businessperson, Jeffrey Agate, prominent MD of the American Du Pont chemical plant, which was one of the biggest and best employers of both Protestants and Catholics in the North West. To murder him, the IRA had to change its rules of engagement temporarily to suddenly make business persons targets in order to inflict more damage on the economy of Northern Ireland. Two IRA gunmen shot unarmed Agate when he arrived home from work in the evening, after which the brave patriots ran away.
The people of Derry were horrified and a mass protest against the murder occurred in Guildhall Square . Dr Raymond McClean, former Mayor of Derry and civil rights’ activist, noted in his book ‘The Road to Bloody Sunday’ that “Jeff Agate was an honest and just human being of the highest calibre. His assassination by the IRA left me in total disbelief and disgust.” Once more, Martin McGuinness pretended ignorance of a War Crime he and his Army Council colleagues had authorised.
On 07.04.81, the IRA decided on another shocking civilian murder, this time of 29 year old unarmed Protestant mother, Joanne Mathers, who was supplementing her family’s income by collecting census forms.
As she was chatting to a householder in Anderson Crescent, Gobnascale, in the Waterside area, a masked IRA gunman ran up to her, grabbed at her census forms and shot her through the neck. Wounded, she ran into the hallway of the house and the householder slammed the door shut to try to defend her.
The IRA gunman smashed through the glass door, grabbed at more census forms and ran off brandishing his weapon to deter people from approaching him.
Joanne died from her wound. Initially, the IRA and INLA denied her murder, but the IRA was forced to admit it shortly afterwards.
McGuinness pretended in a most cowardly fashion that he had left the IRA before this war crime and knew nothing about it, although he had in fact authorised it.
He was once more telling huge lies ‘for the cause’.
On 07.12.83, 29 year old human rights’ lawyer, law lecturer and Ulster Unionist member of Stormont for South Belfast, Edgar Graham, was chatting in Queen’s University to colleague Dermot Nesbitt when, without any warning, an IRA gunman approached and shot him a number of times in the back of the head, killing him instantly.
Graham’s War Crime murder was intended to terrorise and intimidate Unionism and Protestants in general. The IRA’s Army Council ordered his murder because his opinions were deemed to be mortal to its armed struggle, a murder since defended by Sinn Fein.
The IRA also murdered a total of six members of the judiciary and almost murdered a seventh – but neither the IRA nor Sinn Fein sees any hypocrisy in the creation of a wholly biased Pat Finucane Human Rights centre.
IRA Murders of Family Members
The IRA had decided long before on a terrorist tactic which involved exceeding the murder of the main target – who was usually a male – by deliberately murdering his wife or other family members.
On 21.09.72, a six-man IRA team arrived at the isolated home of Thomas Bullock, a member of the UDR, in Aghalane, Derrylin, County Fermanagh.
When his wife Emily answered the front door, she was blasted to death and the gang climbed over her body and entered the living room where they shot Thomas in the head and killed him.
Neighbours reported that as the gang left the area they sounded their car horns and cheered at the job well done.
On 04.02.79, the IRA murdered Catholic civilian and retired prison officer, Patrick Mackin, as he sat in his chair at home in Ardoyne; to increase the shock and terror factor to prison officers, they also murdered his Protestant wife, Violet, as she sat in her chair.
On 27.08.79, the IRA exploded a remote control bomb on a boat at Mullaghmore in County Sligo to murder Lord Louis Mountbatten who was in his 79th year. The IRA was aware that a party of civilians was aboard the boat, including women and children, but the bomber – Thomas MacMahon – had been authorised by the IRA Army Council to proceed with the bombing without regard for civilian casualties.
As a result, 83 year old Doreen Lady Brabourne was murdered, as were Mountbatten’s grandson, 14 year old Nicholas Knatchbull and 15 year old crew member Paul Maxwell from Fermanagh.
In response to this War Crime, Gerry Adams stated, “The IRA gave clear reasons for the execution… What the IRA did to him is what Mountbatten had been doing all his life to other people and with his war record I don’t think he could have objected to dying in what was clearly a war situation. In my opinion, the IRA achieved its objective.” Adams entirely disregarded the civilian casualties.
On 21.01.81, an eight-man IRA gang murdered former leading Ulster Unionist MP and member of the RUC Reserve, James Stronge of Tynan Abbey allegedly in response to various loyalist attacks on nationalists. For good measure, they also murdered his 86 year old father, Sir Norman, former Speaker of the Stormont parliament who had fought at the Somme and had been awarded the Military Cross and the Belgian Croix de Guerre for bravery.
Unlike his cowardly murderers, Sir Norman Stronge had worn a uniform, had fought according to the laws and customs of war and had abided by Geneva conventions. By any stretch of the imagination, the deliberate murder of an 86 year old pensioner constituted a War Crime. For full effect, the IRA also burned down Tynan Abbey.
The Republic of Ireland Supreme Court later rejected an appeal by Seamus Shannon against his extradition to Northern Ireland to face charges of involvement in the Stronge double murder. The Court rejected the defence that these were political offences, saying that they were “so brutal, cowardly and callous that it would be a distortion of language if they were to be accorded the status of a political offence”. Shannon was extradited but later acquitted.
Regarding Sir Norman Stronge’s murder, Gerry Adams said: “The only complaint I have heard from nationalists or anti-unionists is that he was not shot 40 years ago.” Adams evidently had no problem with the War Crime murders of civilians.
On 08.04.84, two IRA gunmen attacked Catholic magistrate Tom Travers and his family as they were coming out of Mass. One gunman shot his daughter, Mary, in the spine and she and her mother fell to the ground.
The second gunman shot Tom Travers first in the shoulder, which caused him to fall, and then shot him five more times as he lay on the ground. The gunman who had shot Mary Travers then put his gun to her mother’s head and pulled the trigger twice – the gun misfired both times.
Mary Travers, twenty-two years old, died in her mother’s arms. Tom Travers miraculously survived. The IRA claimed afterwards that Mary Travers had been accidentally hit by a bullet that passed through Tom Travers.
Forensics and witness accounts disproved the IRA lies. A woman member of the IRA, Mary McArdle, was arrested nearby after the shooting and was found to be carrying two guns, a wig and a black sock attached to her thighs. She was sentenced to life in prison and served fourteen years.
Tom Travers identified a well-known Belfast republican, Joseph Haughey from Unity Flats, as the gunman who stood over him and shot him, but Haughey was acquitted. [Haughey was later accused of being a Special Branch informer.]
Travers believed that Gerry Adams personally ordered the attack on his family.
The details of the Travers’ attack proved that the IRA had deliberately intended to kill all of the Travers’ family as a ‘shock and awe’ message to other judges.
On 25.04.87, the IRA murdered Chief Justice Maurice Gibson, 74 years of age, and for good measure murdered his Protestant wife, Cecily, who was 67 years old.
By authorising the deliberate murder of these innocent family members, the IRA Army Council had made itself liable to prosecution – even now – for crimes against humanity.
IRA Volunteer and Civilian Bomb Casualties
Within months of its creation, the Provisional IRA discovered that it was unable to plant bombs in a manner safe for either the bomb makers or the civilian population.
On 26.02.70, a powerful incendiary bomb exploded prematurely at Dunree Gardens in the Creggan estate in Derry killing three senior IRA men, Tommy McCool, Tommy Carlin and Joseph Coyle, but also two innocent children, Carol Ann McCool (4) and Bernadette McCool (9).
The following is a list of the dead caused by IRA bombs in just eighteen months from February 71 until August 72 with some surprising conclusions.
On 02.11.71, the IRA exploded two bombs on the Ormeau Road in Belfast, one at a drapery shop and the other at the Red Lion bar, and murdered three Protestant civilians, John Cochrane (67), Mary Gemmell (55) and William Jordan (31).
On 22.11.71, IRA man Michael Crossey, was killed in a premature bomb explosion in Lurgan, County Armagh.
On 11.12.71, The IRA bombed a furniture shop on the Shankill Road in Belfast, murdering four Protestant civilians, two of whom were children: Hugh Bruce (70), Harold King (29), Tracey Munn (2) and Colin Nicholl (1).
On 18.12.71, three IRA men, James Sheridan, John Bateson and Martin Lee were killed by a premature explosion on King Street, Magherafelt, County Derry.
On 30.12.71, IRA GHQ Quartermaster Jack McCabe was killed in Dublin while mixing black powder explosives for use in Belfast.
On 26.01.72, IRA man Peter McNulty was killed in a premature bomb explosion at Castlewellan RUC base, County Down.
On 05.02.72, two IRA men, Phelim Grant and Charles McCann, were killed in a premature bomb explosion on a barge in Lough Neagh.
On 21.02.72, four IRA men, Joseph Magee, Robert Dorrian, Gerard Steele and Gerard Bell were killed in a premature bomb explosion while driving on the Knockbreda Road in Belfast.
On 09.03.72, four IRA men, Anthony Lewis, Gerard Crossen, Sean Johnson and Thomas McCann, were killed in a premature bomb explosion in Clonard Street, Belfast.
On 20.03.72, the IRA exploded a car bomb in Lr Donegall Street, Belfast, killing seven people, two RUC officers, a UDR soldier and four Protestant civilians, James Macklin (30), Ernest Dougan (39), Sydney Bell (65) and Henry Miller (79). Hundreds of people were injured.
On 07.04.72, three 17 year old IRA volunteers, Charles McCrystal, Samuel Hughes and John McErlain, were killed in a premature explosion in Bawnmore Park, Greencastle, Belfast.
On 28.05.72, four IRA volunteers and four civilians were killed in a premature bomb explosion in a house in Anderson Street, Short Strand, Belfast. The IRA members included two seventeen year olds, Joseph Fitzsimmons and John McIlhone, a nineteen year old, Martin Engelen, and Edward McDonnell. The four civilians included a seventeen year old, Geraldine McMahon, and Mary Clarke, Henry Crawford and John Nugent.
On 21.07.72, which became known as ‘Bloody Friday’, the IRA exploded twenty bombs in Belfast and, entirely predictably, murdered nine persons, injured seventy-seven women and girls and fifty-five men and boys.
The dead were Protestants Stephen Parker (14), William Crothers (15), William Irvine (18), Thomas Killops (39) and Jackie Gibson (45) and Catholics Margaret O’Hare (34) and Brigid Murray (65) and two British soldiers, Stephen Cooper (19) and Philip Price (27).
On 31.07.72, the IRA exploded three car bombs in Claudy, nine miles from Derry, to coincide with Operation Motorman when the British Army ended republican ‘no go’ areas by smashing barricades and occupying them with high troop concentrations.
The IRA’s bombs in Claudy murdered nine civilians – four Protestants, Kathryn Eakin (8), William Temple (16), David Miller (60) and James McClelland (65), and five Catholics, Joseph Connolly (15), Joseph McCloskey (38), Arthur Hone (38), Rose McLaughlin (52) and Elizabeth McElhinney (59).
On 26.08.72, two IRA volunteers, James Carlin and Martin Curran, were killed in a premature bomb explosion at Downpatrick racecourse grandstand.
In just eighteen months, the Provisional IRA – using ordinary time bombs intended to attack commercial targets – killed at least at least 33 civilians, at least 28 of its own volunteers and 2 RUC officers, 1 UDR soldier and 2 British soldiers.
These statistics alone proved beyond any doubt that the IRA’s bomb technology and protocols could never safeguard either civilians or its own volunteers.
The IRA Army Council’s decision to cynically continue this type of bombing campaign was taken in the full knowledge that it would continue to attack and murder innocent civilians – and kill a large number of its own cannon fodder ‘volunteers’ – which is exactly what happened for many years.
The IRA later graduated to such War Crimes as:
- the Birmingham Pub bombings (21.11.74) which murdered 21 civilians and injured 182
- the La Mon bombing (17.02.78) which murdered 12 civilians and injured 30
- the Harrods bombing (17.12.83) which murdered 3 civilians, journalist Philip Geddes (24), a U.S. citizen, Kenneth Salvesen (28) and Jasmine Cochrane-Patrick (25) and 3 police officers, and injured over 100 others.
- the Enniskillen Remembrance Day bombing (08.11.87), which murdered 12 civilians and injured 63
- the Teebane bombing (17.01.92) which murdered 8 civilians and injured 6
- the Warrington bombing, (20.03.93) which murdered two children, Johnathan Ball (3) and Tim Parry (12) and injured 56 other civilians.
- the Shankill Road bombing (23.10.93) at Frizzells fish and chip shop which killed the IRA bomber and 9 Protestant civilians
The IRA’s Army Council had evidently decided in the early 1970s that it needed the regular civilian death toll produced by its bombing campaign to pressurize democratically elected British governments to surrender to its terrorist demands.
It does not appear to have ever considered the likelihood that it would face trial for crimes against humanity, unlike its cousin, ETA, whose leaders are now arraigned on these very charges.
In a later post, I will examine the IRA Army Council’s policy of ordering the specifically sectarian murders of innocent Protestant civilians.