Dear Pope Francis,
I read recently that you are going to beatify as a martyr an Italian judge – Rosario Livatino – who was murdered by the Mafia.
I want to tell you about a number of judges, lawyers and family members who were murdered in Northern Ireland by terrorists of the IRA.
I want you to consider beatifying as martyrs these innocent victims of the IRA.
I write to you as a former member of the IRA who has repented.
Shane Paul O’Doherty
Judge William Staunton
The IRA introduced into Northern Ireland the murders of members of the legal fraternity by shooting dead Resident Magistrate William Staunton, a Catholic, on the 11th of October 1972 as he drove his daughter, Sally-Ann, to St. Dominic’s convent grammar school on the Falls Road in Belfast.
Judge Staunton was shot in his car in front of his daughter, Sally-Ann, and her school friends.
Visiting such trauma on children was of no concern to the IRA.
Judge Staunton died of his injuries three months later in hospital.
Judge Rory Conaghan
On the 16th of September, 1974, the IRA murdered Judge Rory Conaghan, a Catholic, at his home in front of his 9 year old daughter, Deirdre.
Neighbours ushered Deirdre away from the murder scene.
Once more, inflicting trauma on a child was not a consideration of the IRA – trauma is clearly visible on Deirdre’s face in the photograph.
Fr. Edward Daly, the priest who famously waved a white handkerchief on Bloody Sunday, was appointed Bishop of Derry in 1974.
He recalled in his book, A Troubled See:
In September 1974, I was called upon to officiate at my first funeral of a victim of violence since my appointment as Bishop of Derry… Judge Rory Conaghan was a member of a distinguished Derry family and a man of great intelligence, integrity and faith. He was a personal friend of mine and widely admired in both communities.
He was murdered by a Provisional IRA gunman posing as a postman at his home in Belfast on the morning of 16 September 1974.
A Resident Magistrate, Robert McBirney, was murdered in Belfast on the same morning.
In my homily I said:
‘The death we mourn today is not just the act of an individual but of an organisation. Before it took place, there was in all probability a meeting, a discussion, a decision taken and a man designated to do the deed. Can any member of such an organisation feel free from the guilt of this crime? Surely the murders of Judge Conaghan and Mr. McBirney must bring home to us the fact that our country has now reached a state where it can afford only one division, the distinction between those who believe in such deeds and those who do not.
Too many people who call themselves Christians offer passive support to organisations that, in their inner hearts, they know are directly opposed to the mind and teaching of Christ. Perhaps these deaths may help to unite all people in our community who are prepared to take a public stand for Christian values. They cannot kill us all. The difference between Unionist and Nationalist pales into insignificance when one is faced with this kind of savagery where a man is sent to his death at breakfast by a teenage gunman.
It would be better to die confronting evil than to live and condone it.’
Magistrate Martin McBirney
On the same day, and at the time, the IRA also murdered Resident Magistrate Martin McBirney, a Protestant, at his home in front of his family.
He was standing in the back kitchen of his home when an IRA killer burst in and shot him dead.
Following the murders of Justices Conaghan and McBirney, the IRA Army Council’s mouthpiece – the Irish Republican Publicity Bureau in Dublin – declared that they were murdered because they were “willing agents of a most corrupt, rotten and evil judicial system”.
Martin McBirney was a prominent member of the Northern Ireland Labour Party.
McBirney had married a Catholic and, while a barrister, had acted for the defence in civil rights’ cases and had represented socialist activist Eamon McCann.
He had, among other things, jailed the Rev. Ian Paisley.
The IRA’s statement went on to mistakenly refer to the murder victims as ‘High Court judges’.
They weren’t High Court judges, but were in fact lowly Resident Magistrates, not that this ultimately mattered to the IRA.
The McBirney family’s grief was compounded when Frances Cooke, Mrs. McBirney’s sister-in-law, died of a heart attack after hearing the news of Martin’s murder.
Judge William Doyle
On the 16th of January, 1983, Judge William Doyle was murdered by the IRA as he came out of Mass in St. Brigid’s Catholic church on Derryvolgie Avenue in Belfast.
Judge Doyle had offered a 72 year old lady a lift home in his car and, as they both exited the church, two IRA gunmen fired at him.
He was hit by six bullets in the chest and stomach.
The 72 year old lady with him was shot in the stomach and seriously injured.
Judge Tom Travers and Mary Travers
Sixteen months later, IRA gunmen again used the same Catholic church to attack Judge Tom Travers.
One gunman shot his 22-year-old daughter, Mary, in the spine. She fell to the ground and her mother fell with her.
A second gunman shot Tom Travers in the shoulder, knocking him to the ground.
The gunman then stood over him and fired five more bullets into him – miraculously, he survived.
The second gunman then put his gun to Travers’ wife’s head and pulled the trigger twice – the gun misfired both times.
Mary Travers, however, died in her mother’s arms.
Mary was a Catholic school teacher.
The IRA’s intent was clear – to murder the judge AND HIS ENTIRE FAMILY AS WELL.
Gerry Adams had appeared in court in front of Judge Travers a few weeks before the judge and his family were attacked.
Judge Travers never changed his belief that the attack was in some part related to matters that had occurred in the courtroom that day.
Judge Maurice Gibson and Cecily Gibson
On the 28th of April, 1987, the IRA murdered 73-year-old Appeal Justice Maurice Gibson and his wife Cecily by bombing their car at the border, with claims of collusion between the IRA and the Irish police, An Garda Síochána, in relation to the passing of information about the Judge’s travel details.
The fact that the IRA bombers were fully aware that Cecily Gibson was traveling in the car along with her husband did not cause the IRA any difficulty in detonating the massive bomb which murdered her along with her husband.
The couple were only identifiable by their dental records.
Robin, Maureen and David Hanna
Fifteen months later on the 23rd of July, 1988, IRA bombers attempted to repeat the border bomb tactic, this time intending to murder Catholic Justice Eoin Higgins and his wife who were traveling in their car toward Belfast.
On this occasion, when they exploded the bomb they instead murdered a Hillsborough family returning from Disneyland in Florida, Robin and Maureen Hanna and their 6 year old son, David.
The IRA had mistaken the Hanna’s car for the judge’s car.
Seventeen-year-old Peter Hanna and his nineteen-year-old sister, Pauline, were left to mourn their parents and sibling.
Pauline Hanna was readying a ‘welcome home’ party for her family when news of the explosion broke.
The 1,000 pound bomb blew a crater in the road and scattered luggage and body parts over a wide area.
Again there were hints of collusion between the IRA and elements of the Irish police, An Garda Síochána, regarding knowledge of Justice Higgins’ travel plans.
Rev. Gordon McMullan, the Anglican Bishop of Down and Dromore, told mourners attending the Hanna funerals:
”The spokesmen who represent the killers have made their excuses and expressed their regrets. But the fact is that Robin, Maureen and little David are dead because some people set out with lawless intent and deliberate planning to inflict injury and death on other human beings. If it had not been these members of the Hanna family, it would have been the members of some other family. The plotters planned death and death is what ensued.”
Edgar Graham, Barrister and Lecturer
On the 7th of December, 1983, two IRA gunmen shot Human Rights’ barrister and law lecturer Edgar Graham in the back of his head as he stood talking to his friend and colleague Dermot Nesbitt in Queen’s University.
Edgar Graham was not a judge.
As the 29-year-old law lecturer lay dying outside the campus library, cheering erupted among republican students in the students’ union as witnessed by Lady Sylvia Hermon.
Edgar Graham was a rising star in Unionism and he was tipped to be a possible leader of the Unionist Party.
The IRA admitted Edgar Graham’s murder in a statement, adding that it “should be a salutary lesson to those loyalists who stand foursquare behind the laws and forces of oppression of the nationalist people”.
By this reckoning, every Protestant with an opinion was a ‘legitimate target’ of the IRA.
Gerry Adams refused to condemn the killing since he was not prepared “to join the hypocritical chorus of establishment figures who were vocal only in their condemnation of IRA actions and silent on British actions” – Gerry’s “whatabout” paramorality…
That other mouthpiece, Danny Morrison, opined that “It has been a very, very bad time, when it seems everything the IRA has touched has turned to tragedy” – Morrison was referring to the fact that since the previous November, the IRA had murdered 17 innocent people “by mistake“.
You were right, Danny – every single death caused by the IRA was unnecessary, immoral and criminal and only after that ‘a tragedy’.
Commentator Alex Kane, recalling Edgar Graham’s murder, wrote:
“They murdered him because he was the sort of unionist they most feared: a unionist who wanted good, accountable, power-sharing government here; a unionist who was not afraid to criticise loyalist paramilitaries; a unionist who believed that the law was worth upholding; a unionist who could bring new thinking and leadership to the UUP. And, even after all this time, they still don’t like unionists like Edgar Graham. Who knows if Edgar would have become leader? All we need to know, and remember, is that he was killed because he was an enemy of all paramilitarism.”
On September 29th, 1979, Pope John Paul II said to 250,000 Catholics at Drogheda in Ireland:
‘I wish to speak to all men and women engaged in violence. I appeal to you, in language of passionate pleading. On my knees I beg you, to turn away from the path of violence and to return to the ways of peace.’
By the early 1980s during the IRA prison hunger strikes, Ireland’s Roman Catholic bishops stated:
“We therefore implore the hunger strikers and those who direct them to reflect deeply on the evil of their actions and their consequences. The contempt for human life, the incitement to revenge, the exploitation of the hunger strikers to further a campaign of murder, the intimidation of the innocent, the initiation of children into violence, all this constitutes an appalling mass of evil.”
In November of 1987, a week after the IRA’s Enniskillen “Remembrance Day” bombing that murdered 12 victims (11 civilians and one police officer), the Irish Bishops said:
“There is no room for ambivalence in the face of the present campaigns of republican violence. The choice for all Catholics is clear. It is a choice between good and evil. It is sinful to join organisations committed to violence or to remain in them. It is sinful to support such organisations or to call on others to support them. People must choose.”
In March 1988, following the murders of the two British Army corporals in Belfast – murders which were broadcast on television – Cardinal Cahal Daly said:
“For God’s sake rid our hearts of this poison. Evil must be rejected totally and unequivocally. There must be no ambivalence, no double standards, no selective indignation. The real face of I.R.A. violence was shown and it was horrible to see.”
At the funeral of Patsy Gillespie in October 1990 – a Catholic man who was chained to car bomb and then forced to drive it into a British Army border checkpoint where the IRA detonated the bomb by radio, killing Patsy and six British soldiers – Bishop Edward Daly told the congregation that the IRA and its supporters were:
“the complete contradiction of Christianity – they may say they are followers of Christ – some of them may even still engage in the hypocrisy of coming to church, but their lives and their works proclaim clearly that they follow Satan.”
If an Italian judge murdered by the Mafia is to be beatified as a martyr, why aren’t the judges and family members who were murdered by the IRA in Northern Ireland also to be beatified as martyrs, even when some of them were leaving a Catholic church directly after attending Mass?
What have you to say, Pope Francis?