(There are former IRA volunteers who remain horrified by the Derry Brigade IRA murder of young mother Joanne Mathers and it is to these that I owe thanks for the information that identifies the gunman.)
It’s a chilling commentary on the makeup of SFIRA that even today, 23 years after the Belfast Agreement forced the IRA to mostly disband its ranks and destroy most of its weaponry, many former IRA volunteers are still afraid to be publicly identified when discussing the IRA’s Human Rights atrocities.
They fear for themselves or they fear for relatives living in areas where they might even now be intimidated or attacked.
The IRA Shoots, Bombs, Tortures & Disappears Women – Don’t They?
On Tuesday, April 7 of 1981, young Protestant mother Joanne Mathers approached the Catholic Gobnascale estate in the Waterside area of Derry/Londonderry to collect census forms and thereby earn a total fee of £160 to supplement the family’s farm income.
Collection of completed forms had begun the previous day, Monday.
I don’t know if Joanne had read The Belfast Telegraph on the evening of her last hours on this earth – it recorded the previous day’s attacks on census collectors, none of whom was harmed.
The report outlined that while IRA youths, some armed, had stolen completed forms from census enumerators in nationalist/Catholic areas, none of the collectors had been harmed.
The IRA would have assumed that all of those census personnel were Catholic.
Joanne was also most likely unaware that the census protests, fostered by the National H-Block Committee based in Dublin, had been designed by the IRA to highlight the prison protest for ‘Special Category Status’ by IRA prisoners that had been rumbling on for some years – (the same special status enjoyed presently by so-called ‘New IRA’ prisoners in Maghaberry Prison).
Sinn Féin leaders, including those in Derry, had been calling upon people to boycott the census and to support the protests across Northern Ireland by burning census forms.
The “H-Block Day of Action” in the city 20 weeks earlier – on November 12 – led to claims of widespread intimidation of both Catholic and Protestant businesses.
On that day, the IRA arranged another attack on home of former SDLP leader, Gerry Fitt, Westminster MP for West Belfast, who vigorously opposed any concessions to IRA hunger strikers.
To better understand how the IRA’s choreographed campaign of protest around the H-Block issue had affected the community – how it had created widespread fear and intimidation – it is useful to view a short RTE video recorded in Derry/Londonderry on November 12, on the H-Block Day of Action:
The heightened tension arising from the H-Block agitation had consequences across the community.
On January 2nd, Bishop Cahal Daly launched a broadside against the IRA’s campaign of murder and terror.
On January 16, three UDA gunmen shot the H-Block Action Committee’s Press Officer, Bernadette Devlin/McAliskey and her husband at their home in front of their children.
McAliskey/Devlin was shot nine times.
British soldiers who were observing the Devlin/McAliskey home captured the three UDA gunmen and rendered first aid that saved the lives of both Bernadette and her husband.
On the same day, the IRA left a ‘soft message’ for John Hume, lest he and his Social Democrat colleagues might misunderstand the consequences of a second IRA H-Block hunger strike costing prisoners’ lives.
The IRA’s dream was the escalation of the very communal violence that would SMASH STORMONT and undermine the social and political fabric of Northern Ireland.
On January 22, eight heavily armed IRA attackers stormed the home of 87-year-old WWI Battle of the Somme Military Cross recipient, Sir Norman Stronge and murdered him.
They also murdered his son, 48-year-old James Stronge, and burned Tynan Abbey before escaping.
The Irish Supreme Court later rejected a defence that these were ‘political offences’, declaring 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“.
The IRA Army Council was mighty displeased with the Catholic church that in those years would not toe the party line…
Cardinal Tomas O’Fiaich had publicly declared the proposed second hunger strike to be ‘immoral’.
He was joined in this view by Bishop Edward Daly of Derry.
Fr. Denis Faul – for many years regarded as a champion of Human Rights in Northern Ireland – angered IRA prisoners and their supporters when he also bluntly declared a second hunger strike to be ‘immoral’.
On March 5, the sudden death of Frank Maguire, Independent Nationalist Member of Parliament for Fermanagh South Tyrone, gave the IRA Army Council the opportunity to put IRA hunger strike leader, Bobby Sands, forward for election, a plan that would require some pressure to ensure that nether the SDLP nor any other nationalist person or party would stand in the election thereby causing a split in the anti-Unionist vote.
John Hume declared: “There would be no question of the SDLP at any stage supporting any candidate who either directly or indirectly supports violence.”
The IRA Army Council intended to show its preparedness to support its hunger striking prisoners by as many ‘shock and awe’ actions as were deemed necessary.
Among the matters to be dealt with was the shooting of Bernadette Devlin/McAliskey – a message would have to be sent to the Protestant UDA paramilitary organisation [and the UVF] that this attack on a woman would have consequences.
So it was against this menacing backdrop that Joanne Mathers began calling at doors to collect census forms.
Joanne had a son Shane (nearly 2 years old) and a farmer husband, Lowry, living just out the road from Derry/Londonderry in a small village, Bready.
Joanne knew her way around – she had been working in the Planning Department in the city centre Department of the Environment offices in Derry/Londonderry for 7 years before quitting to raise her infant son, Shane.
She may well have been recognised by IRA members the day before as she began collecting census forms in the area.
As Joanne stood at the door of Patrick McLaughlin’s home in Anderson Crescent, Gobnascale, chatting to him about his census form, an IRA gunman ran up and tried to grab her clipboard and completed forms.
In a brief struggle, the gunman pressed a revolver against her neck and fired a single shot.
Joanne screamed and ran into the McLaughlin home – Patrick McLaughlin followed and tried to shut a glass door to block the gunman.
The gunman smashed through the glass door, bent down and grabbed the remaining papers from a by now dying Joanne and fled leaving a blood-spattered hallway and Joanne taking her last agonising breaths on the sitting room floor.
The unfortunate householder, witness to the murder of a young woman, told his story:
The Derry Brigade of the IRA had fulfilled an order to shoot and murder a Protestant woman Census Enumerator, a “job” that might serve to deter loyalist paramilitaries from attacking women such as Bernadette Devlin and that sent a signal to the British Government that if hunger strikers were allowed to die there would be consequences.
Furthermore, the Catholic church and the SDLP got the message that if they did not make efforts to resolve the political status struggle in the H-Blocks, then the IRA Army Council would escalate matters until the roof fell in on everyone.
Joanne’s small, insignificant bloody human sacrifice had fulfilled its purposes.
Dr Jack Weir, Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian church, correctly referred to the IRA leaders who directed terrorism as “the Devil’s godfathers”, but he didn’t foresee that in a few years Catholic and Protestant churchmen would pay tribute to these men as they were elected to high office and granted immunity from any potential prosecutions – all for stopping the campaign of murder and bombing.
The next stage was for the Derry Brigade of the IRA to deny any involvement in the shooting and meanwhile to whisper to media friends that in fact the INLA had murdered Joanne.
This lie about the INLA went on to be published in national newspapers for some years even after the police announced that forensic tests showed that the gun employed to murder Joanne had previously been used in the area in a number of IRA punishment shootings.
Only the IRA’s deluded followers would believe Martin McGuinness’ denial of responsibility for Joanne Mathers’ murder.
Gerry Fitt, founding member of the SDLP and West Belfast Westminster MP, saw through McGuinness’ lies.
So Who Murdered Joanne?
Quite a few people saw the gunman as he arrived and as he ran away after the shooting, brandishing his weapon.
One of the people who saw the gunman running up to Joanne, then shooting her and running away, was a self-proclaimed British agent within Sinn Féin, Willie Carlin, who recently published his book ‘Thatcher’s Spy: My Life as an MI5 Agent Inside Sinn Féin“.
However, it was 10 years ago (in 2011) that Willie Carlin made the startling claim to journalists that he had recognised and was prepared to name the gunman.
Carlin gave an account of the shooting and a description of the gunman.
Carlin also linked the same gunman to “the subsequent murder of Alice Purvis, the local-born wife of a soldier murdered in her mother’s home on Strabane Old Road” – which occurred two years later just around the corner from where Joanne was murdered.
According to Carlin, then, this gunman had an M.O. of shooting women in particular.
Did the PSNI not investigate Carlin’s claims?
Forget Carlin and let’s move onto the views of Derry Brigade IRA volunteers who recall the following tale…
The Derry Brigade IRA Gunman Who Murdered Joanne Mathers
But pause a moment – the former Derry Brigade IRA volunteers who have spoken with me have highlighted that the IRA member who murdered Joanne Mathers was first and foremost the man who gave the order for the murder – and that IRA leader was the untouchable Martin McGuinness.
Why, they have asked me, do you propose to identify the trigger man when the General who gave the order was given immunity from prosecution, many honours and a funeral gift from the Catholic church – a funeral “equivalent to a Head of State”?
If the mass-murderer Master is adored, why not adore his only multiple-murderer servants?
Okay, that’s a fair point – but onto the business at hand.
Once IRA supremo Martin McGuinness had given the order for the ‘execution’ of a Prod census enumerator, the order was passed down through the Brigade Staff until it reached the Waterside IRA unit.
There a willing gunman was chosen to kill Joanne Mathers and make a show of grabbing her census forms.
The gunman chosen for the job was local hero Brendan Spencer Tracey of Strabane Old Road, Waterside, adjacent to Anderson Crescent where Joanne Mathers was murdered.
Spencer had no option but to admit to being a leading Waterside IRA gunman in 1987 following his dramatic arrest and capture in a car containing weapons and ammunition when, the court judged, he was on an IRA kill mission interrupted by the Royal Ulster Constabulary who – unlike the IRA – did not have a shoot-to-kill policy for armed would-be IRA murderers but in a very gentlemanly fashion arrested Spencer and his two IRA comrades and presented them to the courts.
Our boy was captured red-handed in the Waterside in a hijacked van with two assault rifles, a pistol, a large quantity of ammunition and two other IRA comrades, clearly on their way to commit one or more murders.
Our boy made a deal with the RUC and the Public Prosecution Service whereby his guilty plea won him a nominal 12 year sentence of imprisonment which, in reality with half remission, was a 6 year sentence which, in reality, with approximately the guts of a year spent on remand, would mean 5 years in the cosy H-Blocks watching TV.
But let’s wind the clock back 4 years of unrecorded Spencer Tracey gunmanship to May 9 1983 to see when Spencer was last accused of murdering a local woman, this time Alice Purvis, one of his very neighbours also of Strabane Old Road.
Roman Catholic Alice Purvis had married a British soldier from Sunderland but who was normally stationed in Dorset, Brian Purvis.
Alice’s 78-year-old mother had been ill and bed-ridden for some years and Brian wished to see her and so he and Alice secretly traveled to her home in Strabane Old Road and stayed indoors, never going outside.
However, one of the neighbours must have grassed them up to the local IRA unit, which led to two IRA gunmen entering the house one evening to shoot Brian Purvis.
Brian Purvis was blessed that his wife Alice and her two sisters, Lucy and Anne, all tackled the gunmen and protected Brian but with tragic results.
In the struggle in the front room of the house, in full view of the 78-year-old mother bedridden in the room, Alice jumped in front of her husband while shots were being fired.
Alice took a bullet in the back and died almost immediately.
Alice’s sister, Anne Wasson, took a bullet in the thigh, while Brian Purvis took a bullet in the arm and fell backwards over a chair.
The heroic IRA gunmen, tackled by the three women, fled the house.
But Anne ‘Nancy’ Wasson immediately believed that she had recognised a neighbour from the street as one of the gunmen – our boy Tracey.
She identified Tracey and described him to police.
She said she would never forget his face, poorly disguised through a makeshift mask.
But she made one fatal error early on – her error was to give his first name as Sean, Spencer’s brother.
She soon realised that she had meant to say Spencer, but by this time Sean had been arrested in London and was clearly not involved.
On June 24, Anne went to the police and explained her error, and Brendan Spencer Tracey was eventually arrested on July 1st, nearly two months after the shooting.
He had still been walking around Strabane Old Road as if nothing had happened.
The fact that a witness who had been shot, had been in hospital, was released to see her shooter walking up and down the street, realised her first name error and immediately told police about it – this error was going to serve the Perp and not the Victims.
Brendan Spencer Tracey was returned for trial, but Anne’s first name error was to prove fatal to the case – as soon as the trial judge gave consideration to the identification issues, he dismissed the trial and Brendan Spencer was released to return to his gun ways on behalf of his master, Chuckling Martin McGuinness, for another 4 years until his next arrest and this time capture.
Sure enough, the British Court and Judge – his colleagues being murdered by the IRA at this time as “corrupt” – took into account the single error by Anne Wasson and stopped the trial of a leading IRA gunman.
So Brendan Spencer Tracey returned triumphant to his IRA unit to continue to shoot to kill for Martin McGuinness.
It should be noted that Martin McGuinness, for good measure and to deter any others, ordered a nighttime window smashing attack on the home of Anne Wasson’s elderly mother while only the bedridden mother and an 11-year-old girl were alone in the house – this because Anne Wasson dared to give evidence against one of his gunmen.
Only 3 days before the trial judge stopped Tracey’s trial, the IRA murdered Mary Travers as she came out of Mass, shot her magistrate father Tom 6 times and attempted to shoot her mother because judges were supposedly corrupt lackeys of British imperialism!
While the IRA’s initial abduction, torture, ‘execution’ and disappearance of mother of ten Jean McConville was a closely guarded secret, the IRA’s willingness to murder young women – Catholic and Protestant – was unapologetically broadcast to the world.
When Cuddly Martin McGuinness was asked for his reaction to the IRA’s murder of Alice Purvis, he didn’t hide his feelings.
But, Is There More?
If Willie Carlin, Thatcher’s Spy, has any lasting credibility – if his credibility holds up as part of the historical record – then a strange and incredible vista opens up.
If Willie Carlin’s claims are true – that he saw the gunman from very close range approach and shoot Joanne Mathers – then Willie Carlin is alleging – according to this evidence – that he saw a man who was effectively his brother-in-law murder Joanne.
Brendan Spencer Tracey’s long time partner was (until her death in July 2019) Doreen Carlin/Villa, Willie Carlin’s sister.
So if the claims of the Derry Brigade IRA volunteers are added to Willie Carlin’s claims, then Willie Carlin’s sister’s partner murdered Joanne Mathers.
Doreen herself has been described as a former member of Cumann na mBan – the women’s wing of the IRA.
Only Willie Carlin can update Lowry Mathers on views he expressed back in 2011, some 8 years before his book contained similar claims.
Long-time appendage of Martin McGuinness – some would say Mitchel was raised to republican prominence by Martin McGuinness alone – and senior Derry republican, Mitchel McLaughlin, was invited by me to comment on the murder of Joanne Mathers on behalf of the entire Republican Movement in Derry/Londonderry.
Mitchel chose an Abstentionist Policy regarding this invitation.
Mitchel was at one time Speaker of the British Stormont Parliament and was later made an Honorary Professor at Queen’s University.
However, in the Republic of Ireland Mitchel McLaughlin is part of a movement deemed by the governing political parties to be “unfit for government” in that republic, unfit to rule over Irish citizens.
In January of 2005, Mitchel dirtied his democratic bib and moral credibility in perpetuity in the Republic of Ireland on the RTE show Questions and Answers when he came up against the redoubtable barrister and Minister for Justice Michael McDowell.
It would appear that Sinn Féin will continue to hold the view that all murders committed by IRA volunteers were in service of the True Government of Ireland, the Supreme IRA Army Council [since 1918] and that these murders cannot therefore be crimes of any kind. (See here.)
It’s difficult to believe that a man with these extreme views can be an Honorary Professor at Queen’s University.
Joanne Mathers was, therefore, a Legitimate Target of Martin McGuinness and his Supreme Army Council, the True Government of Ireland.
It follows that the gunman who was ordered to do the dirty deed on behalf of Martin McGuinness should be honoured and not prosecuted, and the latter is anyway unlikely since the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland has already stated that he doesn’t want the PSNI to be involved in “legacy” murders and that he has withdrawn all PSNI officers from any and all “legacy” inquiries.
Joanne Mathers’ murder will join all those other IRA murders and Human Rights’ atrocities which cannot be investigated owing to the secret deals that underpinned The Belfast Agreement.
A decent journalist asked me to warn Lowry Mathers that I was intending to publish this post on my blog and I rang Lowry briefly.
He asked me in all sincerity, “Do you think I will ever get justice?”
I was taken aback by his question.
Is there really a soul still so innocent and sincere as to ask that question in the moral quagmire of Northern Ireland?