Investigations & Analysis - Northern Ireland
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Border lands

03 FEBRUARY 2014

"There was a stretch of land along the Fermanagh side of the border which was a no-man's land" /

By Steven McCaffery

JOHN McClure’s farm on the Fermanagh border overlooks a narrow stretch of water.

It is little more than a stream, but on the map it is the thin line that separates Northern Ireland from the Republic.

When the Troubles broke out, the problem for the McClure family was that the river was too easy to cross.

In March 1972 their lives, and the lives of a number of other Protestant families living outside the border village of Garrison, were changed forever.

When the IRA came for his neighbour, they said they only wanted his guns.

Then they told the man’s wife they were taking him hostage.

She found him later among the fields, riddled with 14 bullets, and she watched as the men who had made her a widow strolled off across the border.

John, like his neighbour, was in the UDR (Ulster Defence Regiment) and he was advised to leave – and leave quickly.

“It all happened in a week, but when the decision was made, we packed and left in one day,” he said.

They never returned to the farm. That life was over.

“My wife was crying. The children were crying. It was a very traumatic experience.”

In the late 1990s, as the peace process blossomed, he was among a number of Protestant farmers who lobbied to return to their abandoned homes.

Campaigners today estimate that at least 30 families were forced from their farms on the Fermanagh border alone.

Some might have been able to return, but the McClures never did.

More than 40 years after they were forced to leave, they revisited their old home with The Detail.

The cottage is suffocated by weeds and vines, but it still holds echoes of the day the family fled.

The McClures had taken what they could, and abandoned the rest.

In what was once the sitting-room, two old armchairs rot in the shadows.

Elsewhere, a skirt hangs on a hook, a child’s shoe lies forgotten in a corner, an old radio sits in silence on a disused table.

On the way out the door, a wooden chair has been tossed on its side.

John said that his membership of the security forces followed a family tradition of army service – but it offered little protection.

He said border security was virtually non-existent and the IRA “operated freely”.

Catholic neighbours were supportive but, in the end, the family had no option but to go.

VICTIMS AND SURVIVORS

"In excess of 30 families were ousted from the area" /

KENNY Donaldson of the victims group the South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF) said families forced from their land in border areas should be recognised and supported.

“The IRA may not have taken their life, but they did succeed in taking their way of life,” he said.

“I think the Republic of Ireland government has something it could do around that whole area – if there are folks and families that could be resettled back or indeed if there are upgrades or work that could be done to farms, whether housing or the land, to put it in a position where people could return, then I think that would be a nice legacy.”

Mr Donaldson said the Irish government also had to account for border security down through the decades.

“Security and extradition policies were never really developed to actually, firstly intervene to prevent the problem, but certainly then to either combat terrorism, or, the other end of it, to actually hold people accountable for their actions."

The SEFF group has researched the extradition of republican suspects from the Republic to Northern Ireland.

Following inquiries by The Detail, officials at Westminster said records for the actual number of extradition requests are not retained by central government.

But from the data available, they could confirm that: “In the period between 1973 and 1997, at least 110 requests were made to the Republic of Ireland from the UK. At least 42 people were arrested and eight were extradited back to the UK.”

A House of Commons debate on extradition in 1982 provided some information on the reasons for decisions.

It detailed 45 refusals to extradite and found that in 34 cases this was because the offence was political, while in nine cases it was because there was no comparable offence in the Republic.

It was said that 17 extraditions fell because the suspects were eventually arrested in the UK and one was arrested and jailed in the Republic.

The Irish government became embroiled in a number of high profile extradition rows during the Troubles, but it defended the right of its legal system to maintain its own integrity.

And opponents of extradition also raised objections about the operation of justice in Northern Ireland, citing controversies that had brought criticism on the system.

The Irish government has, in the past, also cited the level of public spending it invested in border security and argued it was proportionately on a par with investment by the larger UK economy.

`THE FORGOTTEN MASSACRE’

"It cannot be left to the northern parties alone to deal with the past" /

BY the time the Troubles were being brought to an end, more than 3,600 people were killed.

The vast majority were killed in Northern Ireland, but the records show that 120 people were killed in the Republic, including members of the Garda and Irish army.

The biggest loss of life in the Republic was the loyalist car bombings of May 1974 in Dublin and Monaghan – representing a cross-border attack that, in this case, had been launched from Northern Ireland.

The death toll of 34 people was also the largest loss of life of any single day in the Troubles.

The bombings took place amid turmoil in Northern Ireland – as political unionism and violent loyalism hit out at the Sunningdale settlement that gave the Republic a limited say in Northern Ireland affairs.

When the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998, deputy leader of the nationalist SDLP Seamus Mallon noted the similarities between the deals and dubbed it “Sunningdale for slow learners".

But the people of Dublin and Monaghan paid a heavy price for the pact’s rejection in 1974.

Margaret Urwin of Justice for the Forgotten has campaigned for those bereaved and injured in the attacks.

“Three no warning bombs exploded in Dublin city centre, killing 27 people in Dublin and then an hour and a half later, a fourth no warning bomb exploded in Monaghan town.

“That bomb killed a further seven people.

“There were no arrests and no convictions and that is the same as we approach the 40th anniversary.”

`SAY NOTHING’

In the aftermath of the mass murder, police investigations were quickly wound-down. No one was held accountable for the killings on either side of the border.

It was decades before a public memorial was erected to the dead, and it was not until the late 1990s that the Irish government launched an inquiry.

In the intervening period, despite the scale of the atrocity, it was met with official silence.

“The Irish government seemed to take the view that they should just keep their heads down,” said the victims’ campaigner, speculating that politicians may have feared that the bombings could have fuelled IRA support.

“The bombing was very successful, from a loyalist point of view, because it taught the Irish government a lesson – not to interfere in the affairs of Northern Ireland.

“And indeed they didn’t for quite a long time.”

In 2003 Judge Henry Barron’s report blamed the attack on the loyalist UVF and implicated members of the RUC and UDR associated with the so-called Glennane gang.

The loyalist gang has now been tied-in with the deaths of more than 120 people in new research by Justice for the Forgotten and another campaigning victims’ group, the Pat Finucane Centre, which drew on reports compiled by the police Historical Enquiries Team, and was published in the book Lethal Allies.

But for Margaret Urwin, further details could come to light if the British government agreed to release all the documentation linked to the Dublin/Monaghan bombings and other attacks.

“The one thorny issue remaining is the failure of the British government to cooperate in any meaningful way with Judge Barron’s investigation.”

She said both the British and Irish governments have questions to answer from the past.

“It cannot be left to the northern parties alone to deal with the past – it has to be both governments as well.”

See Part Three of this article: Political battle lines.

© The Detail 2014