Declassified files: Parents of Michelle O’Neill’s cousin ‘did not want him in the IRA’

Tony Doris and two other IRA men died when they were ambushed by the SAS in Coagh in 1991
Tony Doris and two other IRA men died when they were ambushed by the SAS in Coagh in 1991

The parents of Michelle O’Neill’s cousin did not want him to join the IRA, according to the views of the parish priest which are revealed in declassified government files.

Tony Doris – whose cousin this year succeeded Martin McGuinness as leader of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland – was killed after the stolen car in which he and two IRA colleagues was travelling to conduct a murder was ambushed by the SAS.

Tony Doris was a cousin of present Sinn Fein leader Michelle ONeill

Tony Doris was a cousin of present Sinn Fein leader Michelle ONeill

Prolonged shooting by the undercover soldiers led to the vehicle eventually erupting into flames.

There has never been an inquest into the death and the case is one of several high-profile cases for which Sinn Fein and others are currently pressing for inquests.

Two years ago, the Tyrone Sinn Fein Commemoration Committee described Doris as “OC of his unit” and said that he and the two others killed by the SAS would be remembered by the people of Tyrone for having “made the supreme sacrifice in the struggle for Irish freedom”.

But a file which has been declassified at the Public Record Office in Belfast suggests that there was far less support at home for the young man’s decision to join the IRA.

The parish priest in Coalisland, Fr McEntegart, had been in the Co Tyrone village for eight years at the point when the young man was killed.

He wrote a forceful letter – and one which was taken seriously by officials – to the NIO, the chief constable and Dublin’s Department of Foreign Affairs to protest about the heavy RUC operation surrounding the Doris family home prior to the funeral.

In the letter he described the Doris family as “a peace loving family who had no sympathies with the IRA, and whose son had been recruited against their wishes by the IRA”.

The priest described the people of Coalisland as 95% Roman Catholic “and deeply opposed to the IRA”.

Fr McEntegart said that he wanted to express his “disquiet” at the policing operation surrounding the funeral. He said: “I myself was disturbed and many of my people were distressed at the operations.

“I must stress that the perceptions of many peace loving people, who gave no support to the IRA, and who gave at least passive support to the RUC, have been changed for the worse by the strategies adopted.”

The priest said that he had met police commanders beforehand and suggested a “low profiled [security] presence” because they were “confident that neither the Doris family nor the local Sinn Fein representative wanted any ‘take-over’ actions by the IRA or Sinn Fein”.

He went on: “I would like to stress particularly that the attitude of the Doris family has always been disapproving of the IRA and of their son’s alleged involvement which brought him to a tragic and controversial death in Coagh on Monday, June 3.”

Fr McEntegart went on to say that before Mr Doris’s body was released from the mortuary 13 RUC Land Rovers entered Coalisland, with seven in the “narrow cul-de-sac in which the Doris home is situated”.

The letter was forwarded to the Paymaster General, Lord Belstead, by NIO official John Ledlie who described the correspondence as “very calm and moderate”.

A confidential June 20 1991 memo from another official entitled ‘Funeral of Tony Doris, Coalisland’, said that Lord Belstead had seen the priest’s letter and had said: “This is of course very difficult. The other side of the coin is the affront to peace-loving people on either side of the border of the heavy PIRA presence at the funeral in the Republic.

“That said, Canon McEntegart’s letter requires a reply.

“I wonder if it is possible at official level to discuss with the RUC how they intend to reply to what is indeed a well-argued letter?”

Earlier, a confidential June 13 1991 note from Nigel Hamilton to Mr Ledlie had said that a member of the NIO’s staff and a member of “the council staff who live in east Tyrone” had contacted the NIO to express concern about the “extremely triumphalist” attitudes of the police and the Army in the days following the Coagh killings.

Mr Hamilton – who would go on to become head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service – added: “It is recognised throughout both communities that several of those killed were known to be hard-line republicans and involved with terrorism. To that extent, it was not surprising to the local community that they were intercepted in that way.”

However, the concern was expressed that the security force attitudes after the killings could be more damaging than the killings themselves.

According to the book Lost Lives, the priest had at the funeral publicly condemned what he described as a “provocative” display of RUC strength.

The RUC had responded at the time by saying: “It is not acceptable that a terrorist organisation should be able to do as it pleases on such occasions and the presence of the security forces was intended to ensure that this did not occur.”

In 1998, a notice in An Phoblacht said: “In proud and loving memory of Volunteer Tony Doris, who was killed on active service on June 3 1991.

“Always remembered by his mother, father, brother and sisters.”

The other IRA men who were in the car and were killed were Pete Ryan and Lawrence McNally.

The IRA admitted at the time that they had been about to begin an attack when they were shot dead.