Families of murdered Scottish soldiers query MSP’s IRA apology

The memorial to Fusiliers John McCaig, his brother Joseph and Dougald McCaughey at White Brae on the outskirts of north Belfast where they were shot in 1971
The memorial to Fusiliers John McCaig, his brother Joseph and Dougald McCaughey at White Brae on the outskirts of north Belfast where they were shot in 1971

Families of three Scottish soldiers murdered in Belfast have questioned the sincerity of an apology from a Member of the Scottish Parliament for pro-IRA comments – claiming an internal party email revealed a political motivation for the climbdown.

Fusiliers Dougald McCaughey, 23, John McCaig, 17, and Joseph McCaig, 18, were lured from a Belfast bar by the IRA in 1971, and shot in north Belfast.

Scottish National Party (SNP) MSP John Mason made headlines Sunday week ago when he declined, via Twitter, to support a private prosecution of the suspects. He replied: “You say Irish murderers. Others say Irish freedom fighters. I support Scottish soldiers if they do good but not if they do bad.”

Initially he stood by his comments, but issued an apology on Tuesday. “I deeply regret the offence and upset that has been caused to the relatives who lost loved ones and am extremely sorry that this has happened,” he said. “I condemn and deplore all acts of terrorism.”

The soldiers’ families accepted his apology. However, they yesterday became aware of an email from SNP chief whip Bill Kidd to Mr Mason on February 3 in which he said that newspapers’ continuing interest in his comments “is now causing concern” for fellow MSPs as constituents were contacting them for comment.

Mr Kidd added that the government “are also now being approached and this could cause the first minister [Nicola Sturgeon] embarrassment”.

Mr Kidd asked Mr Mason to meet him on Tuesday at 3pm about the row. The apology was issued two and a half hours later.

Campaign director for ‘The Three Scottish Soldiers’, Kris McGurk, said he still accepted the apology but having now seen the email he said it is “clear to see that there were political motives and forcing of hands behind the apology and not because of hurt caused to the families”.

DUP election candidate Nelson McCausland said SNP leader Mrs Sturgeon should now openly endorse the families’ private prosecution plans.

An SNP spokesman said it had consistently said Mr Mason’s comments “did not reflect the views of the party and were not endorsed by the party” and that he apologised after reflecting on his remarks.