A veteran unionist figure has pledged that he and others “will not forget” the two decades-old murder of Stephen Restorick, the last soldier to have been killed before the Good Friday Agreement.
He was shot by a sniper in Bessbrook on February 12, 1997, and an IRA man convicted of the murder went on to be released after serving just 16 months of a sentence running into hundreds of years.
Danny Kennedy, who was UUP MLA for Newry & Armagh until the recent election dissolved the Assembly, said Sunday had been a “very sad anniversary”.
He visited the crime scene at the time as a political representative, and later attended the soldier’s funeral in England.
“By all accounts he was a fine soldier, and a fine boy,” he said.
“We do not forget, and we will not forget, the service and sacrifice of Lance Bombardier Stephen Restorick, and his colleagues.”
The book Lost Lives says he was 23, from the Peterborough area, and had been shot in the back while checking a woman’s driving licence (she was also apparently struck).
He was the last soldier killed in the PIRA campaign.
Patrick Azimkar and Mark Quinsey were killed by dissident republicans at Massereene, Antrim, in 2009.
IRA man Bernard McGinn was convicted of a long string of paramilitary offences, including Mr Restorick’s murder, and given a 490-year sentence. He was released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
When it comes to his release, Mr Kennedy said: “That was difficult, and I don’t underestimate how difficult that was not just for the family, but for society generally.”
After McGinn was freed, his conviction for three murders, including Restorick’s, was quashed in 2000.
A long, detailed Court of Appeal judgement about his appeal hints at the extent of his IRA involvement.
He admitted having joined the IRA aged 15.
He said that on the day of Mr Restorick’s murder had been travelling in the rear of a vehicle with an AK47 rifle – but told police another man fired the fatal shot.
He had been “asked about shootings and admitted his part readily”, including having “shot a wee lad in Keady” in 1978 (namely Thomas Gilbert Johnston, a member of the UDR, aged 25), plus involvement in the shooting of another soldier.
Seeking a “deal” of some kind with the authorities in his police interviews (of which there were 28 in total), he had “talked of the Canary Wharf incident, stating he had mixed the explosives which were put on a lorry and taken by a Dublin based freight company to the mainland”.
The Court of Appeal quashed McGinn’s murder convictions on the basis that he had not been cautioned properly when being interviewed.
McGinn died in 2013.