Journalist is wrong: PIRA murders of civilians were deliberate more often than they were accidental

The IRA massacre at Teebane in 1992 in which eight Protestants were deliberately targeted
The IRA massacre at Teebane in 1992 in which eight Protestants were deliberately targeted

In a detailed response to remarks by the journalist Peter Taylor about IRA civilian killings, C.D.C. Armstrong says such murders were often calculated:

The journalist Peter Taylor has recently caused controversy by his remarks about the Provisional IRA’s attitude to violence against civilians.

The journalist Peter Taylor

The journalist Peter Taylor

In two interviews, one on BBC One and the other on Radio Ulster, he has said that although the Provisional IRA (hereafter PIRA or the Provisionals) killed many civilians,”by and large the IRA tactic was not to deliberately kill civilians” (It is assumed that Mr Taylor’s references to the IRA mean the Provisionals rather than the Officials or any dissidents).

In his second interview Mr Taylor qualified his earlier statement by saying that there were a few notable exceptions to this general rule; in this respect he instanced the Tullyvallen and Kingsmills atrocities of, respectively, 1975 and 1976.

Mr Taylor also contended that PIRA’s 1987 Remembrance Sunday bomb in Enniskillen was directed against the security forces, not civilians, adding that ”it didn’t actually pay the IRA to massacre and kill civilians”.

Peter Taylor has made similar remarks before-notably in his book (‘Talking to Terrorists,’ 2011).

The aftermath of the IRA Poppy Day massacre in 1987. The IRA knew that civilians would be murdered

The aftermath of the IRA Poppy Day massacre in 1987. The IRA knew that civilians would be murdered

It must be made clear that he has said that he does not support terrorist violence and he has written that he believes that “conflicts should be resolved through dialogue, not destruction”.

More recently he has said that he has “never sanitised the IRA’s history”.

Mr Taylor’s statement that he does not support terrorism must be accepted without qualification.

More problematic is his claim that he has not sanitised PIRA’s activities.

Colin Armstrong pictured at the Linenhall library with the first surviving News Letter from 1738.
Picture by Arthur Allison.

Colin Armstrong pictured at the Linenhall library with the first surviving News Letter from 1738. Picture by Arthur Allison.

The claim that PIRA did not seek deliberately to kill civilians has been made not only by Mr Taylor and other commentators but also by spokesmen for the Provisionals.

A similar account to his of PIRA’s attitude to murders of civilians is in essence that given by the Provisionals themselves.

It is understandable therefore that Mr Taylor’s remarks have caused hurt as well as controversy.

Understandable – and justifiable also; in this article it will be argued that the reverse of Mr Taylor’s case is true. Deliberate rather than accidental murders of civilians by PIRA were the rule, not the exception.

• See below the methodology used in this article; Statement from Peter Taylor and full list of relevant deaths

It will also be contended that the number of civilians deliberately murdered by PIRA may exceed 700 – a figure greater by sixty or more than those usually given.

Mr Taylor’s assertion that there were only a few notable exceptions to PIRA’s alleged practice of not murdering civilians deliberately is as hard to explain as it is to accept.

Several politicians were murdered by PIRA. They include the Irish senator Billy Fox, murdered in March 1974; or Robert Bradford MP (murdered in October 1981 along with a caretaker, Kenneth Campbell); or Edgar Graham, the Assembly member (murdered in December 1983); Sir Anthony Berry MP (murdered in October 1984 with Roberta Wakeham, Jeanne Shattock, Eric Taylor and Muriel MacLean); or Ian Gow (murdered in July 1990).

PIRA murdered the octogenarian Sir Norman Stronge and his son James in January 1981. In November 1975 PIRA murdered the television presenter Ross McWhirter.

The census collector Joanne Mathers, killed in April 1981, was murdered – it is believed – on the orders of the recently deceased and much lauded Martin McGuinness .

Mr Taylor must know of PIRA’s murders of HM Ambassador to Dublin Christopher Ewart-Biggs along with the civil servant Judith Cook in July 1976.

And surely he must know too of PIRA’s murders in March 1979 of HM Ambassador to the Hague Sir Richard Sykes and his valet Karel Straub?

Likewise he must be aware of PIRA’s murders of businessmen such as Jeffrey Agate (in February 1977); or Robert Mitchell (also February 1977); or Peter Hill (again February 1977); or (in the following month) the murders of Donald Robinson and Christopher Shaw.

He must know too of the many prisoner officers murdered by PIRA.

Judges and magistrates were murdered by PIRA, such as Martin Mc Birney and Rory Conaghan (both in September 1974); or William Doyle (murdered in January 1983); or Sir Maurice Gibson (murdered in April 1987 along with Lady Gibson).

The school teacher Mary Travers was murdered in April 1984 when PIRA’s goons tried to murder her magistrate father; her murderers tried also to kill her mother.

This plot to wipe out three family members as they left a Sunday celebration of mass is reminiscent –sickeningly so –of gangland murders.

Mr Taylor must also know about PIRA’s murders of the disappeared such as (to give but three cases) Jean McConville (in December 1972); Columba McVeigh (in November 1975); or Charles Armstrong (in August 1981).

He cannot have forgotten the many alleged informers murdered by PIRA.

He must be aware to of PIRA’s Claudy bombs or those of Bloody Friday (both July 1972);and PIRA’s Newry bomb in August 1972; or the murderous PIRA bombs in Coleraine ( August 1973); or the PIRA Birmingham bombs of November 1974; or the PIRA bomb at the La Mon Hotel (February 1978).

Other people were murdered because they were civilian employees of the Ministry of Defence or supplied materials to the security forces – men such as Patsy Gillespie (October 1990) and John Haldane (Sept 1991). At Teebane in January 1992 eight Protestants were murdered because they were working on a military base.

One could go on listing PIRA’s murders and atrocities, all committed with ruthlessness and savagery. Those not mentioned have been omitted only due to lack of space.

Mr Taylor mentions some of the above murders in his books. Does he not regard these murders as deliberate? Or does he not regard those murdered as civilians?

Mr Taylor’s belief that PIRA rarely murdered civilians on purpose seems at best naïve.

The evidence is only too strong against his claims.

In the case of the Remembrance Sunday bomb in Enniskillen in November 1987, his claim that the bomb was directed against the security forces was rejected some years ago in a HET report.

Anyone familiar with the geography of Belmore Street in Enniskillen as it was in November 1987 before the bomb will not need even an authoritative HET report to know that Mr Taylor’s case lacks all foundation.

The bomb was planted in St Michael’s Reading Rooms against a wall on whose exterior civilian congregants were accustomed to gather each Remembrance Sunday; the wall provided shelter and a viewing point for the ceremony at the War Memorial.

Security force personnel did not assemble there. This must have been known to IRA murderers as republican activists were observed at the previous year’s ceremony.

The bomb was planted in a location which guaranteed that civilians would be murdered (or at least injured) on a large scale. The bombers’ objective was realised.

All of whose victims were Protestant, which fits into the pattern of PIRA sectarian murders in border counties.

It came months after Ken Maginnis’s victory in the Fermanagh-South Tyrone constituency at the 1987 general election; the seat had been occupied briefly by the PIRA terrorist and hunger striker Bobby Sands and republicans regarded the constituency as theirs by right.

One purpose of the bomb was to punish and intimidate border Protestants; the murders were as sectarian as any committed by the UDA or UVF.

(Scroll further down for Peter Taylor’s explanation of his view)

• The Methodology used in defining deliberate civilian attacks

The definition of civilian followed here (by C.D.C. Armstrong) is that given in the Oxford English Dictionary; a civilian is a person not in the armed forces or police.

This definition entails that all army, navy and RAF personnel, on-duty or off, murdered by PIRA cannot be classed as civilians; the definition excludes also members of the UDR and the Territorial Army.

All police officers (RUC, RUCR, police in Great Britain and the Irish Republic among them) are also not regarded as civilians for the purposes of this article. However, retired service men murdered by PIRA have been classed as civilians.

Admiral of the Fleet Lord Mountbatten (murdered in August 1979) has also not been regarded as civilian. Although he ceased to take any active role in defence policy over ten years before his murder, Lord Mounbatten’s rank as Admiral of the Fleet meant that he was still classed as an active member of the Royal Navy at the time of his murder.

Excluding service and police personnel from the definition of civilian is not meant to count as a moral judgment; on the contrary, each murder of a serviceman or police officer was as reprehensible as any murder of a civilian. Prison officers have been counted as civilians.

Members of the Provisionals and the Official IRA murdered by PIRA have been classed as civilians. Some may regard this decision as offensive but there is no intention to offend.

Counting republicans as civilians is in line with the commonly accepted definition of the term. Provisionals were neither soldiers nor police officers. They were members of a criminal gang; regardless of any purported political motivation for heir activities, they criminals in the same sense as Ronnie and Reggie Kray-and civilians in the same sense.

The same rule applies to members of the so-called loyalist murder gangs.

It should also be noted that many of the Provisionals murdered by PIRA were alleged to be informers.

Accusations of collaboration with the authorities (supposing them to be true) are not to the discredit of those murdered by PIRA. Members of PIRA who killed themselves, whether on purpose or by mischance, have not been included.

It must also be made clear that every death attributable to PIRA was illegal. PIRA was proscribed across the UK and also in the Irish Republic. Excuses cannot be made for PIRA.

The computation of deliberate murders of civilians committed by PIRA has been made on the basis of the highly regarded list of deaths in the Troubles, Lost Lives”; the first edition of 1999 has been used here. “Lost Lives” did not count the dead of PIRA or the Official IRA (or cognate groups on either side) as civilians (see list below).

This accounts in part for the greater total of civilian murders counted here. That difference in figures is also attributable in part to the decision to count as the work of PIRA some murders attributed by “Lost Lives” to unspecified republicans; the reason for this is that PIRA was by far the largest and most murderous republican gang. The decision has therefore been reached on a basis of probability, greater or lesser according to each case.

In deciding whether or not PIRA murders of civilians were deliberate certain criteria have been followed. First, PIRA’s own explanations of its activities have been rejected. As a clandestine and criminal organisation PIRA had little or no interest in the truth. In many cases its attempts to account for its atrocities have been demonstrably untrue or at the least self-serving. Claims of mistaken identity have been rejected. PIRA’s expertise in surveillance makes such claims implausible.

Third, individuals who were not the intended victims of PIRA murders have been counted as the victims of deliberate killings. In many cases the intended target was also a civilian. One instance may suffice. The cancer specialist Gordon Hamilton-Fairley was murdered by a PIRA bomb in October 1975; but the intended victim was Sir Hugh Fraser MP, also a civilian. Fourth no warning bombs were clearly meant to kill; so too, it is argued, were bombs with inadequate or misleading warnings. (The 1993 Shankill bomb, when a bomb with an eleven second timer was planted in a shop is a good instance of an inadequate warning).

Cases where PIRA should have had good reason to believe that civilian fatalities were probable have also been classed as deliberate-including, for example, civilians killed when PIRA attacked security forces in crowded areas.

An instance of a bomb which its planners and perpetrators should have known would murder civilians is the explosion which killed the Dowager Lady Brabourne, the Hon. Nicholas Knatchbull and Paul Maxwell along with Lord Mountbatten in August 1979. One could mention William and Elizabeth Herron, murdered in 1976, along with daughter Noeleen when firebombs went off in their shop beneath their home.

• Peter Taylor’s statement:

We told Peter Taylor that the above article was appearing and he would have a right of reply. He said he did not want to add to a statement he gave to the News Letter when the controversy first arose in April. The statement is below in full:

“The remarks I made [in April] on BBC Breakfast and in my Radio 4 documentary, ‘50 Years Behind the Headlines: Reflections on Terror’ should be evaluated in the context in which they were made.

“I have never ‘sanitised’ the IRA’s history. My remarks should be seen in the context of the programme and the qualified way in which I made them. I was drawing a broad comparison between the IRA’s campaign and that of Al Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State (IS), making the point that the latter’s overriding priority was the indiscriminate killing as many innocent civilians as possible.

“The overriding priority of the IRA’s campaign was not the same, although the IRA did kill over 600 civilians, many in nakedly sectarian attacks like the massacre of protestants at Tullyvallen Orange Hall and Protestant workmen in a minibus at Whitecross.

“I referred to these and other attacks as ‘notable exceptions’ to the IRA’s overall modus operandi. I have also made documentaries about the IRA-driven ‘genocide’ of Protestant communities along the border. In my work, over nearly half a century, I have never underestimated or undervalued the feelings of victims, whether the result of the IRA and loyalist paramilitary killings or ‘Bloody Sunday’ and other deaths at the hands of the security forces.

“The tragic fact about any conflict that we report on impartially is that many innocent lives are lost and the suffering and scars endure for those caught up in them.”

• C.D.C. Armstrong is a writer and historian. On the 275th anniversary of the News Letter in 2012, he wrote a history of the newspaper for the souvenir supplement that we published.

• Below the numbers given in the book ‘Lost Lives’ to each murder counted as deliberate or probably so.

The work undertaken in this analysis is of a preliminary nature (writes C.D.C. Armstrong).

Some cases included in the list – probably only relatively few – may be open to clear challenge; others are indisputable; some instances of deliberate murder of civilians may have been omitted.

Mr Taylor or anyone else who shares his assessment of IRA violence could look at each case listed below and give their reasons (if they have any ) for rejection from the list.

Where the word “to” occurs between two numbers it should be taken that every number between the first figure and the second should be counted:

26 to 30, 47 to50, 55 to 58, 101, 114, 133, 134, 156, 167, 170 to 172, 181, 187, 188, 190, 207, 208, 212, 213 to 216, 225, 237, 263, 272, 293, 294, 310, 313, 414, 316, 321, 322, 326, 333, 342, 347, 348, 363, 373, 376 to 378, 383, 411, 423, 424, 429, 430, 437, 439, 442, 452, 453, 457, 458, 483 to 485, 488, 489, 493 to 496, 517 to 525, 539, 543, 549, 551 to 555, 559,572, 582, 598, 603, 613, 625 to 627, 629, 692, 697, 698, 710, 730, 739, 749, 779, 786, 803, 844, 858, 866, 870 to 875, 889, 890, 896, 897, 912, 922, 925, 935, 940, 941, 947, 959, 960, 979, 980, 983, 984, 989, 1003, 1020, 1025, 1027, 1029, 1030, 1042, 1044, 1050, 1054 to 1056, 1066, 1074, 1075, 1077, 1156, 1160, 1162, 1179, 1183, 1184 to 1186, 1190, 1196, 1197, 1202, 1211, 1227, 1233 to 1235, 1246 to 1262, 1264, 1268 to 1269, 1272, 1272, 1275, 1276, 1281, 1284, 1298, 1 318, 1320 to 1322, 1334, 1341 to 1345, 1360, 1384 to 1386, 1390, 1392, 1397, 1404, 1323, 1428 to 1436, 1453, 1455 to 1458, 1461 to 1464, 1474, 1488, 1489, 1493, 1503, 1508 to 1513, 15515, 1516, 1522, 1526, 1527, 1566 to 1575, 1578, 1580, 1581, 1588, 1590, 1606, 1610, 1611, 1631, 1632. 1640 to 1644, 1661 to 1664, 1688, 1697, 1670, 1671, 1678, 1690, 1691, 1693 to 1695, 1708, 1709, 1710, 1718, 1725, 1726, 1728, 1729, 1733 to 1735,1741, 1747, 1748, 1753, 1758 to 1760, 1767 to 1769, 1776, 1777, 1779, 1785, 1786, 1797, 1800, 1801, 1803, 1810, 1811, 1817, 1824, 1826, 1834, 1840, 1848, 1852 to 1854, 1867, 1873, 1881, 1888, 1890, 1893 to 1895, 1898, 1900, 1906, 1913, 1915, 1925, 1926, 1931, 1935, 1936, 1944, 1950, 1953, 1956, 1961, 1964, 1965, 1971, 1972 to 1974, 1984, 1985, 1988, 1992 to 1999, 2001 to 2003, 2007, 2013, 2020, 2021, 2023, 2035, 2041, 2045 to 2048, 2052, 2055, 2058, 2062, at 2062. 2063, 2066, 2074 to 2076, 2078, 2079, 2082 to 2084, 2091, 2102, 2106, 2122, 2123, 2130, to 2032, 2134, 2155, 2161, 2162, 2166, 2173, 2176, 2180, 2184, 2186, 2191, 2193, 2199, 2208, 2209, 2211,2216, 2234, 2237, 2240, 2246, 2260, 2264,2266, 2272, 2273,2278,2284, 2286, 2294, 2299, 2303, 2334, 2338, 2339, 2345, 2347, 2349, 2351, 2359, 2360, 2370, 2373,2375, 2377, 2385, 2386, 2388, 2389, 2394, 2398, 2399, 2403, 2409 to 2411, 2419, 2421, 2423 to 2425, 2431, 2437, 2438, 2454, 2477 , 2488, 2489, 2514, 2515, 2524, 2528, 2536, 2542, 2556, 2558 to 2560, 2563 to 2596, 2606, 2612, 2614, 2616, 2626, 2632, 2634, 2641, 2648, 2651, 2652,2653, 2654, 2655, 2661, 2673, 2676, 2693,2696, 2700, 2705, 2711 to 2713, 2715, 2719, 2723, 2725, 2747 to 2749, 2754, 2756, 2768, 2771, 2774 to 2776, 2787, 2792, 2804, 2808, 2816,2826, 2830, 2833, 2834, 2848, 2854, 2856, 2862, 2871,2874, 2877, 2883 to 2888, 2890 to 2893, 2898, 2921,2948, 2949, 2952 50 2954, 2962, 2963, 2984 to 2987, 2991,2995, 2996, 2998, 3000, 3001, 3003, 3005,3017 to 321, 3031,3033,3035, 3036, 3047,3055,3067,3071, 3074, 3077, 3086, 3093, 3108,3111, 3112,3116, 3117, 3125, 3127, 3129, 3141, 3143,4144, 3146, 3161,3162,3166, 3167, 3172,3174, 3183,3191, 3193,3197,3199, 3212,3217,, 3219, 3221,3223, 3224, 3231,3235,3252 to 3255, 3267,3274, 3277 to 3284, 3288, 3313 to 3315, 3318, 3324 to 3326, 3330, 332,3342, 3345, 3357, 3365, 3375, 3376,3380,3386, 3390, 3392,3393, 3399, 3400, 3412, 3416, to 3425, 3427, 3468, 3470, 4375, 3476,3480, 3488, 3504, 3505, 3516, 3519, 3523,3524, 3527 to 3531,3544,3534, 3546, 3581,3583,3631,3636,3637.