Top psychiatrist: The IRA were not psychopaths, but calculating killers

August 1985: Funeral of IRA man Chuck English. Pictured, right, is Martin McGuinness
August 1985: Funeral of IRA man Chuck English. Pictured, right, is Martin McGuinness

A leading psychiatrist has dismissed the idea terrorists are “psychopaths” or “mindless” or any such terms that are often applied to them, saying that they are in fact calculating killers.

Dr Philip McGarry, who worked in west Belfast for 17 years, said that terrorism was “by definintion mindful” and future generations must be told that it was unjustified and wrong.

Dr Philip McGarry, consultant psychiatrist and Alliance Party member

Dr Philip McGarry, consultant psychiatrist and Alliance Party member

In an article for the News Letter today (link below), Dr McGarry contrasts the intense reaction to the Westminster terror attack with the response to the life of Martin McGuinness, who “was responsible for so much more suffering” than the London attacker Khalid Masood.

Dr McGarry, whose younger brother is the comedian Tim, said: “It is instructive to note that 30 years ago the IRA and the loyalist paramilitaries were routinely described as ‘maniacs’, ‘crazy’, ‘blood-thirsty’ or ‘psychopaths’.

“This was nonsense. Politically motivated violence/terrorism is by definition mindful; it is designed to achieve a political end.”

They were not, he said, mentally ill.

Dr McGarry, a member of the Alliance Party, said that during his time as a consultant psychiatrist since in west Belfast he saw a few patients who had suffered ill treatment by the army and police. “However this was overwhelmingly dwarfed by the number I saw who were shot or beaten by republican paramilitaries.”

Dr McGarry said that Mr McGuinness had been depicted as if he had transformed from a thoughtless, violent young man into a Gandhi-type figure.

“In fact he was always a thoughtful, intelligent strategic thinker who understood that every current generation of physical force nationalists is roundly condemned, by people who simultaneously condone the previous generation who did exactly the same things.”

Dr McGarry, whose family home was set alight in 1981 in a possible loyalist sectarian attack, said that both Northern Ireland and the Republic had been “partially sectarian” states, but added. “However no respectable independent body has ever argued nor could argue that the violence of the loyalists and republicans was a legitimate or remotely proportionate response to those wrongs”.

He added: “It is deeply regrettable that it took so long for that basic concept to be accepted, and it should have us hanging our heads in shame that we had to endure the Abercorn bar, McGurks bar, Enniskillen, the Greysteel massacre and so many other relentless, tawdry killings over so many years.”

Dr Philip McGarry: The terrorism of McGuinness and others was not mindless – it was mindful