Last week Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill spoke at a rally commemorating heavily armed IRA terrorists who died whilst on a mission to murder innocent people.
She said of the deceased gunmen: “These were four ordinary young men, who faced extraordinary challenges. And they responded in defence of their community and also of their country. They never went looking for war, but it came to them.”
If you were to take Mrs O’Neill’s words at face value, you would be forgiven for thinking the men she was talking about were upstanding members of the community.
In fact, what happened in Clonoe 25 years ago wasn’t the righteous defence of a community, but an indiscriminate attack on a community.
At 10.30pm on February 16 1992 a car and a truck carrying a party of at least six heavily-armed IRA members drove into the centre of Coalisland and stopped at the local police station.
Using the DShK machine-gun they had mounted on the back of the lorry, the terrorist gang opened fire on the police base from close range with armour-piercing ammunition.
A DShK machine gun is a heavy calibre weapon capable of firing 600 rounds a minute and is effective at a range of two kilometers. No-one was injured at Coalisland police station but special forces interecepted the terrorists as they fled the scene, killing four of the “ordinary young men” who were armed to the teeth and prepared to kill indiscriminately.
Mrs O’Neill’s support for the IRA operation and the individuals involved prompts a number of questions.
If the terrorists she has lauded didn’t go “looking for war”, why had they mounted a powerful machine gun on the back of a lorry ahead of a pre-planned attack?
Who was attacking “their community” when they were allegedy defending it by attacking a police station? How can Mrs O’Neill justify the use of such a weapon and tactics in any circumstances in a town centre?
Mrs O’Neill’s words come as no surprise as her support for Irish republican terrorism is embedded deep in her DNA.
But as a society we have far to travel along the road to reconcilliation when a health minister praises terrorists and sanitises their murderous intentions.
As long as there is no remorse from those who were wedded to terrorism, there will be no chance of reconilliation from many of those who suffered as a result of it.
Trevor Clarke, DUP councillor, Coleraine