Trevor Ringland: Remembering a policeman murdered at City of Derry golf club

Thomas Cooke, RUC sergeant, murdered in Londonderry in April 1987, aged 52. Sergeant Cooke knew the names and addresses of those who would kill him, probably including Martin McGuinness
Thomas Cooke, RUC sergeant, murdered in Londonderry in April 1987, aged 52. Sergeant Cooke knew the names and addresses of those who would kill him, probably including Martin McGuinness

Thirty years ago this weekend, RUC officer Sergeant Thomas Cooke was brutally murdered by the IRA in City of Derry Golf Club car-park.

Some disingenuous people try to group Sergeant Cooke and other members of the security forces alongside paramilitaries by calling them ‘combatants’.

Martin McGuinness (left) follows the coffin of IRA man Charles English in Londonderry 1984. Picture Pacemaker

Martin McGuinness (left) follows the coffin of IRA man Charles English in Londonderry 1984. Picture Pacemaker

Yet he was trying to keep people safe and he and his colleagues prevented a civil war, while terror organisations specifically aimed to take life.

I have often said that many people across our society have shown tremendous grace toward those who promoted or used violence outside the law, in order to help us move on from conflict and enjoy relative peace.

That has often not been recognised by those who benefited from that grace, as demonstrated by the continued existence of paramilitary organisations, paramilitary murals and self-serving political narratives that involve pressing the ‘hate button’, for instance at the latest Assembly elections.

We are in danger of wasting an opportunity to bed down real peace and therefore failing our children.

Thomas Cooke knew the names and addresses of those who would kill him, probably including Martin McGuinness. Yet he, and the vast majority of the security forces worked through the justice system to counteract the paramilitary threat.

He left a wife and three children. She was also wounded by the IRA several years later.

The lack of balance in the current legacy process with its undue focus on the security forces has allowed a false narrative to emerge in relation to the “Troubles”. We should be telling future generations that he and others like him are the people to emulate rather than those who said violence was justified and refused to apologise, as we seek to build a stable, peaceful society, for the benefit of all of us.

Likewise Joan Travers, who, after her daughter Mary was murdered and an attempt made on her husband’s life, said “we would like you to pray that all men who have murder in their hearts will be overcome by the love of God so that they, like Mary, will be at peace with him”.

Trevor Ringland

Trevor Ringland

The attempt to murder Tom Travers by the IRA was because he was a lawyer implementing the rule of law.

There are so many others, like Gordon Wilson, Pat McGurk, Michael McGoldrick, the Peace People or Ray Davey, and we owe it to them to keep challenging those who shaped the deeply flawed politics of the past. We cannot allow them to return to promoting fear and hatred, with all its terrible consequences.

There is no reason, other than deep personal prejudices, that the cannot attempt to make Northern Ireland work for the benefit of all of us, whatever their constitutional preference. We should demand nothing less.

After many recent terror attacks in the rest of the UK and across the world, we often learn that the attacker was known to the security services. That remains the case in Northern Ireland, as it was previously.

The current talks should focus on whether we are doing enough, within the rule of law, to protect our people against those intent on taking life, whatever their flawed cause might be.

Trevor Ringland, Holywood