In pictures: Why Willie Frazer lives on the edge

BORN into a family of nine children, William Frederick Frazer, 52, knew about the intricacies of the Troubles before he was a teenager.

Growing up in the staunchly republican village of Whitecross in south Armagh, he and his siblings attended a local Catholic school.

Willie Frazer

Willie Frazer

Willie, then a leading light in the school’s under 11s GAA team, even played Gaelic during an interval at the All-Ireland final.

In his early years Willie says he had a “truly cross-community lifestyle” - but life for him changed irrevocably on August 30, 1975, when his 49-year-old father Bertie, a part-time member of the UDR and a council worker, was shot dead by the IRA as he drove his car out of a farm near Whitecross.

In later years Willie lost another four members of his family to the south Armagh brigade of the IRA. During that time an outspoken critic of the IRA was born.

He correspondingly became, and is to this very day, a prime target for what remains of the terrorist grouping.

Willie knows that his family’s full integration into life in south Armagh left them vulnerable to republicans with a vendetta.

According to ‘Lost Lives’, which chronicles every death during the Troubles, the Coroner said Mr Frazer’s murder was “callous and premeditated”. The father-of-nine had been shot in the head and he died at the scene.

Willie’s two uncles - John Bell a few months later and Samuel Lundy in 1980 - and two cousins - Trevor Elliott and Alan Johnston - were also murdered by the IRA.

Although his father may have been murdered 38 years ago, Willie remembers it vividly.

He is full of admiration for his late mother, Margaret who died at the age of 86 in 2011. He commends her constantly throughout our interview for her strength, selflessness and ability to keep their family strong.

“I wasn’t there when my father was shot,” said Willie. “The last time I saw him was the night before because he would have gone to work at 6am. He was only 49-years-old when he was shot. I found that a hard age to become myself. In fact I never expected to see it.

“I remember my father’s funeral clearly.

“It was a big funeral. My father’s murder is still with me. It never leaves you.”

Before Willie’s father was shot, he recalls how their home had been “blown up at least five times with petrol bombs and was caught up in different shootings - all because my father was in the UDR.”

“The eldest in the family at the time of his murder would have been about 27-years-old,” he said. “Two of them were in the army at that stage and another one would have only joined the UDR a few months beforehand.

“My father wouldn’t have been what you called a hard man, but fear did not come into it. He just didn’t seem to have fear.

“He worked night and day.”

Willie said his father had been given warnings about his security - and where not to go. He said he knew now that his father was “kept right by these same old-school IRA men who used to ceili in our home”.

In a recent interview with the News Letter Willie claimed that four IRA men, now aged in their late 70s, had apologised for his father’s murder.

“They were IRA men but you could sit down and talk to them,” he said. “In fact I believe an IRA man carried my father’s coffin.

“It was the older generation of IRA men that warned my dad and others like him not to go into certain areas at certain times. Those types were more into attacking the army than their neighbours, not that I am condoning it.

“But the ones who killed my father would have seen him as a threat because he held to his principles, lived and let live.

“They knew that because he was popular and decent he would have been warned by IRA men not to go certain places.

“There is this notion out there that I am against all Catholics - and that couldn’t be further from the truth. I have nothing against ordinary Catholics, who I played football with in Newtownhamilton until I was in my late 20s. It is the IRA I have a problem with. It is not about religion at all, it is about terrorists, on both sides of the divide.

“In fact my mother received more than 1000 Mass cards when my father was murdered. That tells you how popular we were.”

Soon after his father’s murder, Willie and his family were forced to move home when elements of the IRA started targeting his older brother, also a member of the UDR.

The family ended up settling in Markethill.

“My mother coped because she was strong. She had so many of us to look after that she did not have the choice to lie down. She knew she had to keep things together.”

Offers of farms of land were made to the Frazer family, “but my mother would have none of it”.

“She did not want to claim a penny for what had happened to my father. And we never have. I think my mother got something from the government at the time, but it was buttons. She didn’t even question it.”

After leaving school, and trying his hand plastering on a building site, Willie went on to spend nine years full time in the Army.

He then got a job driving for Dukes Transport before setting up his own haulage firm.

“But I sold up and went into the nightclub business when I bought The Spot in Tandragee,” he said. “When I became a Christian in 2000 the two of them didn’t marry.

“Around the same time I was working for victims voluntarily - and paying for someone to run the bar and nightclub.

“Then I decided to concentrate on helping victims full time.”

Willie admits he has been “no shrinking violet” when it comes to defending his corner.

But, in his own words, “there are no back doors in me - what you see is what you get.”

During his first three years working in the victims sector, Willie says he “was not paid one penny”.

But he adds: “It wasn’t for the money. It was something I had to do. Helping people has been very rewarding. I have helped people who wanted to commit suicide because of what has happened to their families.

“People, who have not been affected by The Troubles, keep chirping about moving on, but the majority are as raw now as if someone had just knocked on their door and said your husband/father/brother has been shot. The hurt and pain is every bit as bad. The lack of justice hurts.

“But getting justice for them would drag up too many questions and upset the calm. It would involve exposing informers and the failure of the state in the republic and Ulster. Among those who I have tried to help are the families who were affected by atrocities at Kingsmills, Tullyvallen, the Shankill bomb, La Mon, Teebane, and Enniskillen as well as much more recent ones.

“A lot of these people are still really hurting.

“In an ideal world we would like a HET investigation into each death, but we are probably more realistic than the majority of people in Northern Ireland. If the proof is not there you can’t make it up.

“Of the victims I work with, 98 per cent of them have not seen anyone charged and 80 per cent not seen anyone even arrested for the loved ones’ murder.

“And nine times out of 10 the families know who pulled the trigger. People think in south Armagh there were hundreds of IRA men - but there weren’t. The murders were carried out by about 30 IRA men down through the years. There are plenty of supporters but not so many trigger men.

“I mean, I know who murdered my father.”

Willie hit the headlines again just this weekend past when he vowed not to be silenced after his car was torched in an overnight arson attack.

He was in bed at the time - his wife and 19-year-old son Philip were out for the night - and would not have known about the fire if a passing police patrol had not wakened him. Prior to the arson attack he received a threatening phone call, the latest of a long list. He believes the incident was an attempted murder bid.

In the weeks prior to that Willie became a forerunner in the Ulster People’s Forum, a group set up to facilitate protests against the removal of the Union Flag at Belfast City Hall.

Last week it was then reported that he had been sidelined for expressing views “contrary to the forum”.

The following day the group retracted that statement and he remains as a spokesman.

“To be honest I would rather not be in the media,” he said. “But who is going to do it, to represent victims and say in public what they believe?

“The majority of flag protests I have been to are made up of victims, people who served in the security forces, some of them in Afghanistan and a handful of teenagers.

“Victims are not there for the flag itself, but for what it stands for. Whenever they attack the flag they attack their dead.”

His recent comments that the IRA were involved in introducing horse meat into the food chain five years before the horse meat contamination scandal broke, also provoked a media storm.

But Willie stands by his claims.

“I have had some stick about that, but the more people look into it they see it is true,” he said. “The IRA are behind it. And as much as people thought it was daft at the start they now know there is something to it. And that is why there was an arson attack at my house at the weekend. That is what I believe.”

The south Armagh loyalist knows that being a leading figure in the victims sector has “affected my health”.

In recent years he was diagnosed with cancer.

“To be truthful the work probably has affected my health, but it is not so much the work dealing with the victims, but dealing with the lack of understanding there is from our politicians and government.

“You can eventually try to learn to live with what has happened, but the Belfast Agreement was a bigger betrayal. We were right back where we were 40 years ago - so why did all these people have to die?

“Fighting for victims keeps me going. And I will keep doing it until my dying day.”