BBC Spotlight: Ex-IRA man says state colluded with loyalists to target relatives of republicans

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A former leading IRA man believes there was state collusion in what he says was a deliberate campaign of targeting relatives of republicans in the 1990s in order to force a ceasefire.

BBC NI Spotlight will tonight conclude that the testimony of a Mid Ulster UVF gunman Laurence Maguire proves that the murder of Catholic brothers Rory and Gerard Cairns in Bleary in 1993 was not a random sectarian killing.

Tommy McKearny, a former leading IRA figure in the 1980s, told BBC Spotlight that he believed the state colluded with loyalists to target relatives of IRA members. Source: BBC Spotlight.

Tommy McKearny, a former leading IRA figure in the 1980s, told BBC Spotlight that he believed the state colluded with loyalists to target relatives of IRA members. Source: BBC Spotlight.

Mr Maguire told the latest episode of ‘Spotlight on the Troubles: A Secret History’ that the murders were carried out because a cousin of the two men - who was murdered around a year before - was a visible and active member of Sinn Fein in Belfast.

Maguire had been directed by UVF leaders Robin Jackson and Billy Wright to murder the brothers a year before, he said, but it was aborted at the last minute. This was proof, Spotlight found, that the murders were not random but carefully planned. “It seems like that family was bound to suffer” Mr Maguire added.

Spotlight asked if there was a deliberate strategy to kill family members of republicans in the 1990s. Playing what it said was a previously unheard audio recording of Billy Wright, it concluded that he certainly thought so.

The recording stated: “It brought home to the IRA that never again would there be a Teebane, never again would there be an Enniskillen and whenever the reality of eight or nine people dying came home to its own community, it wasn’t long until internal pressures within the republican movement and nationalist community changed its direction.”

Tommy McKearny, a leading IRA figure who was jailed for murder, told Spotlight that two things were happening from the early 1990s.

“The British army was killing republicans and loyalists were killing relatives of republicans,” he said. “I think perhaps the effect was that it left the organisation [IRA] and its support base feeling vulnerable rather than anything else. And it created a sense of vulnerability which facilitated in turn an acceptance of the ceasefire.” He believes “at some level that there was a degree of collusion with the state...”.

One of his brothers was killed by the SAS and another murdered by loyalists.

Spotlight found most loyalist murders of Catholics in the 1970s were random but in the 1990s, one in five had some connection to republicans.

Spotlight asked how Wright was able to operate for so long without being jailed. It concluded that Wright was an informer but said it could not draw any further conclusions.

Former Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan investigated the Cairns family concerns that Jackson and Wright were being protected. But as there was no evidence linking them to the case, she was unable to reopen it.

However, hearing Maguire’s admission of Wright and Jackson’s involvement, she told Spotlight this would have allowed her to reopen the case and probe further.