A victims’ campaigner has demanded Sinn Fein live up to its own rhetoric over the truth of the Troubles, after it emerged the man honoured by Michelle O’Neill last week had stood accused of an especially “cowardly” crime – the shooting of a man at his own wedding.
Kenny Donaldson was reacting to details of IRA man Peadar McElvanna’s past, after Sinn Fein regional leader Mrs O’Neill attended a tribute to him last weekend in Keady, south Armagh.
What has gone unacknowledged since is that McElvanna was tried over an attack on off-duty soldier Lt Gary Cass as he left a church in Trim, Co Meath, in 1978.
The book Lost Lives says the victim was “shot several times as he led his bride to a car to take them to the reception”. He survived.
McElvanna was unsuccessfully tried for the crime.
Sinn Fein regularly commemorates McElvanna (who was killed during an Army operation in 1979, and who An Phoblacht says gone on the run after being charged with arms offences).
But this year the Keady event came to public notice because Mrs O’Neill attended straight after being at the Time for Truth march, demanding the UK state own up to its alleged crimes.
She declared McElvanna fought for “a new, united and inclusive Ireland – an Ireland of equality and justice” and was a “deep thinker, clever guy, a handsome and playful character”.
Mr Donaldson, of Innocent Victims United, said “Sinn Fein and Michelle O’Neill regularly reference the need for truth”, but that victims of terror want to hear from Sinn Fein “the full truth of what Peadar McElvenna was responsible for”.
Ann Travers, whose sister Mary was shot dead by the IRA as she left church in Belfast in 1984, said: “What’s more cowardly than attempting to murder somebody on their wedding day?” She added: “Until SF actually say every murder was never justified, I don’t think we’ll ever progress.”
It comes just as former IRA leader Billy McKee’s funeral is to be held in Belfast today, with concerns about possible paramilitary displays.
An article in the Irish Independent by Kevin Myers in 2012 records a more graphic account of the church attack than Lost Lives.
It says as the victim and his bride left the church, “two IRA gunmen downed him with volleys of revolver fire... as he lay on the ground, he was hit by shotgun blasts, with some 200 to 300 pelletwounds in his body – his liver was penetrated 15 times”.
It further adds Lt Cass gave evidence at the trial, as did two British Army officers who witnessed it – but that the officers’ evidence was rejected.
Mr Myers said the officers’ eyewitness accounts were dropped because one had discussed what he had seen with other guests, while in the other case details of the scene had changed over time.
Mr Myers concluded the failed prosecution showed how Irish courts were “too fatuously querulous, too quibbling, to cope with the evil realities of a terrorist war”.
The News Letter has established that Mr Cass (an Englishman) is still alive, and still married to the same woman.
After surviving the attack he remained in the Armed Forces and was ultimately put in command of the 2nd Battallion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers from 1997 to 1999, retiring soon after with the rank of Lt Colonel.
He was also awarded an OBE in 1999.
He and his wife did not wish to comment on the McElvanna case.
McElvanna was killed, aged 24, on June 9, 1979, in Keady by the British Army, in a confrontation with soldiers.
That same day, an IRA unit had opened fire on a man in the area who was gardening at the time.
Kenny Donaldson, of the group Innocent Victims United, said: “Sinn Fein and Michelle O’Neill regularly reference the need for truth, they positioned themselves within the Time for Truth march.
“Then Michelle O’Neill felt able to go to an event in Keady, south Armagh to eulogise a terrorist who had been legitimately killed whilst involved in a terrorist action.”
He added: “Sinn Fein’s approach would suggest that they are not truly motivated in being part of building a reconciled society, rather their interests remain rooted in the mantra of ‘ourselves alone’.”
Ann Travers, 50 and living in the Republic, said: “What sacrifice does a man make going up and attempting to murder another human being on his wedding day?” She added: “Until Sinn Fein actually say every murder was never justified, I don’t think we’ll ever progress. How are we ever meant to move forward?”
Sinn Fein said: “As Republicans we recognise that there was hurt throughout all communities as a result of the conflict. The Good Friday Agreement affirms that everyone has a right to remember their dead in a respectful and dignified manner.”
The SDLP was asked to comment, but did not.