Kingsmills service marks four decades since ‘act of barbarism’

First Minister Arlene Foster with MLAs Danny Kennedy (left) and William Irwin study a memorial to the Kingsmills victims
First Minister Arlene Foster with MLAs Danny Kennedy (left) and William Irwin study a memorial to the Kingsmills victims

First Minister Arlene Foster was among those who gathered on Sunday to remember 10 Protestant workmen gunned down by the IRA in south Armagh four decades ago.

Four hundred people packed into Bessbrook town hall for the Kingsmills massacre commemoration, where ministers from the three main Protestant churches and Tullyvallen Silver Band led the praise.

The mass murder in January 1976 was one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles. No one has ever been convicted of involvement.

Following the Kingsmill Memorial Committee service Mrs Foster, whose father was seriously injured during an IRA murder attempt in 1979, described the Kingsmills attack as “an act of barbarism”.

She said: “The murder of 10 Protestant workmen at Kingsmills 40 years ago was one of the cruellest and cold-blooded acts of terrorism during the Troubles. These men were lined up, asked their religion and then executed.

“It was disturbingly similar to how the terrorists from Islamic State have operated in more recent times.

“Those who executed these men, did so in the name of a united Ireland.

“Such warped logic is exactly the same logic which is used by dissident republicans today. There was never any justification for such acts of terrorism.”

Mrs Foster added: “Democracy is the only way to advance a political objective. Those who try to rewrite the past by telling us that the men and women of PIRA were involved in some kind of noble battle need to explain what was noble about Kingsmills. It was an act of barbarism.”

Mrs Foster’s DUP colleague William Irwin MLA said: “Forty years on and for many the pain is still very real. One thing that continues to hurt is the lack of justice against those who carried out this heinous crime.

“We can only hope that the pending coroner inquest will help to answer some of the questions that remain unanswered.”

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt, Justice Minister David Ford and TUV leader Jim Allister also attended, and heard Presbyterian minister Rev Keith McIntyre say that getting to the truth behind the atrocity was important.

“No-one has been brought before any earthly court to answer for what they did that night,” he said.

UUP MLA Danny Kennedy took part in the service he described as a “very significant” and “respectful” event.

“The relatives and the sole survivor Alan Black deeply appreciate the sense the Kingsmills is not forgotten, and will not be forgotten.”

Mr Kennedy said the attendance of so many people who no longer lived in the Bessbrook was a “mark of how Kingsmills touches on the emotions” of the wider community.

The 10 Kingsmills victims were: Walter Chapman; Reginald Chapman; Joseph Lemmon; James McWhirter; John Bryans; Kenneth Worton; Robert Freeburn; Robert Chambers; Robert Walker and John McConville.

Rev Frank Gibson said the murders were “a shocking breach of civilised behaviour” on “a day of infamy in south Armagh”.