A methodist minister whose father was gunned down 30 years ago today still believes the IRA killers died under the judgment of God at the hands of the SAS at Loughgall.
Today marks the 30th anniversary of an IRA attack which destroyed Ballygawley police station and cost the lives of two police officers.
The IRA shot Constable George Gilliland and reserve Constable William Clements at close range at the gates of Ballygawley police station on December 7, 1985.
The terrorists then directed heavy fire at the station and planted a 100lb bomb inside, destroying the building. Three other RUC officers escaped through a back door.
“They took my father’s gun when they shot him, which left my mother greatly distressed,” Rev David Clements of Carrick Methodist Church told the News Letter last night.
“I had prayed two prayers after he was murdered; that they would repent and turn from their violence and then I would forgive them and embrace them – but if they would not, that God would judge them swiftly.
“But then a significant number of the East Tyrone Brigade were killed at Loughgall by the SAS [about a year and half later].
“I was driving along when I heard the news. I just had this deep sense that the people responsible for my father’s murder were dead. My father’s revolver was found among them.”
Rev Clements has expressed his views publicly before and says he still stands by them today.
SAS soldiers opened fire on the eight IRA men who were preparing to bomb Loughgall police station on 8 May 1987.
In September this year it was confirmed that new inquests are to be held into the deaths of the IRA men and a civilian killed in the operation.
Rev Clements said his family got “bogged down” with the Historical Enquiries Team investigation (HET) into his father’s murder, and that the report was almost finished when the unit was wound up.
He is curious to know if any suspects in the East Tyrone Brigade are still alive.
“I would like the HET report and have written to the Chief Constable about it but have not had a satisfactory reply.”
He does not believe the Christian faith teaches unconditional forgiveness per se.
“For forgiveness to have any real meaning, there needs to be repentance,” he says.
“Christ prayed on the cross ‘forgive them Father for they know not what they do’.
“But that is not unconditional forgiveness, that was to do with his relationship with his Father.
“It depends what the [Roman] soldiers did with that. One centurion said after Christ died - ‘this was surely a righteous man’.
“I believe I will meet that man in heaven as a brother.
“Over the years some journalists have got scoops when widows said right after their husband was murdered - ‘I forgive them’.
“But in nine out of ten cases that is very unhelpful. People say words when in shock but later their feelings change however they feel trapped by their own words.
“If the people who shot my dad repented I would have forgiven them but still expect the courts to send them to jail for 20 years.”
Asked if the line from the Lord’s Prayer “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” suggests unconditional forgiveness is expected of Christians, he replies that “forgiveness entails repentance so it must be conditional on the response of the perpetrator”.
He acknowledges that forgiving killers regardless of whether they repent can have mental health benefits for the victims, and that doing so need not debar the pursuit of justice. But says the issues are complex. He advocates “not being bitter”.
“I am not bitter towards the IRA but that is not the same thing as forgiving them.”
His father would have been “a fantastic grandfather”. He adds: “I took each one of my children to his grave as infants.”
“It is a scandal that more has not been done for victims. The only time politicians have something to say is when they can make political capital out of it.”
His mother, Ella, is now 82, still lives on in the same house, and is “coping very well”. The cleric repeats an offer he has made publicly before: “If anyone involved in my father’s death is still alive and wants to speak, my number is in the book.” Nobody has ever called.
“I believe Martin McGuinness has made a commendable journey. But there are republicans who want it both ways. They want credit for the peace process and they want the British government in the dock for their actions.
“But they refuse to ‘fess up for what the IRA did and admit that their campaign over 30 years was immoral, counterproductive and evil.”
Former Sinn Fein spokesman Danny Morrison recounts on his blog having been on a BBC Sunday Sequence panel with Rev Clements.
Mr Morrison said the IRA had apologised to the families of “non-combatants, innocent bystanders, whom it had killed” but that Rev Clements pointed out this did not cover the murder of his father.
The republican understood that Rev Clements believed “a proper apology” would have to involve “a complete turning away from one’s actions”.
He added: “I agreed that the IRA had not apologised for killing his father though it did acknowledge the grief and pain of the relatives of those whom it considered enemy combatants, and whom it wilfully killed.”
Mr Morrison said he did not expect the British army or the RUC “to apologise for having killed IRA Volunteers”.