A Scottish National Party MSP who described the IRA as “freedom fighters” has suffered a fresh backlash for supporting a leading Easter Rising figure – despite claiming to be impartial on the Troubles.
In January 2017 John Mason caused widespread anger when he declined to support a fund-raising drive in support of three Scottish soldiers murdered by the IRA.
Fusiliers Dougald McCaughey, 23, John McCaig, 17, and Joseph McCaig, 18, were drinking in a Belfast bar in 1971 when IRA men used the promise of girls at a party to lure them to their deaths, later dubbing the atrocity as ‘the honey trap murders’.
When asked to endorse the drive for funds to pursue those responsible in 2017, Mr Mason tweeted: “Happy to support all campaigns to bring about justice. But not taking sides between Irish and British.”
He added: “You say Irish murderers. Others say Irish freedom fighters.”
His comments eventually forced an apology from his party leader, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, as well as Mr Mason himself.
In March Mr Mason angered relatives once again by refusing to back a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling for the release of files on the murders to the families’ legal team.
Now he has been accused of coming “full circle” by signing a motion in support of Irish republican James Connolly – a leading figure in the Easter Rising – despite his claims of impartiality “between Irish and British”.
Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer tabled the motion in support of Connolly, noting that June 5 was the 150th anniversary of his birth.
The Green MSP noted he was co-founder of the Irish Citizens’ Army “which evolved into a revolutionary organisation committed to the establishment of an independent, socialist Ireland”. The motion also acknowledged Connolly’s role as “de-facto commander in chief of the 1916 Easter Rising against British rule in Ireland”.
The motion was supported by a number of SNP MSPs, including Mr Mason.
David McCaughey, a cousin of Dougald McCaughey, said: “It has all come full circle. I just can’t understand how many times the SNP are going to allow one of their MSPs to disrespect Scottish soldiers who served and were murdered in Northern Ireland.
“He cannot support Scottish Parliamentary motions to support the fight for justice for Scottish soldiers who are IRA victims, but he can support motions for Irish republicans.
“There was an apology on his behalf last year by Nicola Sturgeon. That party should be hauling him over the coals for his persistent comments.”
Kris McGurk, of the Three Scottish Soldiers campaign, said that Mr Mason was actually endorsing the killing of British soldiers through the motion.
“John Mason refused to support the motion for our three soldiers,” he said. “So to see that he actually supported the Easter Rising – an event in which British soldiers were killed – further highlights the anti-British agenda that he has. “In the previous row he said he would not take sides between Irish and British and yet here he is doing it.”
Ulster University politics lecturer Dr Cillian McGrattan said Mr Mason’s actions form party of a strategy to undermine the Union.
“The motion before the Scottish Parliament to honour the Irish republican leader James Connolly is devoid of crucial historical context,” he said. “Connolly was indeed a Marxist, but he died in a nationalist rebellion and has ever since been eulogised as a martyr for the blood-sacrifice ideology that lies at the core of modern republicanism.
“Mr John Mason and the SNP in general have form in this regard – indulging in ‘whataboutery’ and cherry picking historical figures and atrocities. Of course, this is to be expected of a party whose goal is to hollow out the Union by effacing unionist collective memories.”
Former DUP MLA Nelson McCausland, who represented the area where the soldiers were killed, said: “There is a sharp contrast between his open affirmation of an Irish republican icon and his reticence to support Scottish families whose sons were murdered by Irish republicans.”
The SNP and Mr Mason did not offer any comment.