Victim: The validity of the tag ‘Catholic IRA’ is open to debate, but they did target Protestants

A letter from Rev Dr David Clements:

Saturday, 30th January 2021, 10:38 am
Updated Saturday, 30th January 2021, 11:11 am
RUC reserve constable William Clements, father of Rev David Clements, who was shot dead by the IRA at Ballygawley police barracks in December 1985

I was watching the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee the other day when Ian Paisley made his controversial comment about the ‘Catholic IRA murdering Protestants along the border’ (I was interested to see what the secretary of state had to say about legacy).

As he spoke, I saw no issue with Mr Paisley’s choice of words. When Stephen Farry MP and then Simon Hoare, MP the chair of the committee objected, I could see their point of view too.

Here is the dilemma. My father was murdered by the IRA close to the border. After the attack the IRA unit almost certainly took refuge across that border, at least for a while.

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Ian Paisley MP made his comment about the ‘Catholic IRA murdering Protestants along the border’ to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. Rev Clements at first saw no problem with his words, but did understand later criticism

The motive for shooting my father had more to do with his bottle green uniform than with the fact that he was a Protestant. Indeed, if he had been a Roman Catholic, in their perverted thinking, the IRA may have considered it a bonus.

Father Dennis Faul, who years later became a friend of mine, did indeed condemn my father’s murder in no uncertain terms. Mr Farry and Mr Hoare were right in the committee to point out that the Catholic Church consistently condemned the evil work of the IRA.

That said, this very uncomfortable truth must be given full weight: for decades along the border the IRA did murder many people precisely because they were Protestants. Often, they were farmers and the oldest son who would one day inherit the farm was the particular target.

It was ethnic cleansing.

The coffiin of RUC Reserve Constable William James Clements is carried from the lane of the family home outside Ballygawley, towards Ballynanny Methodist church in December 1985. Pic sent in by his son Rev David Clements, who is on the right of the picture, carrying the coffin, wearing glasses, his brother Alan is also carrying the coffing at the front, and at the back is their uncle, Rev Sam Clements, brother of the deceased

Mr Paisley’s description of the IRA as ‘Catholic’ is clearly open to challenge — though at least some of its active members (Martin McGuinness for example) seemed to be fairly devout. What is beyond challenge is that the IRA engaged in sectarian murder, particularly along the border.

Whilst clearly the scale is different, what the IRA did to Protestants along the border is in the same moral category with what the Nazis did to Jews.

No amount of historical revisionism can alter these ugly facts. All of us who want to build a better and more peaceful society here would do well to face these bitter truths head on.

To lose what was so evil in a moral fog will only allow it to emerge again at some time in our children’s future.

Rev Dr David Clements, who a Methodist minister in Cullybackey, seen now

Rev Dr David Clements, Cullybackey

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