Murdered census worker Joanne Mathers remembered on 40-year anniversary

A memorial service will take place today for a census worker who was shot dead by an IRA gunman exactly 40 years ago in Londonderry.

Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 7:00 am
Joanne Mathers, a census collector shot dead by the IRA in Lononderry in April 1981

Joanne Mathers, a mother-of-one, was killed as she helped a resident with their census forms in the Gobnascale area of the city’s Waterside on April 7, 1981.

She was speaking to the resident when a gunman ran towards her, seized her clipboard from her grasp, placed a firearm against her neck and fired.

Mrs Mathers screamed and ran into the house, past the resident. The gunman smashed through a glass panel of a door the householder had used to try and halt him to follow the mother-of-one into the house.

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As she lay dying, the republican gunman gathered the census forms and made his escape while brandishing the firearm.

A Queen’s graduate, she had given up her job in town planning to focus on her family life and raise her son, who was two-years-old at the time of the murder.

Her job as a census worker was part-time.

The murder came amid a republican boycott of the 1981 census and claims the returns were being used to gather intelligence, and against the backdrop of the H-Block hunger strike.

The PSNI has said the investigation into her murder remains open.

In a statement, the police force said the case is open and “remains within the caseload of Legacy Investigation Branch for future review”.

She will be remembered during a virtual service to be broadcast online by the victim’s group SEFF.

Kenny Donaldson, SEFF’s Director of Services stated: “This day 40 years ago a young woman who represented democracy was brutally murdered by Provisional IRA terrorists.

“Joanne Mathers’ crime (in Provo terms) was the act of performing the role of a census worker, in 1981 republicans were boycotting the process in tandem with the hunger strike campaign.”

He continued: “Joanne Mathers was an intelligent young woman, an honours graduate who left behind a husband and young child, Joanne represented what was good in Northern Ireland Society and when her life was extinguished, democracy was also extinguished.

“Today we have a short tribute service showing on SEFF’s Victims and Survivors Facebook page at 11am. Rev Alan Irwin has kindly facilitated the service for us, he himself has been directly impacted by terrorism, having a father and uncle stolen from him.”

He added: “Joanne’s legacy lives on, unlike those who murdered her.”