SNP leaders slammed for silence on IRA '˜freedom fighters' remarks

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond have been slammed for refusing to condemn a member of their party who suggested that IRA members who killed three Scottish soldiers were 'freedom fighters'.

Sunday, 5th February 2017, 12:51 pm
Updated Sunday, 5th February 2017, 12:58 pm
Then Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and then Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness emerge from the Cabinet Office in London after they met to discuss a joint declaration they issued to the UK government on the economy, in February 2011. Pic: PA

Scottish National Party (SNP) member John Mason MSP sparked outrage on Twitter when he also said he was “not taking sides” on the murders of the three young Scots.

The News Letter repeatedly approached Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond for comment since then but both have remained silent.

A cousin of two of the Scottish soldiers murdered in Belfast, David McCaughey, said he was not surprised.

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The three murdered Scottish soldiers: from left, Dougald McCaughey, John McCaig, Joseph McCaig from the Royal Highland Fusiliers. The trio were murdered by the IRA in March 1971 in north Belfast after being lured to their deaths on the pretext of being taken to meet girls at a party

“The way I see it, the SNP are Sinn Fein-IRA without the guns,” he said. “They don’t care about our soldiers, they just look on them as an arm of the British state, so they have no sympathy towards them; their sympathies are towards Sinn Fein. But in reality they owe an apology to the families of these soldiers.”

Fusiliers Dougald McCaughey (23), John McCaig (17) and Joseph McCaig (18) were drinking in a Belfast bar in 1971 when IRA men befriended them and invited them to meet girls at a party. They were taken away and shot in the head, in what became known as ‘The honey-trap murders’.

The three murdered Scottish soldiers: from left, Dougald McCaughey, John McCaig, Joseph McCaig from the Royal Highland Fusiliers. The trio were murdered by the IRA in March 1971 in north Belfast after being lured to their deaths on the pretext of being taken to meet girls at a party

The DUP’s Nelson McCausland said: “Nicola Sturgeon, John Mason and others should remember that these men were Scottish soldiers, two of whom were teenagers, and the families from which they came are Scottish families. Are they not entitled to expect that the First Minister of Scotland will ensure, in her role as leader of the SNP, that her colleagues do not speak in such an offensive manner about a crime which shocked both Ulster and Scotland?”

It was the first time the IRA targeted off-duty soldiers, causing tens of thousands to take to the streets. Nobody ever stood trial for the murders.

The lawyers who brought a civil action which saw four men found liable for the 1998 Omagh bomb are attempting a similar action against the 1971 IRA killers.

On Tuesday night Mr Mason was asked on Twitter if he would support the appeal. He replied: “Happy to support all campaigns to bring about justice. But not taking sides between Irish and British”.

It was pointed out that the victims were Scottish soldiers and he was asked if he was refusing to take sides between them and “Irish murderers”.

The Glasgow Shettleston MSP responded: “You say Irish murderers. Others say Irish freedom fighters. I support Scottish soldiers if they do good but not if they do bad”.

Mr Mason was also asked if he supported the IRA during the Troubles to which he replied he was “not taking sides on Irish issues”.

The News Letter had also called Mr Mason for comment and he responded by email two days later to insist that the points he made “were of a general nature and not specific to any particular case”.

“The question of who is a freedom fighter and who is a terrorist is a perennial and tricky one,” he added, citing the case of Scottish nationalist William Wallace and adding, “I certainly deplore violence whoever it is caused by”.

Asked if he would now be supporting the campaign for the soldiers, and if he had anything specifically to say to their relatives who live in his constituency, he replied that “it is for the courts to look at individual cases” and that if any constituents wish to ask him a question, “I am very willing to hear from them”.

The SNP told the News Letter on Wednesday that Mr Mason “has clarified his remarks and regrets any offence caused”. But despite repeated requests to the party and their personal offices, neither Ms Sturgeon nor Mr Salmond offered any comment about Mr Mason’s remarks.

Mr McCaughey, the cousin of two of the soldiers, was in Spain on holiday when he got a phone call about Mr Mason’s comments this week.

“I just got a sick feeling in my stomach,” he said. “I only live three miles from his constituency and we have family living in it. John Mason is supposed to represent all the members of his constituency regardless of creed, and then he comes out and says the IRA are freedom fighters. Do we now say that Isis, Adolf Hitler and the Basque separatists were also freedom fighters?”

Mr McCausland said the silence from the SNP leadership is “both concerning and revealing”.

He added: “There is no doubt that had an MSP made such comments about many other groups in society there would have been swift and decisive action taken by Nicola Sturgeon to ensure there was either an apology issued or disciplinary action taken.

“There are numerous incidents of Scottish nationalism lending at least tacit support to those who engaged in terrorism in Northern Ireland, apparently for the sole reason that they share the joint aim of breaking up the UK. There should be a focus and pressure kept on the SNP to clarify where they stand on terrorism and those who murder British troops.”

In 2014 Martin McGuinness said Mr Salmond will be “a loss to Scottish politics” after he announced his intention to stand down as Scottish first minister.