Under-fire BBC journalist defends claims about IRA civilian killings

BBC broadcaster Peter Taylor
BBC broadcaster Peter Taylor

An acclaimed BBC journalist has asked those objecting to his claim that the IRA mainly didn’t kill civilians to understand that he was comparing it to Islamic State at the time.

Speaking on Saturday’s BBC breakfast programme, Peter Taylor said: “They [the IRA] killed many civilians, let’s not underestimate that, but by and large the IRA tactic was not to deliberately kill civilians – although many civilians, I hasten to add, were killed by the IRA.”

Mr Taylor was launching a documentary ‘Fifty Years Behind the Headlines – Reflections on Terror’.

However, Ken Funston of victims’ group, the South East Fermanagh Foundation, said the comment was “totally inaccurate and does not stand up to scrutiny”.

The IRA had operated a campaign of “ethnic genocide” along the border to “grab” farms and expand their control, he said. Mr Funston’s brother Ronnie was shot while tending his border farm in 1984.

But Mr Taylor responded that his comments “should be evaluated in the context in which they were made”.

“I have never ‘sanitised’ the IRA’s history,” he said. “My remarks should be seen in the context of the programme and the qualified way in which I made them. I was drawing a broad comparison between the IRA’s campaign and that of Al Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State (IS), making the point that the latter’s overriding priority was the indiscriminate killing of as many innocent civilians as possible.

“The overriding priority of the IRA’s campaign was not the same, although the IRA did kill over 600 civilians, many in nakedly sectarian attacks like the massacre of Protestants at Tullyvallen Orange Hall and Protestant workmen in a minibus at Whitecross [Kingsmills Massacre].

“I referred to these and other attacks as ‘notable exceptions’ to the IRA’s overall modus operandi. I have also made documentaries about the IRA-driven ‘genocide’ of Protestant communities along the border.

“In my work, over nearly half a century, I have never underestimated or undervalued the feelings of victims, whether the result of the IRA and loyalist paramilitary killings or ‘Bloody Sunday’ and other deaths at the hands of the security forces. The tragic fact about any conflict that we report on impartially is that many innocent lives are lost and the suffering and scars endure for those caught up in them.”

:: Just over 36% of the 1,778 lives claimed by the IRA were civilians – 642 in total.

READ MORE: Row over BBC reporter’s claim that IRA didn’t deliberately target civilians