Victims reject McGuinness claims that IRA did not target civilians

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness

Terror victims have hit out at claims from former IRA commander Martin McGuinness that civilians only died where the group made “huge mistakes” but that they had not been deliberately targeted.

He told a debate hosted by al-Jazeera TV at The Oxford Union on Tuesday that the IRA could “have killed thousands on the streets of London and in Northern Ireland” during the Troubles. The IRA claimed 1,778 lives, 642 of whom were civilians, according to the book Lost Lives.

Mr McGuinness was repeatedly pressed about the 1990 murder of Londonderry man Patsy Gillespie, who died along with five soldiers after being forced by the IRA to drive a car bomb into a check-point. He denied knowing who was responsible and said he could not discover who was, insisting it was a matter for the police.

Victor Barker, whose 12-year-old son James was killed in the Omagh bombing in 1998 by the Real IRA, received loud applause after saying to Mr McGuinness: “Everybody would have more respect if you accepted your position and started telling the truth.”

Later in the debate, Mr McGuinness said: “I am absolutely prepared to say sorry to people whose lives I have affected”.

Under questioning, Mr McGuinness said he had never “defended the killing of innocent people” and that he had said before that it was “absolutely and totally wrong”.

But Kenny Donaldson, of terror victims coalition Innocent Victims United, hit back yesterday. “For Martin McGuinness to peddle the lie that the IRA didn’t target civilians is yet further proof that a ‘Truth Commission’ is unworkable and must be resisted,” he said.

“Only a ‘justice framework’ with the ability and will to deal with the past where nobody is beyond the reaches of the law can deliver true reconciliation.”

Martin McGuinness looked distinctly uncomfortable when fielding questions about one of the IRA’s most gruesome murders, according to an Oxford undergraduate from Northern Ireland who attended the debate.

The history student, who did not wish to be named, said the senior Sinn Fein figure also raised gasps of disbelief when asked about the murder of Patsy Gillespie.

Mr Gillespie was forced by the IRA to drive a car bomb into an Army checkpoint while chained to the steering wheel.

“When Martin McGuinness was questioned about the morality of Patsy Gillespie’s murder, he said, ‘obviously people will have their own interpretations of that’. I don’t think he [McGuinness] came out of it particularly well,” he said.