The gunshots that had terrible echoes across Ireland

THE GIBRALTAR SHOOTINGS

The name of Gibraltar will forever be associated with one of the darkest and most traumatic periods of the Northern Ireland troubles, when for a time violence seemed to be spiralling completely out of control.

The SAS killings of three IRA members in Gibraltar not only sparked off intense international controversy but also led on to an extraordinary and unprecedented cycle of death and brutality. Even people who had believed themselves inured to violence were shocked and unsettled by the events of the time.

It is still remembered, often with a shudder, as an almost unreal period of instability and polarisation, in both political and security terms. The incident happened in an atmosphere of deep Anglo-Irish disagreement over issues such as the Stalker affair and the Birmingham Six.

The Gibraltar shootings led to intense debate and argument over how far the state should be allowed to go to protect itself and its citizens. Some argued that the three IRA members were planning to set off a bomb designed to cause multiple deaths and deserved all they got; others responded that the state should not itself descend to using terrorist methods.

Between these two poles controversy raged about the details of the killings and on whether or not there had been a premeditated plan to kill the IRA members and a subsequent official cover-up. Sustained media interest kept such questions alive and, with television programmes such as Death on the Rock, itself became the subject of controversy.

The three killed were elevated to instant martyrdom. Hundreds were at Dublin airport as their bodies were flown in, and thousands lined the route as they were driven to Belfast.

Thousands more attended the funeral in west Belfast, but in Milltown cemetery mayhem broke out when a lone loyalist gunman, Michael Stone, attacked mourners with handguns and grenades. Three men were killed before an incensed crowd overpowered him and beat him unconscious.

One of those killed was a member of the IRA, and when his funeral took place a car carrying two British army corporals drove into the cortege. Mourners besieged the car, assuming that its occupants were loyalists intent on a Stone-style attack.

In a frenzied attack the soldiers were dragged out of the car, stripped and beaten and shortly afterwards cold-bloodedly killed. The fact that both the Stone attack and much of the incident involving the corporals were shown on television heightened community tensions.

That time has had many legal follow-ups. Michael Stone, who became a hero to young loyalists, was jailed for life. Still in prison, he says now that he supports the peace process and disavows his former behaviour.

The incident that led to the death of the corporals resulted in 34 men and youths appearing in court. Most of those convicted have since been freed, but many nationalist elements claim a miscarriage of justice occurred when three men were jailed for life. A campaign for their release is still going on, with the support of sources such as the Catholic church and the Irish government and a number of human rights bodies.

The Gibraltar killings themselves have repeatedly returned to the headlines as the relatives of the dead pursued the case through the courts. In republican circles the dead continue to be revered as heroes.

Other traces of Gibraltar linger on. The Royal Ulster Constabulary Assistant Chief Constable, Brian Fitzsimons, who was one of 29 service personnel killed when a Chinook helicopter crashed in Scotland last year, is said to have been closely involved in the SAS operation.

Siobhan O'Hanlon, who is Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams's secretary, has been alleged in some British newspapers to have been involved in the Gibraltar incident. In the past year she has acted as notetaker at many meetings between Sinn Fein and British ministers.

Yesterday's decision may well have more legal sequels. The 3,400 victims of the troubles include about 240 killed by troops and around 50 killed by the RUC. Sinn Fein is already encouraging relatives of the dead to institute proceedings against the authorities. Many were awaiting the final Gibraltar judgment before doing so.

News
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
fashion David Beckham fronts adverts for his underwear collection
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
i100Most young people can't
Extras
indybest
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Service and Support (Financial Services, ITIL, ORC, TT)

£75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of Service and Support (Financial Ser...

Calypso Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, JAXB, ...

Service Delivery Manager - ITIL / ServiceNow / Derivatives

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading Financial Services orga...

Senior Quantitative Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home