IRA victim attacks definition of killings as political acts: David McKittrick reports on a letter that provides a glimpse of the lasting pain and grief suffered by thousands of bereaved families in Northern Ireland

THE Dublin-based Irish Times carried an unprecedented letter from a Belfast resident magistrate on Friday. It was addressed to the editor, but in effect was directed at the Republic's entire legal and political establishment.

It questioned the outcome of a recent case in which an alleged republican successfully appealed to the Dublin High Court against extradition to Britain for the murder of a soldier.

The magistrate, Tom Travers, argued that the Irish constitution helped to prevent extraditions from the South on the grounds that killings carried out by republicans were political acts, committed under the guise of upholding the

constitution's claim to Northern Ireland.

He went further, contending that the 'allegedly Christian' Republic's legal and political ethos tended to excuse murder. Mr Travers, a Catholic, wrote: 'In 1979, I went to Drogheda with my wife and two daughters to see the Holy Father. There we heard him say: 'Murder is murder and never let it be called by any other name.' We took comfort from his words.

'The great and the good of church, politics and the law murmured their approval. In this some were hypocritical because, as

future events were to show, they must, when they heard the Holy Father's words, have had mental reservations.

'These people, suffering from an obsession with the 'constitutional imperative of reintegration of the national territory', must in reality have believed that murder could be called by another name.'

It is practically unheard-of for a figure such as Mr Travers, a full- time serving magistrate, publicly to express views, especially such controversial views, on the legal and political affairs of another state. A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Court Service said it had no comment on the matter.

The letter was clearly written in a personal capacity: Mr Travers did not mention in it that he was a magistrate. But he did dwell on his own experience of violence. A decade ago, he was on his way home from Mass with his wife, Joan, and daughter Mary, a 22-year-old teacher, when they were confronted by two armed attackers. He survived, but his daughter died.

He wrote: 'Ten years ago, on 8 April 1984, my dear darling daughter, Mary, was murdered as she walked home from Mass with her mum and me. Mary's murder was carried out by members of an evil and brutal criminal organisation. Some of her killers were members of the murder machine, self-named Provisional IRA. At least one was a member of political Sinn Fein. Mary died, as she lived, gentle and full of grace, sweetness and love, and is now with God. May I say that on the day my lovely daughter was murdered her killer tried to murder my darling wife also.

'At that time Mary lay dying on her mum's breast, her gentle heart pouring its pure blood on to a dusty street in Belfast. The murderer's gun, which was pointed at my wife's head, misfired twice. Another gunman shot me six times. As he prepared to fire the first shot I saw the look of hatred on his face, a face I will never forget.'

The letter went on: 'While your constitution and laws may constrain your judiciary to hold that the killer was carrying out a political act, I can assure them that the hatred on that face came from the depths of Hell itself.

'No doubt the constitution and laws of the allegedly Christian Republic would prevent the extradition of Mary's murderer, if he were found within its boundaries. Murder would not then be called murder but would be called by another name. Mary's killers are regarded

as patriots; some even call them politicians.'

Two years later Mr Travers lived through a public ordeal at the trial of a man and a woman charged with his daughter's murder. He broke down in the witness box. Hardened reporters said at the time that it was the most upsetting courtroom spectacle they had witnessed.

The male defendant, who Mr Travers identified as his daughter's killer, walked free after the judge said there was a possibility the magistrate could have been mistaken. The woman, who was 19 at the time of the killing, was jailed for life.

Mr Travers returned to the bench in 1986. On Friday, he did not wish to elaborate on his letter, the words of which convey something of the intensity of his feelings of grief and loss.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will also work alongside their seasoned sa...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Property Manager

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for your first step into...

Recruitment Genius: Mechanical Design Engineer

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This innovative company working...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat