Killing without end: lives lost in 'peacetime'

A decade after the first IRA and loyalist ceasefires, men and women are still being murdered in Northern Ireland by sectarian organisations that pay scant attention to the Peace Process. David McKittrick reports on a relentless cycle of violence
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The Independent Online

The Troubles may have subsided since the days when lives were taken at a rate of more than one a day, but Northern Ireland is still paying a price in human terms. The killing rate is down to one a month, but families are still being bereaved as the steady drip of death goes on, almost 10 years after the first IRA and loyalist ceasefires of 1994.

The Troubles may have subsided since the days when lives were taken at a rate of more than one a day, but Northern Ireland is still paying a price in human terms. The killing rate is down to one a month, but families are still being bereaved as the steady drip of death goes on, almost 10 years after the first IRA and loyalist ceasefires of 1994.

Although statistically the situation is much improved, lives are still being shattered by the persistence of paramilitarism. Thirty-six killings have taken place in the last three years, from 2001 to 2003.

The latest research shows that extreme loyalist groups are now far outstripping the IRA, and other republicans, in terms of committing murders. The killing rate for the last three-year period stands at exactly one per month, with three-quarters of the 36 killings carried out by loyalist groups. Overall, since 1966, about 3,700 people have died in the Troubles.

Although political and media attention tends to focus almost entirely on the IRA, that organisation is suspected of involvement in just three of the 36 killings that have taken place since April 2001.

Last month, the Government cut off Assembly funding to Sinn Fein as a penalty for continuing IRA violence. This followed a report by the Independent Monitoring Commission accusing the IRA of "punishment" attacks, cigarette smuggling and other illegalities. However, the statistics indicate that the IRA, although involved in a range of paramilitary activities, has sharply reduced its involvement in actual murder.

The resulting fall in the overall killing rate means that the past three years have been among the most peaceful in Northern Ireland since the 1960s. The death toll peaked in 1972, with almost 500 deaths, while during the 1980s and 1990s the toll rarely dropped below 70 deaths each year.

The figures for loyalist violence will be cited in support of the argument - advanced by the media analyst Roy Greenslade - that the political world and the media pay relatively little attention to loyalist activity.

The statistics have been assembled for a new edition of the book Lost Lives (first published in 1999), which chronicles the story of each of the 3,700 dead. The authors of the new edition, to be published shortly, are Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney, Chris Thornton, David McVea and myself.

A study of the deaths since April 2001 shows that the IRA is suspected of three killings, in two of which the victims were reportedly involved in drug-dealing. The third death is that of Gareth O'Connor, who has been missing since May last year. Republicans other than the IRA were responsible for six killings. Two were the work of the Real IRA, while another saw an IRA member killed in a dispute in south Armagh.

The fact that Protestant extremists were responsible for 26 killings illustrates that paramilitarism is deeply entrenched in loyalist ghettos, especially in Belfast and parts of County Armagh. Sizeable groups such as the Ulster Defence Association, Ulster Volunteer Force and Loyalist Volunteer Force remain highly active, and have become much more ready than republicans to resort to murder.

The UDA was by far the most lethal of the loyalist organisations, killing 18 people. Ironically, given that the group traditionally targets Catholics, only five of these victims were Catholic. Eight of those who died were killed in internal feuding, including some UDA members. A further two UDA members died when their bombs exploded prematurely, and one former member was shot as an informer. In two cases, the UDA killed Protestants in the mistaken belief that they were Catholics.

Many of those who died were gunned down in UDA feuds, its members killing each other or clashing with other groups. Much of the internal trouble centred on the west Belfast UDA leader Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair; this subsided a little when he was jailed.

It has been argued, though this is a controversial point, that many of these killings should not be regarded as being strictly Troubles-related, as most of them do not relate to the Troubles in any political or sectarian sense. Rather, many have sprung from internal disputes and sometimes from personal fallings-out, above all over who controls loyalist areas. In many instances, drugs, racketeering and turf wars have been the motives for killings.

4 May 2001: Paul Patrick Daly, shot dead in north Belfast

After he climbed into his car, two men walked up and fired about nine shots. The killing was witnessed by Daly's partner, who was in the passenger seat. Daly was widely reported to be a drug dealer with the nickname "King Coke". Responsibility for the killing was not claimed by any organisation, but it was said to be the work of the IRA.

27 May 2001: Stephen James Manners, shot dead in Co Down

A former loyalist prisoner, Manners was shot in the lavatory of a pub in the town of Newtownards. He had been jailed for the murder in 1992 of a Catholic woman, who was beaten and strangled. He allegedly fell foul of other loyalists in a dispute over money. The murdered woman's father said of Manners' death: "I won't be gloating about it. It doesn't relieve my pain one way or another."

23 June 2001: John Henry McCormick, shot dead in Co Londonderry

McCormick, a Catholic, was killed by two loyalists who walked into the house he shared with his Protestant girlfriend and shot him in front of his two sons, aged four and six. A young niece and nephew also witnessed the killing. His partner, who was six months pregnant with the couple's third child, said: "They told me to get down on my knees. I said, 'No, don't be doing this in front of my wee ones,' but they just fired shots into his stomach and his head." McCormick had been due to appear as a witness in a loyalist court-case.

10 July 2001: Geraldine Ewing, died in west Belfast

The 61-year-old Catholic widow died of a heart attack after loyalists forced her to leave her home in Lisburn, Co Down. Six men entered the family home and told them that they would be burnt out if they did not leave. The widow, a wheelchair-user, shared the home with two of her sons, including one who was physically and mentally handicapped, and her physically disabled brother. Mrs Ewing, who had lived in the house for 21 years, suffered the heart attack within hours.

29 July 2001: Gavin Brett, shot in north Belfast

The 18-year-old Protestant student was shot by loyalists who assumed he was Catholic. A friend who was injured in the attack sent a message to his mother saying: "Tell Gavin's mummy that I'm sorry. Tell her that I'm sorry that he died and I didn't."

Gavin's father, a paramedic who had attended the Omagh bombing and other incidents, ran to the scene but could not resuscitate his son. More than 100 of his father's colleagues were at the funeral in their ambulance service uniforms.

4 September 2001: Thomas McDonald, killed in north Belfast

The Protestant teenager was knocked from his bicycle by a Catholic woman after he stoned her car at a sectarian flashpoint. The woman, a mother of five, was taking children to a religiously integrated school when he threw a half-brick, which struck the windscreen. She drove after him, the car throwing the teenager in the air. She was found guilty of manslaughter by reason of provocation. The judge described the original attack as "a calculated, unprovoked and potentially dangerous assault," and said the woman had reacted in "an impulsive moment". She was sentenced to two years in jail followed by two years of probation.

11 November 2001: Glen Hugh Branagh, killed in north Belfast

The 16-year-old member of the UDA's youth wing died after the pipe bomb that he was trying to throw at police exploded in his hand. The incident happened as police were separating rioting factions. The subsequent inquest was told that the blast severed Branagh's hand and caused severe head injuries. He was a distant relative of the actor Kenneth Branagh.

12 December 2001: William Stobie, shot in west Belfast

The former UDA member, who disclosed that he had once been a police informer, was shot by a UDA gunman after leaving his flat. He was killed two weeks after he was cleared of murdering the solicitor Pat Finucane. Stobie admitted supplying the guns for the solicitor's killing, but maintained that he had provided information that could have saved Finucane's life or led to the capture of his killers if the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) had acted on it.

12 January 2002: Daniel McColgan, shot in north Belfast

The 20-year-old Catholic was shot by two UDA gunmen as he arrived for work at a post office sorting office. His mother later said: "We have his voice on the answering machine. It cheers us up because he laughs before he says, 'Leave your name and number.'" She added: "Ultimately, Danny's death will be like all the other murders. People will not even remember who he was, or even his name." In May 2002, the headstone on his grave was destroyed. His girlfriend said: "Daniel is dead. What more do these people want?"

27 December 2002: Jonathan Stewart, shot in north Belfast

The young man was shot five or six times at an all-night Boxing Day party. The killing was related to a series of tit-for-tat shootings between UDA factions. He was not in the UDA, but was the nephew of a prominent UDA man. A year later, the father of his girlfriend was charged in connection with his murder.

2 February 2003: John Gregg, shot in north Belfast

A leading loyalist, he was shot dead by allies of the UDA leader Johnny Adair. He was ambushed in the Belfast docks on his way home after watching a Rangers football match in Glasgow. In 1984, Gregg had almost killed the Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams in a gun attack and was sentenced to 18 years for attempted murder. Released in 1993, he said that his only regret was that he had failed to kill the republican leader. His UDA unit was held responsible for many murders. In the wake of the Gregg killing, the Adair faction was expelled from the Shankill Road district of Belfast and fled to Scotland and England.

12 March 2003: Keith Rogers, shot in Co Armagh

Rogers was shot dead during an incident in the south Armagh village of Cullaville. The IRA said he was a member but was unarmed and not "on active service". The exact causes of the incident were unclear. At his funeral, the leading IRA figure Brian Keenan said he had been killed by criminals masquerading as republicans and described the attack as "treachery carried out by a band of vermin". Keenan said: "This was not a dispute between gangs. It was a case of IRA volunteers being fired on by criminals." Rogers was 15 years old when the IRA declared its ceasefire in 1994.

11 May 2003: Gareth O'Connor, disappeared in Armagh

O'Connor, from Armagh city, went missing in the south Armagh area and is presumed to have been killed by republicans. His family has kept up a media campaign, first appealing for information and later asking for the return of his body. The family, and the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland, Hugh Orde, blamed the IRA, although there were claims that O'Connor had been involved with dissident republicans.

17 August 2003: Danny McGurk, shot in west Belfast

The Catholic father of six was shot by the Real IRA. His 73-year-old mother Mary said he had been beaten with hatchets and hammers a week earlier after standing up to local paramilitaries. She went on: "They're just cowards. He was a big strong fella ­ he didn't need a weapon, he just needed his hands. They are nothing but the Devil's disciples and drug dealers." It emerged that the dead man had been convicted of manslaughter arising from a 1997 incident when a man died after being stabbed and beaten. He received a six-year sentence.

In February, the dissident republican Bobby Tohill, who had denied any link with the McGurk killing, was involved in an incident near the centre of Belfast and was badly injured. Several men were charged. The police said they had interrupted an IRA attack.

The new edition of 'Lost Lives: the stories of the men, women and children who died through the Northern Ireland Troubles', will be published by the end of this month (Mainstream Publishing, £30)