The death of an IRA sniper Bernard McGinn raises issues from the past

IRA sniper Bernard McGinn
IRA sniper Bernard McGinn

Nelson Mandela was on the U.S terror watch list until 2008 when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice finally removed him. He had won the Nobel Prize by that time and was hailed as the world’s greatest statesman.

The debate over one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist goes back as far as George Washington.

It is never black and white as was shown in last week’s story from Northern Ireland
Just last week Bernard McGinn died, he was part of the famous or infamous cabal known as the South Armagh snipers.

The group using a Barret M82 and M90 gun imported from the U.S. were capable of killing from half a mile away and terrorized the British Army and policemen in South Armagh in the 1990s.

Between 1990 and 1997 24 shots were fired with seven army and two police killed.

The snipers were so feared that British troops were forced to helicopter into the area. Even SAS men confessed they were terrified to go back.

The local Republicans cheered the sniper to the hilt and he was celebrated in song and story. The road sign “Sniper at Work” with a man brandishing a rifle and his fist raised in victory was widespread.

South Armagh was known as bandit country it was the most Irish Republican in character, clearly in the wrong part of Ireland when the country was arbitrarily partitioned. Little surprise that when The Troubles started the  place became an IRA stronghold.

Legends grew up that the sniper was an Irish American soldier home from a foreign war  had made his services available to the IRA. He was nicknamed ‘Goldfinger” in the local bars.

The truth was more local, there were two small cells of IRA shooters, all deadly marksmen who combined to try and make South Armagh a no-go area.

The last soldier shot was Lance Corporal Stephen Restorick killed by a bullet in the back as he manned a British Army checkpoint in 1997 after the IRA ceasefire had temporarily broken down.

Here is where the hero narrative gets complicated. He was by all accounts a fine young man.
Restorick’s mother Rita wrote a deeply moving book about her son and lobbied for victims of violence on all sides, even meeting Sinn Fein leaders.

 Gerry Adams sent a letter of condolence, an extraordinary recognition of Rita Restorick and her plea for an end to violence.

Her duty she always said was to her son’s memory and the hope that others from whatever side would not suffer her pain and grief. She was and remains a deeply impressive woman.

McGinn was later arrested and confessed to being at the scene, though he did not pull the trigger. He confessed and implicated several others including Michael Caraher, considered the main assassin whose brother Fergus had been gunned down in cold blood by British troops at a checkpoint.

So violence begat violence begat violence. All we can say with certainty is that Bernard McGinn considered himself a freedom fighter. What others thought depended on where they came from and whose flag they pledged allegiance too.

It is always the same in this debate.

COMMENTS