The IRA men killed in the attack on Loughgall police station in 1987 were murderers not martyrs, MLA Doug Beattie has said.
Mr Beattie, the Ulster Unionist Party’s justice spokesperson, was responding to Sinn Fein’s use of the word ‘martyrs’ to describe the men killed by the SAS as they carried out an attack on the station.
Sinn Fein leader Michelle O’Neill will speak at a commemoration parade this weekend in Co Tyrone, named the ‘Loughgall Martyrs 30th Anniversary’.
Mr Beattie said, “I have always taken the view that everybody has the right to remember their dead, but that must be done with sensitivity and people should not seek to re-write history in the process.
“In attending this particular commemoration, Michelle O’Neill is reaffirming Sinn Fein’s deep rooted link to this group, described as ‘streetwise homicidal maniacs’ in Dr William Matchett’s recent book ‘Secret Victory, The Intelligence War that beat the IRA’.
“The truth is that the IRA men who chose to turn up at Loughgall on May 8, 1987 were heavily armed, all wearing body armour and were extremely dangerous. They were not ‘martyrs’, they were criminals. They were there to commit murder, and murder is a crime.
“Martyrs is a term commonly used by groups such as ISIS, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Al-Shabab. In using the term to advertise an IRA commemoration, Sinn Fein are placing the IRA dead at Loughgall in very interesting company indeed.”
He added, “This particular gang had been involved in previous attacks on police stations. Two police officers were murdered in an attack on the RUC station in Ballygawley on December 7, 1985 and the RUC station at The Birches was attacked on August 11, 1986.
“The attack on Loughgall was to follow the same plan. Indeed, one of the weapons recovered from the terrorists killed at Loughgall had been taken from an RUC officer murdered in the Ballygawley attack.
“There is no question that the terrorists would have shown no mercy to anyone who crossed their path. They were ruthless killers who had been involved in criminal activity for many years and had proven themselves all too keen to butcher men, women and children without hesitation. Their luck ran out at Loughgall when they encountered highly trained professional soldiers from the SAS operating within the law and within the rules of engagement.
“The SAS operation at Loughgall was highly effective. Whilst I regret the death of anyone, the fact is that eight ruthless and dedicated terrorists were neutralised and could play no further part in what republicans term ‘the conflict.’ Many more innocent lives were saved as a result. For that we should all be thankful.”