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23 March 2017

Will Bill Clinton spare a thought for IRA victims?

Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton

So Bill Clinton is to attend Martin McGuinness's funeral. Will he I wonder, as he shakes hands with Gerry Adams, Michelle O'Neill and all the rest of the republican aristocracy, give any thought to his victims other than wishing they would shut up and move on?

Fortunately, many of them won't. People like Stephen Gault, then 18, who on Remembrance Sunday, November 8, 1987, was chatting with his policeman father at the Cenotaph in Enniskillen when the blast hit them.

"The top of Dad's head wasn't there any more," says Stephen. "I knew he had gone."

In the weeks afterwards, Stephen developed psoriasis linked to his extreme trauma and has an arthritic condition so painful he can't work. But he never gives up the fight to remind us through the press and social media of the suffering of innocent victims.

Yesterday he wrote on Facebook: "Fermanagh & Omagh Council's decision to open a book of condolence in Enniskillen for Martin McGuinness is hurtful to the families that HIS IRA murdered on Remembrance Sunday 1987!

"How would the people of Londonderry react if a book was opened there to the commander of the Paras on Bloody Sunday?"

Good question. Aileen Quinton, whose mother was among those murdered at Enniskillen, is another inveterate campaigner determined that we should be reminded of the immorality of letting terrorists get away with it.

"An unrepentant terrorist is being eulogised," she told Sky News after Martin McGuinness's death.

Lowry Mathers won't let go either, even though it's 35 years since the Derry IRA deliberately murdered his wife Joanne.

At the time, McGuinness was chief of staff of the IRA, whose army council had decided to oppose the census through the use of violence, which involved attacking and robbing enumerators and destroying forms.

The 29-year-old Joanne had taken a part-time job as a census worker to help the family finances, and was on a doorstep chatting to a resident when she was shot in the head and died, leaving Lowry to raise their one-year-old son on his own.

"Every time I go into Derry to do shopping," said Lowry recently.

"I look at the men passing me in the street and I think, 'Was it him?' That is just the way it is." Another is Kathleen Gillespie, widowed by McGuinness, who had her husband Patsy, a civilian worker at an Army barracks, turned into a human bomb on October 22, 1990.

The IRA took the Derry family hostage, strapped Patsy into an explosives-laden van and ordered him to drive to a border army checkpoint where he was blown up with five soldiers.

Horrified last month that McGuinness had been nominated for the Tipperary International Peace Prize, Jane Hunter, widow of one of those soldiers, described Kathleen, who is a peace worker, as "one of the most inspirational women I have ever met.

"She is absolutely phenomenal, and if anyone deserves a peace award it is her."'

Not long after the Real IRA's Omagh bomb massacred 29 people and unborn twins in 1998, I became involved in helping some of the families to take a civil case against bombers that the authorities seemed helpless to take through the criminal courts.

I learnt a lot then about how much victims suffer and how impatient the rest of the world seems with them. A psychiatrist assessing these families two years after the bomb to determine the extent of their injuries, listed innumerable symptoms displayed by those he examined.

They included anxiety, physical aches and pains, anger, irritability, loss of appetite, weight loss, weight gain from comfort eating, impaired concentration, acute stress, insomnia, claustrophobia, tearfulness, flashbacks, tension, nightmares, poor memory, low energy, jumpiness, suicidal urges, obsessional behaviour, mood swings, panic attacks, sweating, palpitations, hallucinations and breathing difficulties.

Martin McGuinness didn't give the Omagh families any more help in finding out the truth than he gave the Gaults, the Quintons, the Mathers or the Gillespies, none of whom saw their loved ones' killers brought to justice.

"I will always remember Martin McGuinness as the terrorist he was," said Stephen Gault.

"If he had been repentant my thoughts might have been slightly different.

"But he took to his grave proud that he served in the IRA.

"There was no remorse or repentance from him even up to his death."

Would Bill Clinton bear that in mind as he shakes the hands of those extolling a mass murderer as a man of peace.

Ruth Dudley Edwards’ The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic, was published by Oneworld Publications on March 22.

The paperback of Ruth Dudley Edwards’ The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic will be published on April 23.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards