3 April 1997 Edition
Undercover British soldiers were part of an operation in which dozens of shots were fired and one man was seriously injured outside the crown forces' barracks in Coalisland.
Launching his Tory manifesto exactly a week later John Major again defended the Union and said he expected the Six Counties would always remain part of the United Kingdom. Yet the same British Prime Minister tries to maintain the fiction that his government has no "selfish, strategic or economic interest" in Ireland and that his forces are not at war here. Neither before, during or after the peace process was there any recognition from the British government that its forces are part of the violent equation of conflict. Only 'illegal' forces are men and women of violences while the crown forces whose presence is regarded as illegal by nationalists, are peacekeepers.
But the presence of those foreign gunmen in the nationalist town of Coalisland gives the lie to such claims.
Shoot to kill in Coalisland
By Mick Naughton
The Coalisland teenager who was shot and seriously wounded by an undercover SAS unit was going home from confession when he was gunned down in the town's centre on Wednesday 26 March, his widowed mother Mary has revealed.
On Tuesday 1 April the badly wounded youth, Gareth Doris, 19, was charged in a Dungannon hospital by the RUC Special Branch.who had earlier floated a bogus story to the press that a semi-automatic pistol had been uncovered at the scene of an expolosion last week. This was rubished by local people, forcing the RUC to change their tale, saying it was in fact a starting pistol unconnected to Wednesday night's incident.
A local priest, Father Seamus Rice, had mentioned this possibility in Friday's Irish News report of the incident when he stated that a ``convenient find'' would be made to justify the shoot-to-kill operation.
Mrs Doris also revealed that she and her five other children were prevented from seeing Gareth for over 14 hours and doctors treating him hit out at the crown forces who ignored medical pleas to leave the surgical area as medics fought to stop serious bleeding from a stomach wound. One of 18 bullets fired at Doris passed through his stomach, breaking a rib and puncturing his right lung.
``Doctor Kola put his arms around me to comfort me and said he was extremely distressed by the way the British army was handling this,'' Mrs Doris said.
Catholic priest, Father Seamus Rice, whose car was riddled by the SAS bullets as he drove along Lineside beside the joint RUC/British army base, was scathing in his criticism of the covert activities of the SAS.
``I am lucky to be alive. They fired on me, they fired on my car. Anything that moved, they fired at. I was just driving out of the chapel from hearing confessions when I heard a bang, saw flashes in the sky, and the next thing was the window of the car came in round me. There was abosultely no warning, they were just firing at anything that moved,'' he stated, confirming Martin McGuinness's assertion that ``it was a carefully planned shoot-to-kill operation''.
McGuinness, Sinn Fein's Mid-Ulster candidate, visited the scene early on Thursday morning where he described as ``misguided'', calls for an inquiry into the actions of the undercover soldiers, thought to number over 21 in all. He said, ``calls for an inquiry are worthless if this follows the standard procedure whereby the RUC would be responsible for investigating their allies in the British army.''
Sinn Féin councillor Francie Molloy gave An Phoblacht details from a number of witnesses who identified seven cars and one van used by the SAS. They were at various locations around the heavily fortified barracks and the bullet which struck Gareth Doris appears to have been fired from a passing car as he walked across the road beside a local arts centre. The SAS had Uzi machine pistols, Armalite rifles, Heckler and Koch assault rifles and 13-shot nine milimetre Browning pistols. They also used stun grenades and fired over the heads of a crowd which quickly gathered. The local people were concerned that the injured man would be killed as one SAS member held a gun to his head.
``They were wearing baseball caps with `Army' on the front, firing over our heads shouting `Get the f*** back','' said one witness, a woman who asked not to be named. She had been attending an Easter service in the nearby church. Other witnesses described seeing a white Toyota car with a rear passenger sticking a gun out the window before opening fire. ``He fired a burst of about nine shots and the young lad fell down. Then there was another burst of another nine shots. They seemed to come from another location.''
With confusion mingled with fear the crowd however managed to surround the injured man forcing the SAS out of the town centre, kicking their vehicles, displaying bravery last seen during the Gibraltar funerals.
``The people managed to scramble into an ambulance someone had called, forcing the Brits back and ejecting RUC men, who appeared to be from Portadown, from the ambulance. Together with the local priest about a dozen of the local people made their way with young Doris to Dungannon hospital's casualty wing, followed by a fleet of RUC armoured personnel carriers. By their actions they probably saved his life. They were determined that he was not going to be the victim of a gunshot to the head,'' said Molloy who had been attending an election meeting in a hall beside the Sinn Féin office prior to the shooting.
``Another disturbing feature of the whole night's events,'' he continued, ``was the RUC's use of local loyalists to remove two cars on a low loader, one of which was Mrs Doris's. This man from the `Bush' area owns a large garage and arrived himself to remove the cars. He was convicted in the 1970s of possessing trigger mechanisms for bombs. When I pointed this out to one RUC member he told me not to worry, that an RUC man would be travelling with him. Hardly an action inspired to instill any confidence about the follow-up to that night's events.''