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11 March 1999 Edition

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When `legal' guns become Loyalist guns

by Ned Kelly
Speaking after meeting General John de Chastelain on Monday morning in Belfast. to outline their fears at how the decommissioning issue has been elevated to the point where it threatens to destroy the peace process, a delegation from Relatives for Justice told AP/RN, ``as a group representing those who have suffered at the hands of loyalists, the RUC and the British Army, we have watched the peace process developing but we share the concern, particularly as those who have shouldered the coffins of murdered relatives, that the peace process is too important to be sacrificed over the decommissioning issue.''

The delegation including Terry Enright (snr) , Clara Reilly, Martin Finucane and Mark Thompson also challenged the narrow definition of de Chastelain's remit which only covers `illegal' weapons.

Terry Enright's son was murdered by Loyalists with a weapon `stolen' from a member of the crown forces, a fact that only become known at the inquest into Terry junior's death almost a year later.

Clara Reilly's son was shot dead by a plastic bullet. ``These have lead to the deaths of 18 people and not only are the guidelines on plastic bullet use ignored but when the RUC don't keep proper records, it means there is no accountability and RUC officers who fire and possibly kill with this weapon cannot be linked to it's use''.

Mark Thompson's brother was murdered in a British Army/RUC shoot-to-kill policy.

And Martin Finucane's brother, Pat, was murdered by Loyalists .

``This narrow definition, a Unionist definition, is informing the whole decommissioning debate. A debate that can only successfully be dealt with inside the peace process'', Mark Thompson said.

Added Thompson, ``of course we understand the concerns people have about illegal weapons but they need to be discussed within the peace process and not elevated outside of it, in fact we also share those concerns.''

The group however were surprised, when they asked de Chastelain if he knew exactly how many legally held guns had gone missing and were, presumably, in the hands of loyalists, that he didn't know.

``He had absolutely no information on this and with his claim that he is working in close proximity with the RUC and Ronnie Flanagan the fact he has no information suggests that the decommissioning argument is being narrowed and the RUC have no interest in informing De Chastelain about how many legal weapons have gone `missing' or used illegally to murder and terrorise Nationalists'', concluded Thompson..

Meanwhile last Friday March 5 in Dublin a delegation from Relatives for Justice met with Foriegn Minister David Andrews. They raised the need for a proactive Dublin governemnt role in supporting the victims of state and state sponsored violence in the North.

Roisin Kelly, whose brother Patrick was one of nine men killed in Loughgall, 8 IRA volunteers and a civillian, by the SAS raised the need for Ronnie Flanagan to publically confirm his role in the May 1987 ambush.

It has been documented that Flanagan was promoted to Detective Superintendent in 1987 when he also took over Special Branch command of the Tasking and Co-ordinating Group (TCG) - Southern Region - in Gough Barracks in Armagh. The TCG were the central information collating unit that took the decisions and initiated the activities of RUC and British Army units. Essentially the TCGs via informers and surveillance called the shots while the SAS fired them.

Speaking to AP/RN Ms Keely stated, ``Flanagan's role needs to clarified. On what date did he take over command of the TCG (Southern Region)? What units did he have specific responsibility for? Was Flanagan responsible for SAS actions in the region? What was his role in relation to a number of incidents in the area at that time, including the Loughall killings? Was Flanagan present at Loughall or was he in radio contact at Gough baracks?

``The need for clarification comes from the linked arguments about legal guns getting into Loyalists stockpiles, arms shipments arranged through crown force agents and the use of legally held weapons by the RUC and British Army; and which individual people were culpable for directing a campaign which marked out Nationalists, Republicans and Catholics as targets?'', concluded Ms Kelly.
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