MAD DOG AND ENGLISHMEN 1993: Happy St. Pat’s

©1993 Bernie Mooney                                                                                                     730 words


As the Loyalist death squads mounted their campaign of terror and murder in Northern Ireland, Prime Minister John Major was busy cutting a back room deal with Unionist politicians in order to save his floundering government.

Since the beginning of 1993, Loyalist paramilitaries had been waging a campaign of randomly targeting Catholics. By time of the IRA bombing on the Shankill Road in October that took nine lives, Loyalists had killed nearly two dozen Catholics, injured dozens and made attempts on the lives of Nationalist politicians. Not one word emanated from the mouth of John Major or his friends. Then came the IRA bombing on the Shankill Road.

Tory and Unionist politicians fell all over each other in condemning the horror. The chorus of denunciations that emanated from Britain’s House of Commons after the bombing echoed throughout the world.

For the last three years, Loyalist paramilitaries have killed more people than the IRA. Not once did any British or Unionist politician offer any condemnation of these groups. One Northern Irish police detective told me,

“The British government cares more about how much a bomb costs than they do about how much a life costs. I wouldn’t say it, but there are those who believe the price of a life is cheap.”

The top Loyalist hitman, nicknamed “Mad Dog,” claimed he has personally killed 13 Catholics over the last two years. The UVF and UFF, Loyalists paramilitaries, have publicly announced their  intent to “mass murder” Catholics. They made several attempts last month and succeeded on Halloween Eve in Greysteel.

Officials of the moderate Social Democratic National Labour Party (SDLP) claim at least 20 Loyalist death squads are operating in the Belfast area at the present time. A detective involved in tracking down IRA and Loyalist killers said in a pre-bombing statement to the local Belfast press, “There have been several mass murder attempts by Loyalists and only by the grace of God have more people not been killed.

There is no doubt that the threat from the Loyalist side has been increasing in recent years. And although the gangs claim they are targeting republicans for assassination, it is clear the vast majority of murders this year have been purely random and purely sectarian.”  No one can defend the horror of the Shankill, but there seems to be a double standard among Northern Irish Unionist and British politicians when it comes to the deaths of innocent Catholics.

Before the bombing, neither the Reverend Ian Paisley, Northern Ireland Secretary Sir Patrick Mayhew, nor Prime Minister John Major stood up in the House of Commons and condemned the Loyalist campaign. They and others were similarly quiet when Loyalist gunmen opened fire on a van full of workers, firebombed homes and attacked taxis. They were all content to ignore Mad Dog’s public declaration at the thrill of getting, “your first taste of  Fenian blood.”

When condemnation did come, it was late and muted and at the prodding of SDLP MP, Dr. Joe Hendron.

The voices that haven’t been heard at all are those in west Belfast who, while expressing sympathy with the families of those killed, find it hard to condemn the bombing due to its stated aim; to kill Loyalists who were killing their family members and neighbors.

Walking the streets of West Belfast, you could sense the unease of those on the streets. Anyone stepping out for a loaf of bread, or going to and from work was a potential target.

The IRA was under increasing pressure from the community to hit back at the death squads. The squads were striking with seeming impunity. So, the IRA finally did strike back, in what senior Republican sources told me was an “ill-conceived” action that went “tragically wrong.”

The bomb was meant for top Loyalists meeting in their headquarters above the fish shop on the Shankill Road, a meeting that ended 45 minutes before the bombers arrived. It was a classic IRA blunder that also claimed the life of one of the bombers. I heard the blast from my bed and breakfast in the University area, one mile away

That blunder left the Catholic community in even more fear and gave the Loyalists have another excuse to continue the bloodletting. It’s not as if they needed another excuse. Featuring traditional Irish folk music in your pub is enough.

For some time British and Unionist politicians have called on the Catholic community to condemn those who kill in their name. Yet, they were silent as people carried on their murderous campaign in their name.