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Explainer: What's happening with the inquest into the Kingsmill massacre?

Barry McElduff’s widely criticised Twitter video put the 1976 IRA massacre back in the headlines.

Barry McElduff Twitter post Sinn Féin West Tyrone MP Barry McElduff. Source: Niall Carson

THE CONTROVERSY SURROUNDING a Sinn Féin MP’s bizarre social media video, posted on the anniversary of the 1976 Kingsmill Massacre, received widespread coverage over the last week.

The sole survivor of that massacre decried Barry McElduff’s Twitter post as being like a “punch to the stomach” and accused him of wanting to hurt the families of the Kingsmill victims.

Sinn Féin suspended the MP from all party activity for three months – but that decision, and McElduff’s own repeated apologies, did little to calm criticism of his initial Twitter post.

The fact that he would be paid as normal compounded that criticism, and tens of thousands have signed an online petition calling for him to step down as an MP.

The massacre, one of the worst single atrocities of the Troubles, has never been claimed by the IRA – although an investigation by the North’s Historical Enquiries Team concluded in 2011 that it was responsible.

The callous, pre-meditated and openly sectarian nature of the attack was shocking, even in the context of that particularly bloody period of the Troubles.

A group calling itself the South Armagh Republican Action Force claimed responsibility. The Historical Enquiries Team report found that this was a front for the Provisional IRA, which was on ceasefire and engaged in secret talks with the British.

No one has ever been charged.

bread A screengrab of the offending video.

McElduff’s posting of his hurtful and incredibly ill-judged service station video will do little to help restore relations between Sinn Féin and the DUP – over a year on from the collapse of Stormont.

Meanwhile, the next preliminary hearing in the inquest into the Kingsmill massacre will take place within the next few weeks.

The Kingsmill massacre: What happened?

5 January 1976

Eleven protestant workers were systematically gunned down after their bus was stopped by men dressed in military clothing on their way towards the village of Bessbrook in Co Armagh.

One man, Alan Black, survived his injuries but his ten colleagues died. Another man, Catholic Richard Hughes, was sent away from the scene before the shooting started.

Hughes told police in 1976 how two of his Protestant colleagues squeezed his hands after the man who stopped their bus asked “Who is the Roman Catholic?”. The man spoke with an English accent.

Just two days previously two Catholic families – the Reaveys and the O’Dowds – each lost three loved ones in attacks by a UVF gang.

Hughes, in his statement, remembered how he had been told “run down the f****** road” by the men, but that he couldn’t run very fast as he was afraid and assumed he was about to be shot.

Instead, the gang who had stopped the bus opened fire on his workmates.

Black, the only man to survive, described to the long-awaited inquest into the killings in 2016 how he had lain under the bodies of his slain colleagues.

The noise of the shooting was “deafening”, according to Black. He fell on his face and another man collapsed on top of him.

He remembered how he could hear the groans of his colleagues around him. Black was shot 18 times, but survived.

The commander of the republican gang told the other members to “finish them off” as their victims lay on the ground.

“They were just lying there like dogs, blood everywhere,” said Johnston Chapman, who had to identify the bodies of his two nephews in the aftermath of the attack.

If the people who did this saw them like that, surely to God if they had any conscience they would say ‘well we’re about to cut this out’.

The SDLP’s Seamus Mallon said the barbarity of the crime was matched only by its cowardice, while a local unionist MP said he was afraid Armagh was facing anarchy.

A police report from the time, read at the inquest in 2016, said that what had happened “is perhaps the most savage and senseless single outrage in the present campaign”.

The IRA’s ceasefire ended weeks later, on 23 January.

kingsmill The bullet-riddled minibus in the aftermath of the attack. Source: PA/PA Archive/PA Images

‘They have five minutes to live’

Black was 32 and had two young sons and a baby daughter at the time. Years later, he told how his mind “goes into countdown” every 5 January as he recalls his friends’ killings.

“I am looking at the clock now – and the boys have 29 hours to live. Then 28. Then 27,” he told the Newsletter.

“And then coming up near the time of it – they have five minutes to live – and then they are dead.

It is very hard to put into words. There is an awful sadness attached to it.

The fact that the attackers walked away from the killings so “casually” made it all the more sinister, Black said.

Kingsmill massacre Kingsmill survivor Alan Black at his home in Bessbrook, Co Armagh in January 2016. Source: Brian Lawless

What’s happening with the inquest now? 

The North’s attorney general ordered a fresh inquest in the wake of the report of the Historical Enquiries Team, which said that the IRA was responsible and that the victims were targeted because of their religion.

Last February, the Public Prosecution Service said it had decided not to prosecute a man who arrested on suspicion of taking part in the murders.

In August of the previous year, police had arrested a 59-year-old man after new evidence was identified during inquest proceedings.

“We have concluded that there is no reasonable prospect of a conviction based on the available evidence,” the PPS’s Michael Agnew said in February last.

The inquest proceedings, which were adjourned to allow for the criminal investigation to take place, later resumed and in May of last year former IRA man and police informer Sean O’Callaghan said that two senior, now deceased, members of the IRA were responsible for Kingsmill.

O’Callaghan himself died while visiting his daughter in Jamaica last August.

Kingsmill massacre meeting The Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (FAIR) group outside Government Buildings before meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny to discuss the Kingsmill massacre in 2012. Source: Julien Behal

Before Christmas, the inquest was told that the Irish government had published draft legislation which would allow members of the gardaí to give evidence at inquests in the North – which is currently not allowed by law.

The Irish News reported that the issue had been raised as a matter of concern in several historical inquiries – particularly when it came to killings that took place near the border, resulting in potential border crossings by suspects and exchanges of information between the two police forces.

The gardaí began handing over its files about the Kingsmill massacre in 2015, after a formal order from then-Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

The inquest will hold its next preliminary hearing on Friday 2 February.

Read: Mary Lou says Kingsmill video hasn’t damaged Sinn Féin’s credibility >

Read: Decision not to prosecute man over sectarian massacre of 10 Protestant workers >

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