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'Sleveen', 'anti-Irish' and 'disgusting' - the anger at Lenihan over killing of eight IRA men

An innocent man was killed in the crossfire and his brother received life-altering injuries.

A piper leads the funeral procession from Patrick Kelly's home on the Lisnahull Estate in Dungannon .
A piper leads the funeral procession from Patrick Kelly's home on the Lisnahull Estate in Dungannon .
Image: PA Archive/PA Images

THEN TÁNAISTE AND Minister for Foreign Affairs Brian Lenihan Sr came in for a barrage of criticism for his remarks following the Loughall killings, State papers released today show.

The ambush occurred in May 1987 when an eight-man IRA unit attacked a RUC barracks in the town of Loughall. The unit had a 200lb bomb in the front of a digger which the crashed through the gate as other members of the unit in a van outside began firing at the station.

British intelligence had prior knowledge of the Loughall operation and a 36-man SAS team were waiting in a D-shaped formation around the station. They fired about 1,200 rounds of ammunition killing the eight IRA activists as well as a builder that came upon the scene. Another bystander was also injured in the firefight. It was the biggest single loss of life for the IRA during The Troubles.

An innocent man was killed in the crossfire and his brother received life-altering injuries.

The scale of losses for the IRA shocked many in the North and, even amid allegations of an ambush and shoot-to-kill policy, Lenihan made an unequivocal statement.

The Irish government rejects utterly the warped policies of the Provisional IRA. It is the leadership of the IRA who trap young people into the cycle of violence that has brought so much suffering to nationalists and unionists alike. It is that leadership who are responsible for putting those young lives at risk.
The vast majority of Irish men and women abhor violence and want it to stop now. All right minded people on this island want to see peace and reconciliation achieved through agreement and democratic means. The Irish government is determined to ensure that through the political process progress is made towards that end.

 

Lenihan followed that up with a Dáil speech which reinforced his initial statement.

The strength of those remarks led to a strong rebuke from nationalist Fianna Fáil members.

One, who identifies himself as a grandson of a late Fianna Fáil TD, wrote:

“I am writing to express my utter contempt and disgust for your remarks. Your omission to state revulsion at the British presence in Ireland and to reaffirm party policy…shows a disregard for the letter and spirit of the Constitution and the party’s own constitution.

Your slovenly and sleveen-type statement did not convey (the impression that the government was against British presence in Northern Ireland). In fact it conveyed the opposite impression, disgusting lifelong Fianna Fáil supporters such as my parents.

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“You’re a shame and a disgrace to what Fianna Fáil stood for over the years. I voted No 1 for Ray McSharry in (February 1987′s election)…but never again after the abandonment of the basic Fianna Fáil ethos.”

Another wrote that Lenihan’s response was “viciously anti-Irish”, a charge he denied.

The incident led to Lenihan being “blackballed” according to The Phoenix in May 1987.

Phoenix

Lenihan would undergo a liver transplant in 1989 and in 1990 launched a bid for the Irish Presidency. His campaign was marred by controversy and he would lose to Mary Robinson. He died in 1995.

Read: The SAS ‘Loughall ambush’ which killed 8 IRA men may be investigated

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