Suzanne Breen
Sunday World
18 Mar 2012
**Via Newshound

The family of a young British paratrooper blown to bits in the Narrow Water massacre has blasted the Irish state for allegedly protecting his killers.

Thomas Vance from Belfast was one of 18 soldiers slaughtered by the Provos in the worst loss of life suffered by the British Army during the Troubles.

The family of the 23-year-old Sandy Row man have never before spoken about the 1979 atrocity.

But last night they broke their silence to tell the Sunday World that the Irish state had treated the murdered soldiers like “trash you would discard on the street”.

And they said not even an apology from the current Dublin government could make up for the “Irish state’s horrendous collusion with the IRA Narrow Water killers”.

The Smithwick Tribunal in Dublin earlier this week heard that a former Taoiseach had ordered gardai not to co-operate with the RUC investigation into the massacre, describing it as “a political crime”.

Jack Lynch was Taoiseach at the time of the August 1979 atrocity but it’s understood the Taoiseach referred to was Charlie Haughey who took over later that year.

A horrendous scene followed the two massive IRA bombs at Narrow Water. Soldiers’ legs, arms, heads and torsos were scattered over the ground and in the water. Some body parts hung from trees.

Thomas Vance’s sister, Jacqueline Mahon, said: “It defies belief that the political leader of the Irish state ordered that those behind this carnage not be hunted down.

“As the most powerful person in the country, you expect the Taoiseach to uphold law and order.

“He should have left no stone unturned in pursuing these cold-blooded mass murderers. Instead, he ordered gardai to turn a blind eye and not even try to catch them.”

Jacqueline said her family were “incredibly hurt and angry” by the Smithwick Tribunal revelations.

“Thomas was a young, working-class lad from Sandy Row. Why did the Taoiseach not care about his life?” she asked.

“Why did he not want justice for the five brothers and sisters Thomas left behind or for our broken-hearted parents? What harm did we ever do to the people in power in Dublin that they would inflict this wrong on us?

“We lived in a tiny two-up, two-down house with an outside toilet. Thomas joined the army because there was no other work and he wanted a better life.

“He felt he was protecting the people of Northern Ireland from the paramilitaries – the IRA, the UDA, all the paramilitaries.”

Jacqueline said her brother had been cut down in his prime: “He was only 23 and he wasn’t even the youngest to die that day. It was an appalling waste of young life.”

Murdered soldiers Robert Jones, Gary Barnes, Michael Woods and Jeffrey Jones were just 18. Anthony Wood was 19.

Jacqueline recalled how her family had been at home watching TV reports about the IRA killing Lord Mountbatten at Mullaghmore near Sligo earlier that day when there was a newsflash about Narrow Water.

“We hoped against hope that Thomas was okay. But later that night a young policeman arrived on the doorstep with the awful news. I can’t even begin to describe the blackness that descended on our house.”

And Jacqueline revealed that her brother wasn’t even meant to be in Northern Ireland. He was getting married but when the chance came of a tour of duty at home, he postponed his wedding.

The first IRA bomb exploded as an army convoy drove past Narrow Water castle, near Warrenpoint in Co Down. The 700lb device – hidden in a trailer and covered with straw – killed six soldiers.

It was detonated by remote control from 200 ft away on the other side of Carlingford Lough in Omeath, Co Louth.

Wrongly believing they were under fire, some surviving soldiers began shooting and accidentally killed civilian Michael Hudson, an Englishman holidaying in Ireland.

Other troops quickly arrived by helicopter to help their colleagues but a second 1,000lb IRA bomb hidden in milk churns then exploded killing 12 more soldiers.

The Provos’ South Armagh brigade carried out the attack which was seen by IRA supporters as revenge on the Paras for Bloody Sunday.

“I worked in a factory in Belfast and some Catholic colleagues were happy that Paras were killed,” said Jacqueline. “But it’s disgusting to think that someone meant to be respectable, like the Taoiseach, thought it was a political rather than a terrorist act.”

The harrowing scene of scattered limbs and decapitated bodies led the Narrow Water coroner to tell female members of the inquest jury not to look at photos of the bomb site.

On Tuesday, a former RUC Deputy Assistant Chief Constable known as Witness 68 told the Smithwick Tribunal that the Taoiseach had ordered gardai not to co-operate with the RUC investigation into the massacre.

He alleged RUC officers attended an “acrimonious” meeting with senior gardai, including Assistant Garda Commissioner McLaughlin, in Dublin Castle in 1980.

“Mr McLaughlin said the Taoiseach decreed that the killings were a political crime and no assistance would be given to the RUC,” Witness 68 claimed.

“Mr McLaughlin was very firm and said there was nothing further in relation to Warrenpoint and we were not to come back.”

The ex-RUC officer told the tribunal that two IRA suspects – Brendan Burns and Joe Brennan – were stopped by gardai on a motorcycle close to Omeath after the atrocity.

He alleged both men had been linked through forensics to bomb-making materials and to the firing point south of the border. Despite this neither was charged, he said.

He claimed gardai had refused repeated requests from the RUC to interview the men or even be present when gardai re-interviewed them.

Another ex-RUC detective, Witness 69, told the tribunal how it was three days into the investigation before Northern Ireland forensic officers were given access to the site where the bombs were detonated.

When they arrived, they saw cigarette butts, food, and an area of flattened ferns where people had lain. Gardai agreed that the site be preserved but when the RUC returned the next morning it had been destroyed.

The soldiers’ families believe it adds up to an appalling catalogue of Irish state collusion.

Jacqueline Mahon said: “Our family are very hurt and angry. Even an apology now from the Irish government would be useless. We wouldn’t believe a word of it.

“The Irish state saw 18 men’s lives as absolutely meaningless. They treated the soldiers like pieces of dirt. Of course, prosecuting and jailing Thomas’s killers wouldn’t have brought him back but it would have given some comfort to our family.”

March 20, 2012

This article appeared in the March 18, 2012 edition of the Sunday World.