Murder with impunity

The murder of Paul Quinn near the border last October and the officially ordained cover-up of IRA culpability for that murder, illustrates the fatal compromises that the “peace” process has involved. By Catherine McCartney

On 20 October 2007, Paul Quinn a 21- year-old from Cullyhanna, south Armagh drove himself and a friend to a location in Oram, Co Monaghan to do a few hours work clearing a shed for the arrival of cattle. It was a Saturday evening and Paul and his friend were in good spirits as they drove to the location. The prospect of earning a few extra pounds had enticed them to the farm across the border and given that the offer had come through another close friend neither Paul nor his friend suspected anything. As soon as they got out of the car and entered the shed a terrible reality dawned on them. Instead of being met by friends they were met by a gang of men wearing boiler suits, masks and surgical gloves.

Paul was separated from his friend, taken into the shed and beaten for up to half an hour with nail studded cudgels, iron bars and other weapons. It has been reported that up to 12 men took part in the beating, while others kept watch. Whilst beating Paul Quinn other members of the gang provided his friends with a running commentary of the beating and chillingly told them: “You know who the bosses are around here. We are the law around here.” The mobile phones of Paul Quinn's three petrified friends were smashed and the shed sprayed with chemicals. One of the mobile phones was still operational and was used to ring Emma Murphy, Paul's girlfriend. An ambulance arrived at the shed and Paul was taken to Our Lady of Lourdes hospital in Drogheda where he died at 8pm, two hours after the assault. His parents, Briege and Stephen, his brother James and sister Cathy did not have time to say goodbye. Paul's body was so badly broken that the medical staff advised his mother not to touch him; she ignored them and lay over her son.

For many people in south Armagh the answer to the question who murdered Paul Quinn was provided by one of the assailants in the shed. “We are the law around here.” In south Armagh the IRA had been the law for many decades and seemingly believed it still was. Paul Quinn's family also believed that the IRA was responsible for their son's murder and issued a statement the next day stating this.

They claimed an expulsion order had been issued against him but he had ‘rightly and courageously' refused to leave his home.
Jim McAllister, a former Sinn Fein member, told the media that the motive for Paul's murder was simply that he had refused to cow-tow to the local warlords. On two separate occasions in the months leading up to his murder Paul had been involved in fist-fights with two individuals, one a member of the IRA and the other a son of an IRA member, and the story is, Paul Quinn got very much the better of both. McAllister explained that Paul Quinn and his family had been expecting some form of retaliation in return for this.

It seems, a by-product of the peace process has been the degeneration of the IRA into criminality and the authorities failure to combat this has nurtured the “untouchable” mentality that prevails amongst Provisionals. It is widely accepted in “republican” areas that anyone who disrespects or dares to stand up to the “bosses” can expect to be punished. Paul Quinn was one such young man. It is believed by many in south Armagh and immediately cross the border, that this is what had brought the wrath of the local IRA on him. The virtual certainty that the perpetrators were/are likely to evade justice is dismaying to many people in the locality.
The reality however seems to be in Northern Ireland that paramilitary involvement in any crime “muddies the waters of the peace process”.

If, in this instance, the police confirmed the family's allegations concerning the identity of the perpetrators, the murder could destabilise the new power sharing arrangements at Stormont. Could the DUP seriously continue sharing power with Sinn Fein when the IRA was still operating as a murder machine?

Conor Murphy, the local Sinn Fein MP, quickly articulated Sinn Fein's position. “There are wild and baseless allegations being made,” he said referring to the family's assertions and others in Cullyhanna that the IRA was involved. “However, I do not believe that there is any Republican involvement in this murder.”

Gerry Adams reiterated this line adding: “The people involved are criminals. They need to be brought to justice and it is fairly obvious to me that this is linked to fuel smuggling and to criminal activity.” The implied slur on their son's character greatly distressed Paul Quinn's family and this was compounded when the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, repeated the view in the Dáil that Paul's murder was a result of a criminal dispute.

The political temperature was turned up when the DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson warned that if IRA involvement in Paul's murder was confirmed then it would have consequences for the Assembly.

The campaign of Paul Quinn's family and friends succeeded, however, in disabusing the notion that a criminal gang, independent of the Provisional movement, was operating in south Armagh. The Taoiseach withdrew his previous insinuation. When the “criminal” scenario lost ground the political strategists had to develop a get out of jail card for Sinn Fein. It was one that had been articulated before but this time round its acceptance would prove pivotal to the survival of the executive.

In November the International Monitoring Commission (IMC) confirmed that there had been IRA involvement in Paul Quinn's murder, vindicating the family but it stressed that it was too early to say whether or not his murder had been authorised by the leadership. A month later Sir Hugh Orde, Chief Constable of the PSNI, reiterated this viewpoint. When asked if members of the IRA were involved in Paul Quinn's murder he replied: “People who were associated with the IRA at some stage were definitely involved in that crime. That does not mean in any way shape or form that this was an authorised event in the way people believe authorised to mean the hierarchy said do it. I think that's a totally different debate.”

Jeffrey Donaldson spoke of “corporate” responsibility of the IRA illustrating that the DUP were not going to run from the executive and were prepared to buy into the distancing of the IRA leadership from IRA units. A political loophole was being constructed that would allow Sinn Fein to address the issue of IRA criminality from a much more direct and honest standpoint without fear of being politically penalised.

It seems “peace processing” of policing is preventing the embedding of law and order in Northern Ireland – a perception among the Northern Ireland public that maintaining the stability of the executive takes precedence over everything else. Potentially embarrassing or damaging incidences such as paramilitary murders are politically sieved in an attempt to lessen the political impact or fall out.

The meticulous organisation and execution of Paul Quinn's murder illustrates that the IRA are still organisationally intact and active, not in terrorism but in criminality, including murderous criminality. The IRA as a murder machine has not diminished with the restoration of the power-sharing executive. London may be safe but the people of Cullyhanna and other areas where the IRA continues to hold sway are not.

When Sinn Fein endorsed the PSNI in January of 2007 it was said the Provisionals had crossed a Rubicon. It has another Rubicon to cross: accountability for IRA criminality.