April 17th, 1972

Tue, Apr 17, 2012, 01:00

FROM THE ARCHIVES:Joe McCann was one of the Official IRA’s leading commanders and gunmen, involved in a seminal gun battle with the British army in the Markets area of Belfast in 1971 and the shooting of Unionist home affairs minister John Taylor in 1972. McCann was shot dead by paratroopers in controversial circumstances, as Henry Kelly reported at the time.

THE shooting dead by British paratroopers in Belfast on Saturday of 25-year-old Joseph McCann, a leader of the Official I.R.A., happened in circumstances which at the very least give rise to considerable concern about the firing orders under which soldiers now operate in the North.

For, although the Army is strangely silent on the affair, local eye-witnesses are adamant that McCann was shot when he ran away after being challenged to halt by soldiers. An eye-witness to his death says that when he did not stop for soldiers he was shot at and hit in the leg, then he staggered and fell, after which a British soldier fired as many as ten rounds of live ammunition.

The walls and houses in the Joy Street-Hamilton Street area of Belfast are peppered with bullet- les – testifying to at least 12 shots having been fired by soldiers.

All the police press office will say is that “as a result of a shooting incident”, McCann was admitted to hospital in Belfast where he later died. The Army press statement adds, as a reason for not detailing the precise reasons why McCann was killed, the extraordinary excuse that, “as this incident will be the subject, at a later date, of an inquest, no further statement is being issued at the moment.” . . .

It matters not one bit whether McCann was an I.R.A. officer or not. What does seem to be important is that all the evidence at the moment points to his having been killed for no other reason than that he ran away when challenged. There is no evidence to suggest that in any way he was endangering or about to endanger the life of any other civilian or of any member of the security forces.

An eye-witness, Mrs. Josephine Connelly, who has a shop only yards from where McCann was shot first, said that he had turned off May Street into Joy Street and had been apparently followed by police Special Branch men who had recognised him and were pursuing him with intent to arrest.

A mobile patrol of paratroopers was in the area and their assistance was requested. They challenged McCann to halt and, says Mrs. Connelly, she saw him turn around, look back to where, out of her vision, soldiers were calling at him, and then turn back again and run. Then, she says, she heard shooting.

“He was still in my sight, running with his hands in his pockets when he appeared to stagger. He must have been shot in the leg. Then a soldier came and got down on one knee near the entrance to my shop. He started firing and he must have fired about 10 or 15 shots. I counted at least 10 empty cartridges on the ground where he knelt. By this stage the man was out of my sight.”