Why did the IRA kill my brother?


Alice Harper has been waiting 30 years to learn why the IRA executed hersibling, a 15-year-old with a mental age of nine. Now republicans are backing her search for the truth, writes Gerry Moriarty.

Bernard Teggart was dying of a gunshot wound to the head when he was found lying near the old Floral Hall ballroom at Bellevue Zoo, in north Belfast. His hands and feet were bound and a piece of cardboard pinned to his shirt labelled him a tout. The 15-year-old, who had a mental age of nine, had been abducted with his twin brother from St Patrick's Detention Centre in west Belfast.

More than 30 years later Bernard's sister, Alice Harper, is determined to get answers from the IRA about why he was killed. She is being supported by Mike Ritchie, director of Coiste na n-Iarchimí, a welfare group for former IRA prisoners, and Relatives for Justice, an organisation better known for campaigning against British army and loyalist injustices against republicans and nationalists.

It's an interesting and timely departure because it opens up possibilities that the IRA might yet more fully engage with some form of truth process - reconciliation is a trickier business.

The killing of Bernard was the second tragedy to hit the Teggart family, who lived in New Barnsley, in west Belfast. Bernard's father, Daniel, had been shot by British paratroopers two years earlier as he stood in a group looking out for their children when violence flared on the day internment without trial was introduced in Northern Ireland.

The devastation inflicted on the Teggart family by both killings is comparable to that suffered by the McConvilles, whose mother, Jean, was abducted and murdered by the IRA at about the same time. It's told in terms of deprivation, depression, breakdowns, fear, anger, hopelessness and a family of one mother and 12 children struggling against dreadful odds to find escape from a horror that still haunts them.

Daniel Teggart - "a good man, a loving man," says Harper - was 44 the day internment began, on August 9th, 1971. He was standing with some other people close to the now demolished Henry Taggart army base. Witnesses have told Harper that the army opened fire on the civilians, shooting several of them, including her father, who was wounded in the thigh.

The army drove a Saracen out of the base, lifted the injured and drove them back in. Harper is convinced, based on her own and other local efforts to establish the truth, that it will eventually emerge that British paratroopers murdered her father inside the base.

"It would be hypocritical of us to seek the truth behind why the British army killed Daniel Teggart while remaining silent about why the IRA killed Bernard Teggart," says the director of Relatives for Justice, Mark Thompson. Mike Ritchie, of Coiste na n-Iarchimí, believes the IRA should help Harper and her family establish the facts of Bernard Teggart's death. Work is going on behind the scenes, but it is at a sensitive stage, and neither Harper nor the groups want to upset the chances of success.

An umbrella group called Eolas, which represents Coiste na n-Iarchimí, the relatives' group and similar republican-associated bodies, argues that there is a need not only to establish the truth behind various British security-force and loyalist killings but also to launch a comprehensive truth process.

It also says there is an onus on the IRA and other republican paramilitary groups to be held accountable for killings in which they were involved. Eolas has published a consultation document, Truth And Justice, setting out how this might be achieved.

Harper's mother was a Protestant who converted to Catholicism when she married Daniel. None of her family has been involved in violent republicanism, she says. "My father and mother never brought us up that way."

Bernard and Gerard Teggart were identical twins but, says Harper, "Bernard only had the mentality of a nine-year-old. There were no special schools or anything in those days; they just went to normal schools". They hated school. As Harper remembers it they would be brought to school and "go in the front gate but walk straight out by the back gate". For such behaviour they ended up in St Patrick's Detention Centre, where they stayed from Sunday night to Friday. They were allowed home at the weekends.

The IRA has never told the Teggart family why Bernard was killed. There was unsubstantiated loose talk about an IRA dump, but the generally accepted reason relates to the IRA hijacking of a Bass beer lorry outside a bar at the top of Whiterock Road in November 1973. "Bernard was walking by at the time and shouted to one of the men holding a gun to the head of the driver: 'Hey, youse, leave that man alone, I'm going to tell on youse.' I can't emphasise enough how childish Bernard was."

Almost at the same time the British army arrived and arrested the men. Nothing Bernard said or did led to their capture. But the IRA, acting either with local autonomy or with higher sanction, decided that he would be held accountable. "He and Gerard were taken away in a black taxi from St Pat's," says Harper.

"He was brought to three different houses, where he was tortured. Because both of them were identical they didn't know which was which, so they split them. There were three men and two women involved. When they found out which was which, they let Gerard go. They gave him a few bob for his bus fare home . . . . When Gerard got home he talked about bad men taking Bernard away."

The family did not know if Gerard was telling the truth, so they rang St Patrick's and asked whether Bernard was there. One of the brothers said he did not know but would get back to the family. "He never did get back," says Harper. But the British army called that night to confirm Gerard was telling the truth.

"A young soldier - he was 18 - came to the door. He shook hands and put his arms around my mother. He said he was sorry he had to bring us bad news. That soldier cried along with my mother," Harper remembers. It was an act of kindness that still carries some consolation. "There is good and bad everywhere."

She doesn't want to distract from the fact that it was the IRA that murdered her brother, but it still distresses her that the De La Salle Brothers did not immediately contact the family or the authorities when the boys were abducted.

Brother Ailbe Mangan, who was in St Patrick's at the time but looked after older boys, told The Irish Times this week that his recollection was that two men, one of them posing as an uncle of the boys home from England, asked if they could bring them out for a treat for the day. "It wasn't unusual, because sometimes relatives would take boys out for the day. And the boys seemed happy enough to go, so suspicions weren't raised at the time."

Harper believes Brother Ailbe is mistaken. She says the brothers told a member of the family at the time that they knew it was the IRA but were afraid to intervene. "We were told that the IRA warned the brothers that they musn't contact the police or anybody else." The De La Salle Brothers are no longer involved in St Patrick's.

Bernard's siblings when he died ranged from a three-year-old to a 23-year-old. Three of the married sisters each took one of the youngest boys. The deaths of Daniel and Bernard caused deep trauma. "Only God gets me through," says Harper.

Her mother, Bella, too has her way of carrying her cross. Her line for herself and her family is: "We can close our eyes at night and sleep. We never did anyone any harm. They can't. Every time they close their eyes they see what they have done; they are bound to see it."

Gerard went off to England a couple of years after the killing and has lived there since; a single man aged 46, he is still troubled by his brother's death. Harper remembers Gerard at Bernard's wake. "It was awful; you couldn't keep your eyes off Gerard. Any time there was nobody in the room he would take Bernard out of the coffin and put him on his knee. When Bernard was killed part of Gerard died." For months after the killing Harper bottled everything up. Then, one night, she went home and started knocking things off the shelves, breaking cups, vases, everything.

Her husband, John, went down to his parents, who lived nearby, wondering what he should do. His mother said: "Let her be, let her get it all out." Of John, Harper says: "I could not have survived without him." Her four grown-up children, who have done well in life, are also a comfort.

A few months after Bernard's murder, outside her then home in Turf Lodge, she saw a youngster about to be knee-capped by the IRA while some men and women just looked on. "I just lost it," she says. "I started squealing and shouting. As far as I was concerned that was my brother lying there. One of the men slapped me on the face and told me to mind my own business. In all the commotion the young lad got away. At least that was something."

Nobody was convicted of her brother's murder. New Barnsley is a tight-knit community where the republican law of omerta must not be transgressed. The experience of Harper and the Teggart family is far from unique. What makes it unusual is that it was Relatives for Justice that approached her offering help. It provided her with a clinical psychologist, which transformed her life.

"I got counselling for year and a half, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me," she says. She is reasonably hopeful about the future. "I think that everything is going towards peace."

She says she doesn't hate the IRA and believes that in some ways it was necessary to protect the nationalist community from loyalists and the British army. But she wants the IRA "to tell me the truth, to clear my brother's name, and to give us an apology. That will help. It will help me, my family and, especially, my mother".

Mike Ritchie, of Coiste na n-Iarchimí, says that some form of comprehensive truth process is required "in terms of societal healing" and that the IRA and all other combatant groups should participate. "Otherwise we will just have the drip, drip, drip of calls for inquiries, and I don't think that is healthy for society," he says. And he believes that cases such as Alice Harper's could persuade the IRA to play its part.

The Eolas Truth And Justice document is available on www.relativesforjustice.com