Former IRA man’s speech at Border village criticised

Seán Lynch’s words at Sinn Féin commemoration in Pettigo village opened wounds

Stormont: a former Provisional IRA commander from Rosslea, Co Fermanagh, and now a member of the Stormont Assembly, Seán Lynch said 1916 was one of the reasons he joined the IRA

Stormont: a former Provisional IRA commander from Rosslea, Co Fermanagh, and now a member of the Stormont Assembly, Seán Lynch said 1916 was one of the reasons he joined the IRA

 

Seán Lynch spent more than a decade in the Maze Prison recounting the actions of James Connolly and Patrick Pearse to other prisoners. Sometimes, he read the Proclamation aloud.

On Monday he spoke at Sinn Féin’s Easter commemoration in the small rural village of Pettigo on the Donegal-Fermanagh border.

A former Provisional IRA commander from Rosslea, Co Fermanagh, and now a member of the Stormont Assembly, Mr Lynch said 1916 was one of the reasons he joined the IRA.

“The British empire was built on oppression, discrimination, torture and death. Ireland, which had endured centuries of occupation, was no different,” he told supporters.

However, 1916 was followed by a counter-revolution, he claimed. “The rights of citizens have been secondary to the needs of the elite. Their Irish nation stops in places like Pettigo.”

In May, 1922, Pettigo and Belleek saw one of the largest engagements of the War of Independence – the only occasion on which artillery was used against the IRA.

Partition

Pettigo and the lands surrounding it bear the marks of later troubles.

Former UDR soldier Ronnie Funston was killed in his tractor cab on his family farm in 1984.

In nearby Tullyhommon, a 150-pound IRA bomb was discovered in 1987 on the same day as the Enniskillen bombing which killed 11 people and injured 64.

Mr Lynch had been jailed a year earlier, after he and Séamus McElwaine were ambushed by the SAS as they prepared a landmine on the Lisnaskea to Rosslea road.

McElwaine was killed. Mr Lynch was seriously wounded, spending four months in hospital. He received a 25-year sentence for possession of explosives and a rifle.

Now an MLA for Fermanagh-South Tyrone, he was released in October 1998 under the terms of the Belfast Agreement, having served 12 years.

The Provisional IRA had the same legitimacy as the men of 1916, he claimed. “There are those who would have us believe that these men and women cannot be equated with those of 1916.

“They are hypocrites. Bobby Sands was a revolutionary and visionary in the same vein as James Connolly and Pádraig Pearse,” he added.

Mr Lynch’s presence opened wounds. “There is much talk of a shared society, but as a Border unionist, I don’t feel part of it,” said Ken Funston, the brother of the dead UDR man.

Aileen Quinton, whose mother Alberta died in the Enniskillen bombing, said the Tullyhommon bomb, had it exploded, would have killed scores of children who had unwittingly gathered near where it lay.

‘Warped minds’

Ulster Unionist MP Tom Elliott, who served in the UDR, said Mr Lynch’s appearance “demeans” the republican and nationalist cause.

He had been a very active member in an organisation that had “brutally murdered many of their fellow citizens, friends and neighbours.

The Easter Rising did motivate some, Mr Elliott acknowledged: “Maybe they felt they had something to continue . . . but it was an unnecessary period of murder.

In turn, Mr Lynch, whose grandmother was a Protestant, accepted that some wounds had not healed.

“We have to understand that and try and work through it,” he said.

“I have more in common with the Protestant people of Ulster than the people of Cork or Kerry. We all have this island to live on.”