Call for Leinster House memorial to ‘courageous’ senator killed by IRA

Billy Fox shot dead by armed gang close to fianceé’s home in border region almost 50 years ago

A call has been for a memorial plaque to be erected in Leinster House to commemorate former senator and Monaghan TD Billy Fox, who was shot dead by the IRA 47 years ago.

“Given that so few members of the Oireachtas have ever been assassinated and as we approach the 50th anniversary of the murder of Senator Fox a plaque should be erected in Leinster House in his memory,” Fine Gael Louth Senator John McGahon said.

Mr Fox served as a Fine Gael TD from 1969-1973 and Senator from 1973 until his death on March 11th, 1974.

Mr McGahon said Mr Fox was visiting the home of his fiancée Marjorie Coulson, just outside Clones, Co Monaghan, when he was “confronted by 12 IRA gunman who were in the process of searching the Coulson home”.

“They were wrongly tipped off that the Coulsons, a Protestant family living in the border region, were hiding arms for loyalist paramilitaries - a total and utter lie,” said Mr McGahon.

He said Mr Fox confronted the gunmen, then tried to escape, crossing fields, and got about 1km away before being shot in the upper back. The Coulson family was subsequently ordered out of their home, which was burnt down.

‘Courageous’

Mr McGahon described Mr Fox as “one of most courageous politicians this House has ever seen. He was an outspoken critic of the British military campaign in the border region, and the British policy of cratering border roads.

“He took CS gas cannisters and rubber bullets into the (Dáil) Chamber to protest the then government’s policy on Northern Ireland, and had to be forcibly removed by the ushers of the House,” he went on.

“That cost him his Dáil seat in the subsequent general election and his life the following year.”

Mr Fox was the first sitting member of the Oireachtas to be killed since the assassination of vice-president of the then government and minister for justice Kevin O’Higgins in 1927. Mr O’Higgins is commemorated on the obelisk on Leinster House lawn along with Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith.

“We need to remember Senator Fox and we need to do it in an appropriate way in this House,” said Mr McGahon.

Cathaoirleach of the Seanad Mark Daly said he would bring the proposal to the next meeting of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. He noted that forestry agency Coillte has "a memorial forest to him in his home county".

Mr Daly acknowledged that Mr Fox was one of few people killed because they were public representatives standing up “for what they believed in”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is a parliamentary reporter with The Irish Times