I listened with some interest to last Sundays (Feb 25th 2018) ‘Sunday with Miriam’ show in which Miriam O’Callaghan interviewed the brothers and cousin of Aidan McAnespie. I have noticed that this incident, one of many tragic events that happened during the course of the Troubles, has recently got a lot of media attention as the 30th anniversary of the killing approached. Aiden McAnespie was a 23 year old man from Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone who was shot dead on Sunday February 21st 1988 at well fortified British army checkpoint that had been long established on the road out of the town leading to the Co Monaghan in the Irish Republic. An 18 year Grenadier Guardsman Pte David Holden was later charged with his manslaughter but this charge was dropped prior to prosecution. He was fined for negligent discharge of the weapon and in 1990 was given a medical discharge. The British Army said that McAnespie had been hit when the weapon had discharged accidentally as a soldier was moving the gun with wet hands. Forensic evidence suggested that the fatal shot was one of three that had ricocheted off the road two metres behind McAnespie.
McAnespie was an election worker for Sinn Féin, but both the Provisional IRA and his priest said that he was not involved in any paramilitary activity. Well to use the old quote’they would say that would’nt they ‘ as his death fitted nicely into the Sinn Fein/IRA propaganda war of the time and since.
Although I do sympathise with the McAnespie family I do feel that this particular interview was very one sided with a distinct bias that Aidan McAnespie was a totally innocent young man maliciously shot down in broad daylight by a vindictive occupying army. Not once was the question asked if Mr McAnespie involved or a member of the IRA. Whether he was or not should, of course, not be used as justification for his shooting but it might answer why he was selected for ongoing harassment, which I am of no doubt he was subjected to, as he went back and forth through a heavily fortified checkpoint.
The majority of British army soldiers serving in Northern Ireland at the time were young and in fear of constant death at the hands of a very cruel, cunning and callous enemy who used every available method to kill them including proxy bombs. IRA operatives used everyday activities to gather intelligence and studied their checkpoint for weaknesses and routines which would make them vulnerable to an attack which would results in deaths, the more the better. Is it any wonder they were nervous and twitchy and viewed certain persons with suspicion ? I do reiterate that I am not excusing what Pte Holden did but never once, during the programme, was the possibility put forward that what happened to Aiden McAnespie could have been a tragic accident. When you have a nervous 18 year old soldier with a firearm in a tense situation accidental discharges do occur. This scenario, of course will never by accepted in some quarters who continue to use words like assassination and murder and disregard or refuse to accept any other possibility except the one that suits their agenda.
Sinn Fein/IRA have continually used tragic incidents like Mr McAnespie ‘s death for own propaganda purposes. Maybe if one reads the 28 February 2008 Edition of An Poblacht you will see how his death is reported and commemorated with inflammatory and jingoistic language. Maybe a little more balance in last Sunday’s programme would have helped.