IRA Volunteer killed by criminal gang
Army dismisses media claims
The IRA has categorically dismissed media speculation around the fatal shooting of an IRA Volunteer in a border village last week. In a statement signed by P O'Neill, the IRA confirmed that Keith Rogers was a member of Oglaigh na hÉireann but insisted that "he was unarmed" and that "he was not on active service" at the time of his death. The statement described Keith Rogers' killer as "an armed criminal" and added that the IRA Volunteer died "while defending his community".
Keith Rogers (24), from County Louth, died in a hospital in Dundalk after being shot in the chest and arm during an incident on Wednesday 12 March in the border village of Cullaville, South Armagh. Further injuries sustained by Keith Rogers, when he was beaten by the gang as he lay striken with gunshot wounds on the ground, are believed to have contributed to his subsequent death.
According to an IRA spokesperson, Keith Rogers died after a confrontation with a local petty criminal gang, whose members have engaged in a series of recent violent acts. In recent months, the gang has carried out a number of vicious assaults on local people and their property.
In one of the most serious assaults, prior to the fatal shooting, the gang was involved in the attempted murder of a local woman. The woman's car was rammed by a lorry off the roadway and into a wall. Masked gang members carrying iron bars jumped from the vehicle but were deterred from further assault when passing motorists stopped at the scene.
Media speculation following the death of Keith Rodgers, which suggested the killing had been precipitate by a dispute over land or tension between republicans, has been dismissed. Earlier, PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde added to what the Irish News identified as "the growing list of theories" by saying that the incident "may well be a paramilitary-style shooting that went wrong".
Orde predicted more bloodshed. His comments were described by Sinn Féin Assembly member Conor Murphy as "misguided and mischievous" and linked to recent actions by the PSNI to heighten tension in the area. Murphy accused Orde of "engaging in deliberate politicking" and "displaying a total lack of knowledge of the situation in South Armagh.
"Everyone in South Armagh knows the circumstances surrounding the killing of Keith Rogers," he said. "Everyone in that area knows that Keith was killed by a criminal gang. Everyone in that area knows that those responsible are not republicans.
"Either Orde is publicly demonstrating that nobody in South Armagh is willing to talk to him and his force or he is engaging in direct politicking aimed at giving succour to unionists obsessed with fantasies about the IRA. Predictably, the Chief Constable avoided explaining exactly how these fully armed criminals were able to move freely through one of the heaviest militarised areas in Western Europe.
"Orde avoids explaining how Keith Rogers was shot dead underneath a spy post," said Murphy. "Perhaps he should concentrate on these areas of concern instead of attempting to propagandise around the death of a young IRA Volunteer."
"On Wednesday 12 March IRA Volunteer Keith Rogers was shot dead by an armed criminal in Cullaville, South Armagh. Keith Rogers was a member of Óglaigh na hÉireann. He was unarmed at the time of his death. He was not on active service.
"Keith died while defending his community against armed criminals. Keith was held in high esteem by his comrades and by his community. He was committed to the objectives of Óglaigh na hÉireann. His death is a sad loss for the entire Republican family.
"The Volunteers of Óglaigh na hÉireann extend their deepest sympathy to Keith's family, who have lost a loving son and brother."
Hundreds attend funeral
Several hundred mourners followed the Tricolou-draped coffin of IRA Volunteer Keith Rogers as the funeral cortege walked the short distance from the family's home to the Church of the Sacred Heart in Shelagh, near Crossmaglen.
A lone piper led the procession. A wreath of white flowers, the dead Volunteer's beret and gloves and as his GAA shirt adorned the coffin. As a mark of respect, a local school along the route closed and teachers and pupils stood in silent tribute as the mourners passed.
With the Sacred Heart Church packed to full capacity, the funeral Mass was relayed to mourners standing in the church grounds. During the Mass, local priest Fr Peter Clarke cautioned against listening to "the gossip, the ill-informed speculation, much of which is inaccurate, all of it unhelpful and should have no place in our lives".
Only time would reveal the full facts, said the priest. "As long as we remember the events of this shameful week, we will not forget the lesson of Keith's death."
A number of prominent republicans attended the funeral, including Sinn Féin Assembly members Conor Murphy and Michelle Gildernew. Speaking at the graveside, Brian Keenan deplored the killing and said Keith Rogers had died "looking after the issues that are important to this community".
Keenan said that those involved in the killing of the young Volunteer had "abused the community in which they lived.
"We've had enough abuse already from the British," he said.