A boy from County Donegal killed by unionist paramilitaries was shot down using a standard-issue British Army sub-machine gun, it emerged this week.
Sixteen-year-old Henry Cunningham was murdered by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in 1973, when gunmen open fire on a van near Belfast because the vehicle carried 26-County number plates.
After nearly three decades, the PSNI (formerly RUC) has now admitted that Crown force collusion was involved in providing the weapon to the UVF in October, 1972.
The report of the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Tean (HET) also refers to broader collusion between the RUC, the British Army’s Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) and unionist paramilitaries at the time, when the conflict in the North was at its height.
“There were high level concerns regarding RUC elements ‘too close to the UVF’ and ‘too ready to hand over information’ and worries that loyalist extremists had heavily infiltrated the UDR.”
The Cunningham family said they were shocked by the findings, and that unanswered questions remained, including the apparent failure of the Dublin government to take any steps to pursue the matter.
“This has been a long and painful process for us and many questions remain unanswered. The HET review has however provided us with some answers and with shocking new information about the circumstances of Henry’s death,” said the murdered teenager’s brothers, Herbert and Robert, who were with him when he was killed.
On August 9th, 1973, the teenager was a front-seat passenger in a Bedford van driving from Belfast to Co Donegal when gunmen on a motorway bridge opened fire, killing Henry. His older brother, Herbert, who was injured in the attack, was driving and his brother Robert was sitting behind with three other work colleagues.
The UVF killers are thought to have suspected the six men in the van, who had been working on a building site in Glengormley on the outskirts of Belfast, were all Catholic, but the Cunningham family are Presbyterian.
The family has strongly criticised Dublin’s response to the murder.
“It is with a mixture of anger and sadness that we note from the HET review that there is no evidence whatsoever that our own government in Dublin made any representations to the northern authorities in relation to the murder of Henry,” they said.
“Neither the gardai nor the Departments of the Taoiseach, Justice or Foreign Affairs have been able to produce a single document pertaining to the murder of an Irish citizen.
“We would today appeal to the Taoiseach, who we accept is not responsible for these failings, to meet with us and allow us to present this document concerning the short life and premature death of Henry.”
There is also anger that an inquest was held shortly after the boy’s murder - before all the evidence had been gathered in the case.