On the 30th anniversary of his death, an announcement by the 26 County Minister for Justice that he will not release a report into the killing of a Sinn Fein election worker has hurt the family.
The 24-year-old Aidan McAnespie was shot by British soldiers shortly after crossing a military checkpoint on his way to Aughaloo Gaelic sports club on 21 February 1988. The soldier involved, David Holden, claimed the killing was accidental and that his hand slipped on the trigger.
Aidan had been subject to threats from British soldiers in the weeks before his death. Witnesses also reported that an unidentified soldier and RUC policeman drove away from the checkpoint after the shooting. Last month, the former President of the Gaelic Athletics Association, Peter Quinn, said that it appeared that the young activist had been targeted for assassination.
The killing sparked widespread anger and led to the Dublin government appointing then Deputy Garda police commissioner Eugene Crowley to carry out an inquiry. The results of the investigation were received by the then justice minister Gerry Collins in April 1988, but have never been published.
It has since emerged that Mr McAnespie’s breastbone was removed and retained as part of a potential cover-up. The family has called for its return for Christian burial.
No one was ever prosecuted. In 2009, the British government expressed “deep regret” at Mr McAnespie’s death. In 2016 it was reported that the decision not to prosecute the soldier was to be reviewed.
Mr McAnespie’s father John is now 82 years of age and in failing health. The GAA director general Paraic Duffy has joined Mr McAnespie’s family and justice campaigners in appealing to the current 26 County justice minister Charlie Flanagan to request that the Crowley Report finally be made public.
Speaking in the Dublin parliament on Wednesday, the exact anniversary of the killing, Minister Charlie Flanagan said that he is withholding the Crowley report because it is too sensitive to release. He said: “The fact is that I must have full regard to the expectations of the many people who contributed in good faith to the Crowley inquiry on the basis of a guarantee of absolute confidentiality and to the persisting obligation in that regard.”
Sinn Fein MEP Matt Carthy said the announcement was “an insult to the McAnespie family”. He said the decison sent a message to all those seeking truth and justice about the death of their loved ones at the hands of state forces during the conflict.
“That this announcement was made on the sad occasion of the 30th anniversary of Aidan McAnespie’s death makes the decision all the more hurtful and disappointing,” Mr Carthy said.
“As someone who knows many members of the McAnespie family personally, I want to commend them on the dignified manner of their campaign for truth and justice, which has been denied for far too long.
“The publication of the Crowley Report is a vital step in getting to the truth of the death of this young Irishman.
“The McAnespie family will continue to receive my full support and that of my party in their campaign for truth and justice about the death of Aidan.”
Family and friends of the Tyrone man shot held a vigil on Wednesday at the spot where he was killed. They re-traced the route he took in his final minutes yesterday as they made their way to a vigil held at the spot and time he was killed.
They were joined by Tyrone GAA county board chairman Michael Kerr and former chairman Tony McKenna for a short ceremony. The chairman of Aidan McAnespie GFC, which is based in Boston, was also present along with a representative from Relatives for Justice.
Mr McAnespie’s bother Vincent last night said his family remains disappointed at the failure to hand over the report.
“I would understand it if it was the British government,” he said.
“But you would be thinking that the Free State government would be helping and back you up,” he said.
The family have appealed to people to independently supply them with any information which may have featured in the suppressed report.
“We are thankful of the support we have got from local people especially over the past while,” he said. “And we are thankful for the people coming forward to give us information and the GAA who are coming out now to support us.”