Human rights lawyer, Rosemary Nelson, was murdered on this week 19 years ago by an under-car booby trap bomb. The attack was later claimed by a Loyalist death squad the LVF, but the level of sophistication points the finger firmly at British military intelligence for Rosemary’s murder. Mandy Duffy remembers Rosemary on her anniversary.
I first met Rosemary Nelson via a mutual friend. She was of course known to me before that as she was a well-known solicitor in Lurgan, but I really got to know her via our mutual friend and I quickly discovered that this smart, accomplished woman loved nothing more than a night out with her friends and we had many wonderful nights, leaving me memories which I treasure and won’t share here!
Later I joined Rosemary on a committee to establish Irish Medium Education in Lurgan and witnessed first hand the passion and commitment she had for the Irish Language and when I look at the flourishing Naiscoil/Bunscoil we have now in Lurgan I smile and think of Rosemary and how proud she would be.
I don’t think I need to relay the astonishing work ethic Rosemary had as that is widely known throughout the world, I witnessed first-hand the work she did not just for Republicans but for the community of Lurgan. There is a myth that Rosemary only had Republicans as clients but that is simply not true Rosemary had clients from all sections of the community and if Rosemary was your solicitor she gave you 100 percent.
When I met my now husband I saw a lot more of Rosemary in a professional capacity and she was amazing and never afraid to push the boat out and pursue complaints against the RUC. She let them away with nothing including a false arrest case when they arrested the wrong brother and held him for half an hour in a land rover before they realised. We were filling her in on their mistake and laughing about it and straight away she said “is that right? I will be suing them for false arrest.”
During the Drumcree standoff, I spent night after night with her in the community centre on the Garvaghy Road and watched her in her element taking everything in her stride despite being exhausted as she rarely slept relying on her never-ending supply of coffee to keep her going. I watched as she was spit at by the RUC and assaulted by the RUC in Portadown and one thing was clear to everyone there; they hated her with a passion.
I know so many people who were told during stop and searches by the Brits and the RUC that Rosemary was going to be dead soon and Rosemary herself told me about the death threats she received and the intimidation she was under. She was stopped and searched so many times I recall at one stage her being stopped and searched nearly every time she pulled out of the car park beside her practice and she put in complaint after complaint but it never stopped them from targeting her for serious, persistent harassment or eventually carrying out what they repeatedly said they would do.
My last conversation with Rosemary was a week or two before she was murdered and I will never forget it: Sitting in her office in a cloud of smoke drinking coffee and chatting about the Patten Commission (off all things) as I was leaving she asked me what our RUC Harassment levels were like lately and I told her honestly that we had, like a lot of Republicans at that time, noticed a massive decline and that I felt that they were under orders not to rock the boat she said “ well they are not under orders to stop mine” and told me she was still being tortured. I told her to be careful and she just laughed.
The night before Rosemary was murdered I can recall vividly the chopper being up over Kilwilkie all night. I remember saying that something must be going on down in Kilwilkie as that chopper has not moved all night from the one spot. The next day I was walking into town and a fire brigade went flying past me quickly followed by an ambulance and 5 mins later a car pulled up and a friend of mine shouted out “they’ve got her Mandy, they’ve got Rosemary”.
I have no doubt in my head that Rosemary was murdered by the State. The conclusion of the inquiry into her murder which read: “The inquiry found no evidence that state agencies (the RUC, British Army and MI5) had “directly facilitated” her murder, but “could not exclude the possibility” that individual members had helped the perpetrators. It found that state agencies had failed to protect her and that some RUC intelligence about her had ‘leaked’. Both of these, it said, increased the danger to her life. The report also stated that RUC officers had publicly abused and assaulted her in 1997, and made threatening remarks about her to her clients, which became publicly known. It concluded that this helped “legitimise her as a target in the eyes of loyalist terrorists”.
I certainly don’t believe Rosemary was murdered by Loyalists. In my eyes, they didn’t have the capability to carry out such a sophisticated attack. She was murdered by the British State and sadly we lost a not only a brilliant solicitor but also a beautiful, generous friend.
* Mandy Duffy is vice-chairperson of Saoradh and an IRPWA and community activist, based in Lurgan North Armagh.