Hundreds gathered on Tuesday for a Mass and a candlelit vigil in Coalisland, County Tyrone to mark the 50th anniversary of the murder of Martin McShane, a 16-year-old boy shot in the back by the British Army.
On the early evening of December 14th, 1971, Martin was cruelly gunned down by British Army’s Royal Marine Commandos as he played with friends at the local youth club.
Over thirty shots were fired at Martin, who was struck by seven bullets.
After the killing the British army press office issued a statement that soldiers had been fired upon and that a soldier was shot. The then Stormont Home Affairs minister, John Taylor, issued a statement reiterating the false claim and adding elaborate and equally false details about a non-existent IRA attack.
No soldier was shot, there was no IRA presence, and Martin was unarmed. Autopsy reports concluded Martin was shot in the back.
The deliberate misinformation about the killing of Martin was to try and somehow justify the gunning down of a young boy. It added insult to injury for the McShane family and to date remains the British state’s official position.
It wasn’t until April 1972, during a very brief inquest, that these lies were laid bare, yet the deliberately false claims were never retracted by the Stormont regime at the time.
Christina McShane, Martin’s sister said: Martin had been playing a game called jailbreak and had gone home to get his coat as he was cold.
“It was only on returning to the youth club, adjacent to our home, via a break in the perimeter fence that all the kids used, that Martin was shot.
“He hadn’t scaled a 7-foot-high fence as claimed, he wasn’t armed as claimed, he wasn’t in the middle of a field facing soldiers and taking aim as claimed.
“Martin’s body was later discovered by local people who had been searching for his whereabouts after hearing the shooting as he was missing.
“He was discovered at the edge of the field near the fence and lying face down – not in the middle. His killers fled the scene and did not report their deed, but instead fabricated their cover story.
“Martin was an innocent boy who was deliberately murdered and then lies were told to besmirch his innocence and by extension that of the local community.”
A Committee of Inquiry was established after Martin’s murder consisting of local clergy, lawyers, teachers, and lay people.
They interviewed 58 witnesses and took 56 statements. They made maps and took photographs of the location and brought in specialist engineers to conduct a thorough examination of the area where Martin was gunned down.
Their evidence was clear, concise, and irrefutable.
This inquiry called for the soldiers responsible to face criminal charges for shooting an innocent and unarmed boy arguing there was a very clear case of prima facie evidence. No soldiers ever stood trial.
Christina concluded: “Martin was our eldest brother and we all looked up to him. He loved and looked out for all of us, his younger brothers, and me his sister. Martin played football for Na Fianna, Coalisland GFC. He was loved and was full of life.
“We think of him every day and his is never forgotten – not for a moment. He’s alive in our hearts and thoughts. We keep his memory, and his name is always spoken in our home.
“Martin’s killing has had a huge impact on all our lives. My parents were understandably brokenhearted, as were all of us, and they did all they could to try and get justice and to clear Martin’s name from the terrible lies told by his killers to somehow justify their actions.
“Martin’s killing left an indelible mark on the entire community of Meenagh Park and Coalisland and not least the other children, and their families, who Martin was friendly with and playing alongside that night he was shot. It shattered and abruptly ended many a childhood in our community. And it brought fear.
“If ever a case cries out for accountability and justice Martin’s is certainly one.
“Over more recent years we had hoped that finally some form of justice was possible, even though Mammy and Daddy have passed without ever having received justice. But now families yet again experience British government bad faith as they renege on legacy agreements they made and instead are about to arbitrarily introduce proposals that flout the law to amnesty their soldiers. The injustice and impunity regrettably continue.
“However, like thousands of families we are never giving up and we will continue to speak Martin’s name, campaign for justice, and tell the truth about his murder by the British army.
“In this the 50th year since Martin’s killing, we are publicly recovering the factual historical memory and stating very clearly that a terrible wrong must be made right. This can only be achieved through an open and transparent process of accountable justice. We totally oppose any form of amnesty that seeks to protect Martin’s killers.
“We’re never giving up.”