Former RUC officer: why I abstained in council vote over bomb memorial

The aftermath of the IRA bomb that devastated Coleraine town centre on June 12, 1973 killing six pensioners
The aftermath of the IRA bomb that devastated Coleraine town centre on June 12, 1973 killing six pensioners

An Alliance councillor and former long-serving RUC officer has said he would rather people “remembered victims in their prayers” than engage in “point-scoring exercises” in council chambers.

Barney Fitzpatrick – who spent 38 years in the police and suffered gunshot wounds while on patrol in Belfast – faced criticism for abstaining during a vote on whether the Causeway Coast and Glens Council should erect a permanent memorial to the 1973 Coleraine bomb victims.

Six Protestant pensioners were killed by an IRA blast that devastated the Railway Road.

Councillor Sean McGlinchey – one of six Sinn Fein members who also abstained when the DUP motion was put to the vote on Tuesday night – served 18 years in prison for his role in the mass murder.

Mr Fitzpatrick said: “Everybody remembers about the bomb in Coleraine, and the consequences of it. You had the DUP, and to my mind Sinn Fein, on a point-scoring exercise. I really thought it wasn’t appropriate in the context of the other people in the area who died.”

The motion, timed to mark the 45th anniversary of the atrocity, was passed with support from the 28 unionist and SDLP councillors. Only independent republican Padraig McShane voted against the memorial.

Mr Fitzpatrick, who served in the RUC and then PSNI between 1968 and 2006, listed a number of innocent victims killed by terrorists across the north coast area, and said: “Why not commemorate them all together? I don’t need memorials – I keep it in my heart and I keep it in my prayers.”

Asked if he could be swayed to support a separate memorial for the six Coleraine victims if the bereaved families strongly backed the proposal, he added: “I remember those people in my prayers, that’s the way I look at it. I’m not going [to the council chamber] for a point-scoring exercise between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

“I have no problem with attending a service for those [Coleraine] victims, but I just felt that this is an exercise between the DUP and Sinn Fein ... and it has really sickened me, when I thought of the many other people. I was in the police for a lot of years and many of them were comrades of mine.”

Mr Fitzpatrick added: “We have a memorial for the police in Belfast but people forget about what happened around here, and there were a lot of deaths around the borough.”

The DUP councillor who proposed the motion, Alan McClean, denied it was about political point-scoring.

“It wasn’t about tit-for-tat – it was about those who were killed – it was about the relatives.”