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Peter Hunt

McElhone killing

(September 1974)

From Militant Irish Monthly, Issue 27, September 1974.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

The callous and cold-blooded murder of Patrick McElhone ranks with the worst outrages committed by the British Army in Northern Ireland. Already it has aroused a storm of protest. Even Unionist MP John Taylor has added his voice to the mounting condemnation of the army.

Patrick McElhone was a 23-year old farm labourer who worked on his father’s farm near Pomeroy in County Tyrone. At 6 pm on August 7th he was sitting down to his tea having just come in from his work.

A patrol of the Royal Regiment of Wales came to the house. They took Patrick out, led him down a lane and into a meadow. His father alarmed at the unwarranted arrest of his son, followed them. He saw a soldier take up a firing position in a hedge at the side of the field. Then he heard one shot and saw his son fall dead. The soldiers then threatened to shoot him if he didn’t get into the house. Both he and his wife were then insulted by members of the patrol while the body of their son lay a few yards away unattended.

Next day the official army statement blandly announced that “a shooting incident occurred” and “there were no security force casualties. ” Faced with a barrage of local protests they later claimed that McElhone broke away from the patrol and was challenged three times before being shot.

Such claims will convince no-one in face of the welter of evidence to the contrary. Army victims are usually represented as “terrorists” or “gunmen”. Such accusations will not stick in this case. Even the local RUC agree that McElhone was not involved with the IRA or any illegal organisation. In fact he had no political connections.


This is not the first killing of its kind. Not many weeks before, also in Co Tyrone, another shooting incident aroused fierce protest. In Strabane, Hugh Devine was coming home from a party late on a Saturday night. He committed the crime of arguing with soldiers who had insulted his wife. One of the soldiers shot him dead.

In each case a soldier has been charged with murder. This will do nothing to ease the burden of grief placed on these and other innocent families. It is not so long since a soldier was convicted of the murder of a 12-year old boy in Newry. He was given a three-year sentence, but an appeal court later quashed this and he has been released.

“Justice” in Northern Ireland and Britain is not impartial. The ferocity of “the Law” is felt only by those who oppose the ruling class. One group of men are at this moment “celebrating” three years of imprisonment for – no crime. These are the small group of detainees who have been in Long Kesh since internment was introduced three year ago.

Building workers who broke the Tory laws on picketing were meted out savage sentences of up to three years. Youths in Northern Ireland convicted of being “members of an illegal organisation” face steep sentences. They languish in prisons. Meanwhile those who, on Bloody Sunday in Derry, gunned down 13 defenceless people, go scot free.

Mr and Mrs McElhone will be no happier that a soldier is facing a murder charge. But the army chiefs will. It is very convenient for them to place the responsibility for army actions on the shoulders of individual soldiers. While one or two troopers face charges, the men at the top who engineer army policy play Pontius Pilate.

Withdraw army

In reality, in this and other similar cases, it is not the man who pulls the trigger or the soldiers who arrest and intern who are on trial, but the policies and methods of the army. The army must be withdrawn. In its place must be put a Trade Union Defence Force, drawing together Catholics and Protestants which would end the nightmare of military oppression and sectarian murder.

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Last updated: 24 June 2018