Between 1969 and 1998 more than 3,000 people died during The Troubles as the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) tried to force Britain to give up Ulster and create a united Ireland.
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By Chris Summers 11 November 2019
Towards the end of The Troubles loyalist Protestant gangs like the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) were killing more people than the PIRA or the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA).
The circle of violence eventually forced the PIRA to sue for peace and in 1998 the Good Friday Agreement was signed, paving the way to an end to the violence and the start of a new political system in Northern Ireland, based on power-sharing.
One man’s story illustrates that circle of violence.
At 10pm on 24 February 1985 Douglas McElhinney, a former lance corporal in the Ulster Defence Regiment, was dropping a friend off at his home on the Glen estate in Londonderry when he was ambushed by INLA gunmen.
The gunmen climbed out of a Toyota van and started firing at McElhinney, 42, who was killed instantly.
The van had been hijacked in the Galliagh district of Derry and two masked men remained with the owner during the shooting to ensure he did not tip off the police.
The INLA claimed McElhinney – who had resigned from the UDR in 1979 – had continued to work as an undercover agent but his family denied it.
One member of the INLA gang was Don Browne, who was 26 at the time.
Browne (pictured) was jailed for life and spent more than 13 years behind bars at the infamous Maze prison.
But the shots fired that night in 1985 were to rebound in a horrific way on the Roman Catholic community which Browne claimed to be defending and standing up for.
On 30 October 1993 – the night before Halloween – four UDA gunmen burst into a Catholic bar, The Rising Sun, in the small town of Greysteel near Derry (pictured below).
One of them shouted: “Trick or treat” and then they opened fire on customers.
Eight people – ranging in age from 19-year-old Karen Thompson to Victor Montgomery, 76 – were killed.
One of the gunmen was Jeffrey Deeney and although the UDA had been retaliating for the IRA’s bombing of a fish and chip shop on the Shankill Road in Belfast a week earlier, Deeney’s own motives were more personal.
His father was Douglas McElhinney and he had borne a desire for revenge since the night his daddy died.
Deeney was released from prison under the Good Friday Agreement in 2000, two years after his father’s killer.
The Greysteel massacre was one of the worst atrocities during The Troubles and Browne knows he is partly responsible.
Today he is 60 and a completely reformed character.
He teaches yoga and has no appetite for a return to violence.
In April this year Lyra McKee, a 23-year-old journalist and blogger, was shot dead as she watched rioting in Derry’s Creggan estate.
Her killer is believed to have been a member of the New IRA, which rejects the Good Friday Agreement, and its political wing Saoradh still has an office in Derry.
Browne is unwilling to criticise Saoradh or the New IRA.
He says: “I am a republican but I am not a practising republican. I would not say to Saoardh you are doing the wrong thing. For me to criticise them for being active republicans would be the wrong thing.”
But he believes the younger generation in Northern Ireland, who were born or grew up after The Troubles ended, have no appetite to “go back to war”.