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Alan Thomas Johnston 15 Feb 2015
A part-time UDR man was murdered by the IRA as he arrived for work in Kilkeel, Co. Down. A gunman followed the victim into the Kilkeel Joinery Works in Greencastle Road shortly after 8 o’clock and fired at least five shots from point-blank range. He was hit in the head and chest and died shortly afterwards in the hospital.
The victim was Mr. Alan Thomas (23), a single man who lived with his parents at Carigenagh Road in the town. He was a L-Cpl with 3 UDR and joined the regiment in 1983. The IRA in South Down later claimed responsibility for the murder. Eye-witnesses said the killers were waiting in a car outside the joinery works. When the UDR man arrived, a man got out and followed him inside. After the shooting, the gunman jumped into the car driven by another man and sped off. The gunman was described as young, with dark hair and a moustache.
The car, a blue Opel Kadett, Reg. No. NIJ 2392, was found abandoned half a mile away in the predominantly nationalist Abbey Park. Police said the killers took over a house in Derryogue Park, close to the murder scene, at 10:30 last night. They tied up the householder and held him hostage overnight before escaping with his car shortly before 8 a.m.
The killing was condemned by former Ulster Unionist, Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson, who was a friend of the dead man. He said he was “devastated” when he heard of the murder early today. “Words are inadequate to describe the feeling of revulsion at such a terrible act of barbarity committed by the faceless murderers of the IRA.”
He described the dead man, who was a member of the Young Unionists Association, as “ one of the many young men in Ulster whose only desire is to serve their community and provide protection for all.” “No effort must be spared to ensure that these murderers are removed from society,” he said.
Mr. Johnston’s murder was also condemned by the East Londonderry Ulster Unionist MP Mr. William Ross; South Down SDLP MP Mr. Eddie McGrady; local DUP councilor Mr. George Graham, and Mr. Des O’Hagan, Workers’ Party. Mr. Ross described Mr. Johnston as a “well-liked, hardworking young man” and said he had been present at a dinner which he had addressed in Kilkeel on Friday night.
“Today he was slain by vermin who really do shoot-to-kill all those who stand between them and the republican slum into which they are trying to drive Ulster.” He said it was a foul murder carried out for political purposes and it again highlighted the Government’s failure to take effective measures against terrorists. Mr. McGrady said the murder was another example of the paramilitary “kill-a-worker” campaign. Mr. Graham said people in the Kilkeel area were shocked at the killing while Mr. O’Hagan said it was a gross act of terrorism and those responsible should be treated as the enemies and outcasts of society.
The Unionist member of Newry and Mourne Council withdrew from last night’s meeting as a mark of respect to the family of the part-time UDR man shot dead yesterday in Kilkeel. The seven members present left the recreation and tourist committee after condemning the murder of Mr. Alan Johnston. An emergency motion in the name of Mourne SDLP Councillor Colum Murnion was supported by all except the four Sinn Fein councilors.
Mr. Murnion said: “This inexcusable waste of a young life must be condemned utterly. The perpetrators of this evil deed have wrecked another family and brought again that terrible feeling of despair to a small community and added immeasurably to the hatred and evil in our midst.” He offered sympathy to the family, and hoped the gunman would be caught.
Mr. William Russell, Ulster Unionist, also condemning the murder, said this, the eleventh murder in Kilkeel, had left the townspeople shocked and stunned. Councillor George Graham, DUP, said: “There are no words that can highlight the depth of shock, revulsion and outrage felt. It always seems to be the case that they pick the best of men, and that is the case here.”
The only member to speak against the motion was the leader of the Sinn Fein Party on the council, Mr. Jim McAllister, who said: “The UDR are the real terrorists,” adding, “they should be disbanded.”
DUP leader the Reverend Ian Paisley said Mr. Johnston’s murder demonstrated the “total failure” of the Government’s security policy. Mr. Paisley added: “ The last few days have demonstrated that the internal affairs of Northern Ireland are no longer to be discussed with the elected representatives of the Ulster people but rather to be made the subject of sordid deals with the Republic’s Government and backroom underhand payoffs in the secrecy of Anglo-Irish Conference meetings.”
The RUC confirmed that a major follow-up operation after the IRA murder of UDR soldier MR. Alan Johnston in Kilkeel is continuing. There have been extensive house searches within a seven-mile radius of the town and at least two primary schools in the area have been checked by police. Scores of houses have been searched and numerous vehicle checkpoints have been set up. One local man said: “There is no sign of the operation being scaled down. Practically every vehicle entering or leaving the town has been searched.”
An RUC spokesman said: “A follow-up operation which began after Mr. Johnston’s murder is ongoing.” A Presbyterian minister launched a fierce attack on the Government’s security policy and asked how many murders there would have to be before the Anglo-Irish Agreement was abolished.
Speaking at the funeral of Mr. Alan Johnston in Kilkeel, the minister of Mourne Presbyterian Church, the Rev. David McGaughey, said young men were going “bunned down and blown to pieces” and still the Government refused to take decisive action. Thousands of mourners also heard Mr. McGaughey describe direct threats which had been made against members of his congregation.
He said: “I had the task of conducting the first funeral service of a member of the security forces murdered after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and at that service I said that a phrase of our Prime Minister had used at Hillsborough caused me great hurt. Mrs. Thatcher said then that we owed it to those who had lain down their lives in previous years to give the Agreement a chance. Two-and-a-half years on we would ask a question of our Prime Minister and Government and it is this. How many more people must die to give this Agreement a chance? Is it not time that the Government realised that there are those within this society who will give no political settlement that is not of their making a chance to work? That group, the IRA, continue to murder some of the finest young men in our province.”
Mr. McGaughey revealed that Mr. Johnston had been threatened in the past and he said the experiences of three members of his congregation illustrated the “stresses and strains” they were forced to live under. On one occasion a man leaving Morning Worship with his two children was approached and told to check under his car and on another a man was telephoned at 2 a.m. and told to be careful leaving his house in the morning as he had been targeted.
Mr. McGaughey said the third incident involved a young man cutting grass at a relative’s graveyard who was approached by a young woman and told: “It won’t be long before you’re there.”
The minister said Mr. Johnston faced the threats made against him with courage. “And how did his life end? Did it end with a brave man coming face to face with him? The Republican News may carry a story telling how one of their units was involved in a brave action at Kilkeel but that is not the truth. An assassin came from behind when Alan was carrying his lunchbox in one hand and a set of tools in the other, and without a chance to defend himself, took his life away. But then isn’t that so often the way these murderers carry out their atrocities.”
Mr. McGaughey said many people were concerned about the influence of the Irish Republic on Northern Ireland affairs and cited the visit of Dublin Cabinet Minister Mr. John Wilson at the request of Newry and Armagh SDLP MP Mr. Seamus Mallon as an example.
Commenting on the latest controversy the Minister said: “We have seen over these past weeks that they have sought to influence decisions within the courts. We have heard of a neighbouring MP inviting a Cabinet Minister from another State to carry out an inspection of a military installation built near a school. We are told this matter will be brought up at the Intergovernmental Conference. Is it right that our Government should always be looking over its shoulder to see whether policies please States that should have no part in the running of our affairs?”
Mr. Johnston, who was a member of 3UDR based at Ballykinlar, was buried with full military honors. A member of the Young Unionists’ Association, he was well known in the Kilkeel area and was an accomplished flautist in tow local bands. The Moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly, Dr. William Fleming, said the community was abhorred by murder. Dr. Fleming said it was easy to become indifferent and undisturbed by such foul deeds unless there was personal involvement.
“There can be no distinction between a civilian murder and that of one who serves his community in the UDR or the RUC. “Every civilized country needs men and women to serve in the police and Army- this is a G-d-given responsibility.
Mr. Johnston’s funeral took place from his home at Carginagh Road, Kilkeel. Thousands of mourners turned out to pay their last respects to the popular soldier who was shot dead at Kilkeel Joinery Works on Monday. Mr. Johnston (23) was buried with full military honors. He joined the Regiment four years ago and quickly progressed to the rank of lance-corporal. The UDR commander Brig. Michael Bray and Mr. Johnston’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Neville Washington, were among the mourners. The Lord Lieut. For Down, Col. Norman Brann and other senior Army and RUC officers were also present. Many of Mr. Johnston’s battalion colleagues and numerous politicians also attended. A senior official represented the Northern Ireland Office. IT Support