Martin McGuinness took secret of my father’s death to the grave

Stephen Gault still seeking answers 30 years after 1987 Enniskillen Poppy Day bombing


Stephen Gault shed no tears when news of the death of former IRA commander and Sinn Féin deputy first minister Martin McGuinness broke.

Instead he reached for a picture of his father, Samuel, who died in the Enniskillen Poppy Day bombing in 1987, one of the worst incidents of the Troubles.

"People have been calling McGuinness a peacemaker and comparing him to Nelson Mandela," says Gault. "I don't agree. No one wanted peace in Northern Ireland more than those who like me paid the ultimate price for a so-called peace process."

The 47-year-old disagrees with the notion that time is a great healer and the pain of that day 30 years ago, on which killed 12 people died in the Co Fermanagh town, remains raw for him.

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Gault was just 18 at the time and, like scores of others caught up in the blast, he says life has not been the same since. Due to stress and anxiety he says his health is deteriorating and, as he battles cirrhosis and arthritis, there are concerns about his future mobility.

“Most of my body has been affected,” he said, adding that he has to be injected twice a week with special medication.

Cenotaph

Of the day itself, November 8th, 1987, Gault recalls leaving the house with his parents to go to the Poppy Day ceremony. His mother went to perform her duties as usher and he and his father made their way to the Cenotaph, taking up the same position they did every year.

“Lots of people were walking past and I knew most of them to see. I remember a policeman walking past me and I turned to dad and asked him who it was... then the bomb went off... and I never got the answer,” he says.

Gault remembers a strange 20 second silence and being buried up to his knees in falling dust and masonry. He was unable to move and, as he looked down, he spotted his father, a retired policeman, lying at his feet.

“I knew when I seen him that he was dead. I saw my dear father’s decapitated body lying at my feet. I live with these haunting images daily,” he says.

“I live with emotional, physical and physiological scars of that atrocity. If I see anything at all about Enniskillen the hair on the back of my neck stands up and it upsets me. I get flash backs and I’ll wake up in the middle of night.”

For Gault there were many questions and few answers in the following years and now, following the death of the IRA commander turned peacemaker, there are even more.

“I fear that Sinn Féin are re-writing history and that McGuinness’ bloody, murderous past will be gloried and justified,” he says. “I fear that the truth and the facts of what the IRA did during their terrorist campaign will now be airbrushed.”

Reconciliation

Last June McGuinness laid a wreath at the site of the Battle of the Somme as part of a trip to the first World War battlefields, saying his duty was “to represent everybody” in the interests of reconciliation and the peace process.

Gault found it hypocritical that McGuinness would pay his respects to the war dead, given that was what the people of Enniskillen were doing “when his IRA murdered them”.

He said McGuinness should have but did not engage with the police and Historical Enquiries Team on their investigations into the Enniskillen bomb.

A victims’ campaigner claimed in 2015 that the body set up to investigate deaths during the Troubles wanted to question McGuinness over the bombing but was blocked from doing so.

Kenny Donaldson alleged at a meeting of the Northern Ireland affairs select committee at Westminster that the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) advised against it.

However, McGuinness always denied having any link to the Enniskillen blast.

“There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my father’s murder and now McGuinness has taken those secrets of what happened almost 30 years ago to the grave,” says Gault.