THE Irish Government must acknowledge the role it played during the Troubles according to Protestant families from Border areas of Fermanagh who suffered at the hands of the IRA.
Next month a number of families from the South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF) will meet with Taoiseach Enda Kenny to press the Irish government on its failures during the Troubles.
Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA Arlene Foster will facilitate the delegation of victims to Dublin and last week she told the Northern Ireland Assembly that the IRA had been able to "ethnically cleanse" the area. Mrs. Foster, whose late father survived a gun attack by the terror group, wants an acknowledgement from the Republic of Ireland that it failed to secure Border areas.
The Director of Services at SEFF, Kenny Donaldson said it is incumbent on Mr Kenny to acknowledge what occurred over those years, adding: "Murder is murder and there was never any justification in the downgrading of that crime in the Republic." "In South Fermanagh the Protestant community did not revert to the gun or the bomb," he adds, "They either joined the security services and did lawful service for their country, or entrusted their faith with the lord which prevented them in getting involved in retaliation based actions." Across the county, 112 people were killed during the campaign of terror. In South East Fermanagh, 11 people were killed at Lisnaskea, 14 were killed at Rosslea, 13 in Newtownbutler, three in Maguiresbridge and one in Brookeborough.
These atrocities and the fear of further attacks forced a number of Protestant farmers to move away from the Border area and so with just weeks to go until the crucial meeting with the Taoiseach some of those targeted by the IRA during the Troubles have given this newspaper moving accounts of their experiences.
Standing at the door to his piggery, Johnny Barton was shot several times in the back. The bullets hit him, the door and the wall around him. He fell to the ground in agony. He was wounded and badly. Then the gunfire stopped and with all the strength he could muster he crawled to safety.
"I was just a farmer, reared and brought up on the farm. It was a farm that was passed on to generations and always in our family. But my whole way of life changed on February 2, 1972 when the IRA shot me. After being shot I lay on the ground and things got quiet so I stayed inside the piggery. I was badly wounded in the back and had a bullet in the knee; my whole back was torn across," he said.
Had the gun not jammed, it is believed he would have been killed.
His beloved wife was inside the house, oblivious to what was going on. When she discovered, to her horror, that her husband had been shot she walked half a mile for help.
The reason for the assassination attempt was simple: Johnny was in the Ulster Defence Regiment and the IRA wanted him dead.
On leaving hospital his authorities had arranged for a house for him and told him to move away, but he didn't want to leave the home that had been in his family for several generations.
"It was my home, I wasn't for going. I tried to have a normal life but it wasn't easy. You were always thinking when you went out if you were going to come back again." And they did. A year later, masked gunmen returned. Johnny was standing in the exact same spot where the previous attempt on his life was made. The shots rang out, bullets skimmed off the wall, hitting him on the hand.
"I was able to scramble into the piggery again, and lay on the ground. I couldn't get out." Possibly thinking he was dead the IRA men turned their guns on the house with his wife and three sons inside. Again the bullets ricocheted off the wall; so much so that his wife's hair was covered in the chips from the tiles on the wall. As Johnny lay in the pig house, his wife watched the men run across a field towards the Border.
"They ran back to the Border, the wife saw them. Enda Kenny needs to acknowledge that this was going on. This was ethnic cleansing; they wanted the Protestants out of the area. There were two other men on the force who lived near me. They were both single men and were never touched, but they tried to kill me twice because I had a family. They didn't want us there," he said.
Johnny may have survived a second attempt on his life but there was further agony for the family. His father, whose health had deteriorated after the first incident was in hospital and was very ill. When Johnny visited him he kept his hand bandaged up behind his back so his dad wouldn't see it. But he passed away, a day after the second gun attack on his son.
With great regret, Johnny sold up. "I had to give in and move away," he sadly recalls. He left his home for pastures new but for a long time received no help and found it very difficult to adapt, resulting in his health suffering greatly.
"I have suffered very bad in my life with depression. There was one night I was on the verge of taking my own life." He sums up that agonising day in a particularly moving way, a thought that will resonate with so many more innocent victims: "I was a farmer and I was happy there, but they ruined everything. I could never forgive them. What happened that day ruined my whole life. The IRA didn't take away my life, they took away my way of life."