Fr. Alec Reid & The Two Corporals: The Day The RUC Turned A Blind Eye

Ed Moloney with a piece on the late Alec Reid. It initially featured on The Broken Elbow on 22 November 2013.
Fr. Alec Reid - Bloodstains on his face were from attempts to give mount-to-mouth resuscitation
Fr. Alec Reid – this iconic photo shows bloodstains on his face which were from his attempts to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a dying British soldier

The Tipperary-born Redemptorist priest, Fr Alec Reid, who died today, will always be remembered for two things. One was his role in the peace process as the secret envoy, from as early as 1982, for SF leader Gerry Adams as he reached out to the Irish and British governments with proposals for an end to the IRA’s war and Sinn Fein’s entry into constitutional politics. That all culminated, as history records, in the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) of 1998.

The other was his part in one of the most extraordinarily violent few days of the Troubles, which began with the SAS execution of three IRA would-be bombers in Gibraltar on March 6th, 1988, was followed by Loyalist freelance gunman, Michael Stone’s pistol and grenade attack on mourners at their funerals ten days later and then the deaths a couple of days after that, at the hands of a mob, of two British corporals who had accidentally strayed into the path of the funeral of one of Stone’s victims.

Driving into the funeral crowd in a civilian car, the pair were evidently mistaken for Loyalist extremists. They were dragged out of the vehicle, bundled into a nearby sports ground where they were searched, stripped and beaten and then driven by black taxi to waste ground where a single gunman shot them dead.

I once watched the British Army’s ‘heli-teli’ footage of the incident, shot from a helicopter overhead, and it was the one of most riveting and disturbing pieces of film I ever saw. What sticks in my mind is the way the crowd surrounding the soldiers’ car behaved as a single organism, swaying backwards and forwards almost like a flower opening and closing, or a wave crashing against rocks and ebbing away, when one of the soldiers produced a pistol and brandished it out of the driver’s window.

When the soldier produced his pistol, the crowd swayed as if a single organism.
When the soldier produced his pistol, the crowd swayed back and forth like a single organism.

Fr Reid was there that day and there is a photograph of him, which I can’t immediately locate, of him deep in conversation with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness as they followed the cortege.

When the crowd abducted the two corporals and threw them over a gate into the sports ground, he followed them and by all accounts pleaded for the soldiers’ lives. When the pair were taken away by black taxi he followed and attempted to resuscitate them after they had been shot.

There was a massive RUC investigation afterwards which centred on identifying those who had surrounded the soldiers’ car and had carried them away to their deaths. Provo stewards confiscated dozens of film rolls from press photographers to make the police’s job harder and I remember watching Sinn Fein officials emptying bags of them inside the party’s press centre not long afterwards.

The police were able nonetheless to identify a large number of participants from surviving media photos and brought prosecutions but their search for witnesses who might have been able to further help their inquiries was less successful.

One man who had a ringside seat, as it were, was Fr Reid, who was on a first name basis with many of the Provos at the funeral, not least some of those who helped kill the corporals. I don’t know if he knew the identity of the gunman who pulled the trigger (who was a very senior Belfast IRA figure) but if he didn’t, he knew most of those who had delivered the soldiers to death at his hands.

The RUC wanted to question him but they never did. The reason why I can now tell, given that Fr Reid is no longer with us and the promise I gave more than a decade ago to keep silent no longer holds.

The story gives a remarkable insight into what was supposedly a highly secret and barely developed process and it suggests that the journey to the GFA was way more advanced at that early point (six years before the first IRA ceasefire) than anyone would dare admit.

Knowing that the police would want to question him and that he if told the truth and identified the soldiers’ assailants his usefulness as an intermediary for Gerry Adams and the Provo peace camp would end, Reid approached a senior official in the Northern Ireland Office to explain his problem.

The NIO was well aware of the IRA’s slow journey towards constitutionalism by this point. Fr Reid had already been in touch with Tom King, the then NI Secretary to explain the process and to win his support for it while the most senior officials at the NIO had been assigned to work on it (similar advances had been made to Charles Haughey in Dublin and 1988 also saw Sinn Fein and the SDLP meet followed by the so-called Hume-Adams talks, encounters that were designed to disguise Haughey’s role in the process).

The peace process was actually very well advanced and everyone seemed to know it except the general public – and of course the Provo grassroots.

So, Reid explained his difficulty to the man at the NIO and soon contact was made with the RUC Chief Constable, Sir John Hermon and the order was quietly passed down: on no account should detectives investigating the corporals’ killings bring Fr Alec Reid in for questioning.

People who were involved in those two deaths – murders in the eyes of the State – escaped prosecution thanks to the NIO/RUC decision to put the infant peace process ahead of the needs of criminal justice.

It is worth bearing this in mind when judging the sanctimonious cant about victims’ needs for justice that has flowed in the wake of John Larkin’s remarks this week that there should be a halt to all pre-1998 prosecutions for the sake of a peace process that these days looks far from healthy.


  1. Ed waits till they are dead-

    Nothing like making up a story about a man who has just died-he is not even in the ground yet-

    " The gunman who pulled the trigger ( who was a very senior Belfast IRA figure )"-

    Looks like old Ed never went to the police either to reveal who the Volunteer was who did the deed-how long as Ed kept this information to himself-maybe Ed wanted to save the Peace Process
    himself-Lol-Ed the saviour-

    " who had accidentally strayed into the path of the funeral "

    Poor brits-did they accidentally stray into Ireland as well-

  2. It said the two soldiers where dragged into a sports ground. Was that the sports pitch on the Andersontown road near the shops?

  3. Maitui,

    It was Casement Park but then they were taken away in a Black Taxi.

    You might of thought at that stage the chosen one ' The God Send' could of intervened.
    Probably too busy thinking what he would say in interviews years ahead.
    All that carnage and the liar's only offering is more lies.
    Probably insisting he wasn't there either.

    Fr Reid wasn't gullible, he must have known Adams was a Peace at any price man, as long as he got pockets and pockets of shiney pieces of silver. A gift from God, I'm sure the Brits would second that and the Sinn Fein landlords would say Amen.

  4. Some say he was a gift from God, others that he's the biggest demon they know!

    If Frankie can quote Schopenhauer, then perhaps I may quote Nietzsche — 'There is no such thing as moral phenomena, but only a moral interpretation of phenomena'.

    (Me? Well from my utopian republican perspective I still think he's a Northern Free-State phenomenon)

  5. The point isn't that Father Reid knew, or if Ed knows.. By the article's account, quite a few (PIRA, RUC, NIO, and ED) knew then, know now..

    Nothing's been done.

    Through out, blind eyes have been turned.. In fact you could say, according to the article, part of the peace was built on that very idea of turning away, letting this one go..

    Not sure that part get cleared with everyone.. Interesting read..

  6. HJ,

    a very instructive quote.

    the link you asked for

  7. Strand Peanut,
    The spotlight may have been turned away from some, especially those who front some of their justice movements but it remains fixed to this day on others.

  8. Gerry Adams is a very interesting character in the least. I think he is pure evil and certainly willing to climb any obstacle to get where he wants. Focus on the word ' he '.
    I wanted to watch that show last night but sadly do not have TV3.
    I hope it is online.
    I wonder why he always maintains he was never in the IRA. We know Marty was only in it for a year. Been no legal issues for him.
    Either way, Gerry has been led up the ladder by the British and Irish government and once his use expires, it will be a long drop to the bottom.

  9. Maitiu,

    I thought it a good documentary. Bangers Morrison apparently was calling me a 'tout' after it. That is like being labelled an informer by Freddie Scap LOL.

  10. A.M.

    Thanks for the link.
    I'll have to go to the top of the mountain before I offer a response (maybe several times).

  11. As long as you don't drop tablets of stone on our head from the top of it!

    That is a great quote from Nietzsche. I have been reading around him for years ever since Hodgie first put me onto him in jail, and his quotations are forever appearing but I doubt very much if I came across that one before. It is just one of those moments when so much is distilled down to its purest form and suddenly we have the perfect way to phrase something that has long been in our mind in cluttered form.

  12. Maitiu,

    wanted to watch that show last night but sadly do not have TV3.
    I hope it is online.

    I tried watching it this morning on TV3 iplayer, got 'geo-blocked' and by passed it by using a proxy. I haven't seen it on youtube or other yet. On your 'Google+ profile', it says Maitiu Connel changed her profile photo. . If you want a quick, easy, painless sex change, simply change your gender setting on your profile .

    As for what Fr Alec Reid knew or didn't. You could ask the same question to nearly all priests who practised during the troubles. At the time of this video, the RUC/BA knew the identidy of the driver and at least one of the shooters (fast foward until 4mins 30secs). Why ask Fr Reid what they already knew?

  13. Strand Peanut-

    " The point isin't that Father Reid knew,or if Ed knows "

    But that is the point-Ed tells on this article that he knows the identity of the Volunteer who killed those two brit soldiers-yet Ed kept quiet for the Peace Process and wont make it public for the familys of the dead soldiers to see-he is doing what he accuses others of doing-


    " I wonder why he always maintains he was never in the IRA "

    Maybe for the same reason why you and other American soldiers don't admit to the killings youse took part in-youse don't want to go to jail-

    " Been no legal issues "

    Martin was covered by the immunity of the Bloody Sunday inquiry-its not rocket science-

    " We know Martin was only in it for a year "

    Can you not count either-bloody sunday was in 72 and Martin said he was in the RA till 74-

  14. Frankie

    Cheers for the head up on my sex change. Never noticed it before. Now back to being a male lol.

    I will check out the video via what you mentioned.

  15. The RUC wanted to question him but they never did. The reason why I can now tell, given that Fr Reid is no longer with us and the promise I gave more than a decade ago to keep silent no longer holds..

    I was wondering when someone would be using Father Reids Name (R.I.P.).

    At first I thought I was reading extracts from his book (Secret History of the IRA), I started going through the book again.

    Am I reading the quoted paragraph above correctly, Did Father Reid tell Ed something top secret?, This is starting to get my head in a spin.

  16. MH..Marty was in the ra till 74.That must have been when he left the sticks.See him in todays irish news standing like Egor at clonard church at reids funeral.I never seen him about it when the orangemen were trying to burn it down.hypocrite

  17. A.M.

    Yes, good old Frederick sure drilled down into many of the fundamental questions of the human experience.

    In that quote he re-articulates (I believe) the generally neglected diktat of Judeo-Christian philosophy.

    "Thou mayest feast upon any tree in the garden, but thou must not feasted from the tree of knowledge of right and wrong."

  18. HJ,

    n different take and not one I would have shared. I took a different view - that he made a decisive break with that type of thing by denying all intrinsic substance to moral phenomenon, in its stead placing moral interpretation with its emphasis on subjectivity rather than any real externally constituted morality.

    Nevertheless, it is a great quote.

  19. Itsjustmacker,

    it seems that Ed is saying that Alec Reid disclosed to him the details about how he was not questioned. Not much more that I can read into that.


    while you might be right that Ed knows the identity, he merely says here that he was a senior member of the Belfast IRA. In other words he knows that a senior member did the business but does not state that he knows who that senior member is.

  20. AM

    I just finished watching that documentary and loved the part where you stated Gerry is the biggest demon. Very true indeed.
    One SF member spoke of hoping to see SF have 100,000 members and also others mentioning a cult like status for the likes of Adams.
    I have known a few in SF and they really did look up to Gerry and took his every word as the gospel.

  21. Maitiu

    That Gerry Adams is the 'biggest demon' is not (true) truth. That there are any demons at all is not proven. There are events and perceptions of events.

    Yes, there are 'Resistance Fighters' and there are 'Collaborators' and but also as Sartre defined there are 'Retainers', those that wait and see, go with the flow and in effect maintain the 'status quo'.

    Though all terms above are subjective they are also frame dependant.
    Does one view it from the perspective of the individual or from a more collective frame of specimen. Objectivity demands demands both.

    Rather than indulge in the inherent populism (specimen/collectivism) it beholds those who set themselves apart (the individual), to find the courage to speak their (subjective) truth, that is (to) give honour (to) their convictions, and (ergo) to undermine the untruths (also subjective) of the other (individual/specimen).

    As Ché Guevarra once said "Words that are not matched by deeds are not important".

    Alas, Anthony despite your laudable eloquence, I am of the opinion, you aimed a bit wide and got what you aimed at.

    Yet another avoidance of truth.

  22. Gerry is a man sent from God says a guy called Father Alec Reid.. its at times like this when I hear people utter such words that I am delighted not to be a believer in such fictional characters , Stop for a moment speak out loud and repeat what he is saying ….I know I know its very scary …when will we see thru these religious freaks . Alec Reid has possibly helped put back any hope of the non catholic people of buying into the United Ireland dream , if this is his thinking then what hope have we
    Who was the guy with the bum fluff ????

  23. HJ,

    I doubt if many followed it. I got to collectivism and switched off!

  24. Did anybody watch Spotlight last night about SF?

  25. Yes I watched it and wished I hadn't bothered.

  26. A-M & Henry Joy,

    I remember studying some introductory formal logic a few years back using a textbook written by the Jesuit academic Harry Gensler. I completed about two-thirds of his book, but I never got around to finishing the later sections on advanced formal logic.(They look very interesting, so I must try to finish them sometime.)

    Anyway, the real strength of Gensler's book was that he taught formal logic using simplified versions of real philosophical arguments. It was there I first encountered the so-called "is-ought" problem to which Henry Joy's Nietzsche quotation alludes.

    The idea that factual statements never imply prescriptive/moral conclusions is, on the one hand, self-evident, but deeply unsettling on the other. At some point, each one of us must decide for ourselves what moral truth is and what its first principles are.

    I am by no means a moral relativist though. I believe that minimising human suffering and maximising human freedom are objective moral truths. That said, the profound ambiguities and uncertainties of life sometimes overwhelm me.

  27. An interesting read (no pun intended) I remember watching the footage although disturbing the argument seems to be who pulled the trigger.

    It seems secondary as ultimately the Brits may as well have pulled the trigger.
    I never did believe the State version that these two highly trained elite killers accidently drove into Provo town.

    Could they have been spared certain death from the time they were surrounded to the time they were executed why did the DMSU’s and BA who were a few minutes away not intervene?
    Personally, I believe the eye in the sky did not know that 500 feet below them two of their comrades were about to meet their maker.
    Given the lack of response on the ground would also indicate that the security forces were unaware that it was two SAS men in the car.
    I believe if they had have known the identity of the two men they would have come in guns blazing and rescued their two comrades.

    I think by the time the security forces on the ground knew they were SAS it was already over for both young men.
    I still believe to this day the security forces thought the two men in the car were loyalist Paramilitaries and in that case expendable or not worth saving.

    I don’t think when the one man pulled his weapon he had any intention of firing probably as a signal to the helicopter overhead saying we are SAS.
    The look of doom suggested he knew the troops were not coming.

    If the security forces had known they were SAS the outcome would have been completely different. I still believe they were ordered to stand down and let what they thought was two loyalists dying a miserable death, die.
    Rather than face the fact if they went in there they would know the RA would have armed volunteers ensuring another Milltown attack would not take place.

    Who pulled the trigger would just be part of the truth the bigger cover up comes from the Brits and the two Families deserve to know why the security forces stood down and let both men die.

  28. Maybe Mc Aleese will save a few bob from her E144,000 yearly pension to build a memorial to "thumbs up" reid

  29. Alfie,

    I tend to think that we try to establish them as moral truths but they are really moral objectives. We have no external power to adjudicate and after that what we have is the product of human endeavour. I much admire Richard Holloway and the rejection/questioning of objective morality. It is complex and we approach it as best we can. Nor am I persuaded by the arguments of moral relativism.

  30. At the time of the Michael Stone attack at Milltown Cemetery, a few days before, Stone's Browning pistol was apparently retrieved by PIRA, then used to kill an RUC constable (Todd) and a UDR man (Butler) in different parts of Belfast. Does anyone know anything more about this particular Browning? Was it ever retrieved by the security forces or was the RUC able to trace the ballistic connection between the Stone shootings at Milltown and the deaths of Todd and Butler sans gun. And too, how did Bangers Morrison get that nickname?