Another Prominent Nationalist Escapes Assassination Attempt
Bernadette under fire
by Peter Arnlis
An Phoblacht/Republican News
January 24th, 1981
About fifteen minutes later a helicopter landed and took off (now lifting Bernadette and Michael to Misgrave Hospital in Belfast), and though the place was now completely sealed off by the Brits and the RUC it was not until the 10:30am news that Gerry McAliskey heard and realised that Bernadette and Michael were shot and that gunmen were arrested.
"We tried to get up to the kids but the RUC would not let us and said they were being taken care of," said Gerry. "We wanted to know who was taking care of them but they would not tell us." After the Avenger car had been removed that afternoon and forensic examination had been completed, Jim went to the house and cleaned up the blood which stretched through three rooms, and secured broken doors.
Reaction to the murder bid was immediate. Ruairi O Bradaigh, president of Sinn Fein, said that it was directly related tot he struggle by protesting republican prisoners in the H Blocks and Armagh jail for political status:
"It follows a pattern of attacks on vigorous and fearless H Block campaigners such as John Turnly, Miriam Daly, Ronnie Bunting and Noel Little, and is what the nationalist community in the North have come to expect for speaking out for their rights.
"Not only is it an 'offence', punishable by death, to raise a militant voice against teh oppressors of Ireland and attempt to give meaningful leadership to the nationalist people, but it requires great courage and, in the case of Suzanne Bunting and Michael McAliskey, among many others, exacts a cost also from one's family," he said.
Some British newspapers relished in the irony that paratroopers, whom Bernadette had "made the target of her campaign of hate" (as the Daily Mail put it) had given her vital medical attention.
But, one English reporter with considerable objectivity placed the incident in context. Of the woman who had witnessed fourteen Derry people being slaughtered by the same paras, Simon Winchester (formerly Irish correspondent for the Guardian) wrote: "The irony is not oen which bears much repition though, since the soldiers' presence (in Ireland) was, of course, indirectly responsible for her being the target of the shots."
It should also be noted that applications by the McAliskey's for a legally held fiream to protect themselves from such attacks have been refused by the RUC.
On Wednesday afternoon, three loyalists were charged with the attempted murder. They were named as Thomas Graham, aged 37, and Raymond Smallwood, aged 30, both of Lisburn, and Andrew Watson, aged 26 of Seymour hill, Dunmurry. The latter was also charged with the attempted murder of Sean McConville, a Catholic small businessman, who was shot and wounded at his tyre store in Dromara, County Down, in November.
When first arrested last Friday morning, the three had claimed that they were members of the Red Hand Commando, an illegal loyalist paramility group thought to be decunt, which was a ruse to detract attention away from the paramilitary Ulster Defence Association to which they belong, and which enjoys legality while pursuing a vicious assassination campaign against the nationalist people.