BBC TwoNewsnight
Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 November 2007, 11:39 GMT
Murder behind a wall of silence
Liz MacKean
By Liz MacKean
BBC Newsnight

It is a month since Stephen Quinn buried his youngest son Paul. He looks exhausted and still appears shocked to his core.

"They have to be savages to do what they did," he says.

Paul Quinn
Paul Quinn, 21, was beaten to death by a gang with iron bars

He's talking about a gang of up to ten men who beat Paul to death with iron bars.

The 21-year-old had been phoned by friends who told him to come across the border into the Republic of Ireland to help muck out a barn.

Too late Paul discovered his friends had been taken hostage by masked men and forced to make the call. The gang turned on Paul, beating him with iron bars.

He died later, with nearly every major bone in his body broken. No-one's been arrested or charged and yet his father is certain he knows who is responsible.

"It's about control," Stephen Quinn tells me when we meet at the family home outside the border village of Cullyhanna.

"Paul got into fights with two of them, connected to the IRA. There's no-one else who could do such a thing around this area," he said.

Stephen Quinn
Paul got into fights with two of them, connected to the IRA
Stephen Quinn

The Quinn family say they've never been into politics, but their son's killing is now a political issue. Soon afterwards, political leaders in Britain and Ireland blamed criminal gangs for the murder. But a large group of family friends think differently.

They've formed a support group to try to persuade people to speak out. But many are afraid.

During the 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland the IRA enjoyed strong support in Armagh from those nationalists who saw them as their defenders. I go to meet one elderly couple - both of whom are happy to see the British army gone.

They tell me though that it's high time the IRA went away too.

"This is a desperately dangerous place to live. They have different ways of getting to you. Some of these lads are one kick away from death."

He is talking about a series of severe beatings meted out to young men, which many locals say are carried out by existing or former members of the IRA.

Have we made a difference?
Some say we had, but then a young man is taken to a shed and beaten to death.

Catherine McCartney

Since its ceasefire a decade ago, he says about 12 have taken place in the small area of villages near his home.

"They use bars, cudgels, sticks with nails on," his wife tells me.

The victims are young men deemed not to have shown enough respect to their Republican elders. Even trivial matters like a fight in a disco can trigger a beating.

Soon after Paul Quinn's death, the leader of Irish republicanism, Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein, declared the IRA were innocent.

He said the killing came about after a feud between rival criminal gangs linked to smuggling. Like many border areas South Armagh has a flourishing black market.

Fuel smuggling in particular is highly lucrative. The Organised Crime Taskforce reports that in 2005, nearly half of all diesel used in Northern Ireland was brought into the country illegally.

Local people tell me such enterprises are tightly controlled by serving or former members of the IRA. But the area's MP, Conor Murphy of Sinn Fein, insists this is not correct.

We meet at Crossmaglen, once home to the most heavily fortified British army base in the world, and now a prospering market town.

Conor Murphy MP
I have spoken to the IRA in his area and I am satisfied with the assurances they gave me
Conor Murphy
Sinn Fein MP

I ask him about Paul Quinn and the family's insistence that he was no criminal - his only crime was to fall out with the son of a local IRA leader.

"I have spoken to the IRA in his area and I am satisfied with the assurances they gave me, very solid assurances, that they weren't involved in his death," he says.

So the IRA in South Armagh is alive and well but not involved in any criminality or beatings.

The 50 people who've joined the Paul Quinn Support Group think otherwise. Jim McAllister, a former Sinn Fein member who left the party over its decision to support the police, says people have finally had enough of being intimidated.

"I genuinely believe this community is rising above fear. I think we have reached a tipping point. They think 'we have got to stop this now'."

It was felt a similar tipping point had been reached almost three years ago when Robert McCartney was beaten to death outside a bar in Belfast. The 60 people inside were told: "This is IRA business" and ordered to keep quiet.

His sisters have waged a high-profile campaign for justice ever since. They've shaken hands with George Bush at the White House and been invited into Downing Street, but to date only one person has been charged with murder.

I meet them again as one of them, Catherine, launches a book, "Walls of Silence" about the family's struggle to get people to speak out.

Bertie Ahern
Bertie Ahern said he believes criminal gangs were to blame

"Have we made a difference? Some say we had, but then a young man is taken to a shed and beaten to death," she says.

Her sister Paula adds: "There was an opportunity I believe when Robert was murdered. The governments could have seen if they'd done the right thing that subsequent murders might not have happened."

It isn't just Sinn Fein that have given Irish republicans a clean bill of health.

The Northern Ireland Secretary, Shaun Woodward, and Irish premier, Bertie Ahern, have both said they believe criminal gangs were to blame.

Families like the McCartneys believe their suffering is being ignored in the interests of keeping the peace process solid.

Back in Cullyhanna, people who knew Paul Quinn gather in a service of remembrance. Up to 600 have packed into the village church in a show of support to Paul's family.

His murder is being investigated by Irish police. If IRA members are eventually blamed, it will cause deep tensions in Northern Ireland's power-sharing government. To his family that's a small price to pay.

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