Northern Ireland

SNP's John Mason sorry for IRA 'freedom fighters' tweet

David McCaughey at a memorial to the Scottish soldiers in Belfast Image copyright PACEMAKER
Image caption David McCaughey pictured at a memorial to the Scottish soldiers in Belfast

A Scottish National Party politician has said he is "extremely sorry" after he sent a tweet suggesting some people view IRA killers as "freedom fighters".

John Mason, a Scottish parliament member, made the remarks when asked to support a justice campaign for three soldiers killed by the IRA in 1971.

Dougald McCaughey and brothers John and Joseph McCaig were off-duty when they were lured from a Belfast bar.

Mr Mason apologised after the family of one of the soldiers took offence.

A cousin of Mr McCaughey said the SNP man's original tweet was an "insult" to his family.

Image copyright Twitter

Earlier, David McCaughey told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme that his family had asked Scottish First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon for a public apology and to take disciplinary action against Mr Mason.

The Glasgow Shettleston MSP said his comments "were general" and not specifically about the gunmen who killed the three soldiers.

However, on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Mason issued a statement to the Belfast News Letter through the SNP press office.

It said: "I deeply regret the offence and upset that has been caused to the relatives who lost loved ones and am extremely sorry that this has happened.

"I condemn and deplore all acts of terrorism."

When he was first asked to back the justice campaign, Mr Mason initially tweeted: "Happy to support all campaigns to bring about justice. But not taking sides between Irish and British."

'Deplorable'

After being challenged about "not taking sides between Scottish soldiers and Irish murderers", he replied: "You say Irish murderers. Others say Irish freedom fighters. I support Scottish soldiers if they do good but not if they do bad."

He later tweeted: "I have been asked to clarify my comments were general and not about any specific case. I certainly did not intend to cause any offence".

Image copyright Twitter

Mr McCaughey had complained that the remarks were "deplorable" and made him "sick to the stomach".

"To turn around and say an organisation like the Provisional IRA are freedom fighters - that means you'd need to put ISIS, the Basque separatists and any other terrorist organisation down this freedom fighter route," he said.

"It was an insult to my family and also to other people who have lost their lives at the hands of the IRA."

"The man should be ashamed to be Scottish," Mr McCaughey added.

Image caption SNP MSP John Mason said his comments "were general" and not specifically about the killers of the three soldiers

He also said his family were planning to take a civil case over the murders.

He said they had contacted the legal firm that won a civil case which found two men liable for the 1998 Omagh bombing.

Dougald McCaughey was 23 when he was shot dead in the Ligoniel area of Belfast along with teenage brothers John and Joseph McCaig.

A memorial was placed on the site of their deaths in 2009, and it has been repeatedly targeted by vandals.

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