By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The Irish government has thrown its weight behind a campaign by the family of a murdered 18-year-old Belfastman against the decision of the British army to allow the two guardsmen who were convicted of killing him to remain in their regiment.
Foreign Minister Brian Cowen described the decision as "deplorable" and promised to take a "close and personal" interest.
The Dail unanimously passed a motion condemning it.
Peter McBride, a father of two, was stopped by a foot patrol of the Scots Guards in Spamount Street off the New Lodge Road in Belfast on Sept. 4, 1992.
After an identity check and a thorough body search — which found him to be unarmed — McBride ran from the patrol and was chased by the soldiers.
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They called upon him to stop, but he didn’t. Guardsmen Mark Wright and James Fisher opened fire and two bullets struck McBride in the back, killing him.
McBride’s family has been calling for a dishonorable discharge for the two soldiers and have asked British Prime Minister Tony Blair to intervene.
Jean McBride, the dead man’s mother, said she "was completely devastated by the decision."
Cecilia Keaveney, the Donegal Fianna Fail TD who raised the matter in the Dail, said the case was about "justice, democracy and the worth and value of a young Catholic man’s life in the eyes of the British Army and the British government."
Cowen said McBride’s family was informed on Nov. 24 that Fisher and Wright are to be retained in the British Army.
"On that day, our disappointment and dismay at the decision was conveyed to the British authorities through the Secretariat in Belfast. We also asked what means of redress are available to the family and await a response."
He said an official from his department would be meeting Mrs. McBride shortly to discuss the case and to examine how the government can further assist the family.
"I welcome the fact that the family has been granted a judicial review of the army board decision in Belfast’s High Court on Dec. 19 and I commend their determination to see a just outcome to this case," Cowen said.
The minister said that at the trial of the two men in 1994, the judge, Lord Justice Kelly, found that Fisher and Wright had been both "evasive and untruthful" in their evidence and that they both lied about material aspects of the case.
"He did not believe Fisher’s defense that he believed Peter McBride to be carrying a coffee jar bomb," Cowen said.
"He also found that the incident was not a panic situation requiring a split-second decision or a split-second action and concluded that the two soldiers had aimed deliberate shots at Peter McBride, who posed no threat to them at all."
The soldiers were convicted in February 1995 and in November of that year, their convictions were upheld on appeal by the then lord chief justice, Sir Brian Hutton.
"Following strong representations from supporters of the soldiers, including an intensive campaign in parts of the British media, the then secretary of state, Dr. Mo Mowlam, announced in July 1998 that she would review the soldiers’ cases and, following that review, they were released on 2 September 1998," Cowen told the Dail.
"At a time when we are seeking to build and sustain Nationalist confidence in the new beginning promised in the Good Friday agreement, I am deeply disturbed by the decision to retain as serving members of the British Army two men who have been convicted of murder.
"The decision sends a negative message to the people of Northern Ireland and to the McBride family. If we are to move forward, as we must, it is vital that the security forces must not only uphold, but be seen to uphold, the best standards demanded in a democratic society."