10 February 2006

John Davey: a man of commitment

An Phoblacht

**This article appeared in An Phoblacht on 11 February 1999

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usSt Valentine's Day marks the 10th anniversary of the murder of Sinn Fein councillor John Davey, a life long republican and active member of Magherafelt District Council.

In 1987 William McCrea as MP for Mid-Ulster used `parliamentary privilege' and named John as ``an active IRA terrorist'', turning his life and that of his family into a turmoil that is currently being experienced by those named by Ian Paisley two weeks ago.

John's life and that of so many of his fellow republicans was a constant round of arrests, internment and harassment.

He was interned in the 50s for three years and on 15 August 1969 he was arrested with several others and interned in Crumlin Road jail.

Two weeks later, in a meeting with James Callaghan, the then British Home Secretary, John's wife, Mary, told Callaghan that the Special Powers Act was being used only against nationalists and that her husband's detention was unlawful. That night John and the others were released.

``Twenty years later, in September 1989, eight months after John was murdered,'' says Mary, ``James Chichester Clark, now Lord Moyola, admitted in a radio interview that he was wrong to have them arrested''.

In 1971, John was home alone with his five year old daughter Maria. John was lifted and Maria was taken by the British army to a local RUC barracks and kept for several hours, separated from her father, who was again interned.

Mrs Davey recalls: ``later that summer, a priest, introducing himself as Fr Wallace from Ballymena, called and asked me if he could speak to Maria about her detention. He produced a tape recorder and took some photographs and said he would send me copies. I never heard from him again but some time later during the Clockwork Orange affair I saw the `priest's' photograph in the Belfast Telegraph. It was Colin Wallace who worked for British Military Intelligence''.

While interned on the Maidstone, and in Long Kesh, John was subjected to beatings and torture at the hands of the RUC and British Army. In October he was severely beaten in Long Kesh and transferred to Musgrave Park Hospital with serious eye and knee injuries from which he never fully recovered. In May 1972 he took part in a hunger strike to improve conditions for the internees.

After his release at the end of 1973 John was constantly arrested and harassed. In June 1977 he and his 15 year old son Eugene were spreadeagled against the side of the house for four hours before being arrested. John was charged with having information likely to be useful to `terrorists'. The `information', as Mary found out later, when she was herself arrested, was a geography project which Eugene was doing for school which showed a street map of Maghera including the RUC barracks.

The charges were dropped when Eugene's teacher testified that there were 23 other copies of the map, one for each pupil in the class.

John was elected as a Sinn Fein councillor to Magherafelt council in May 1985. During the first meeting a Sinn Fein vice-chair was elected and a riot developed. A unionist hit John over the head with a chair. Ever the stoic, he remarked, ``I've had worse''.

Mary Davey recalls that ``after McCrea named John in Westminster ours became a life of anticipation''.

The anticipation was well founded when on 9 February Milltown killer Michael Stone tried to shoot John, but John managed to get out of his car and escape over fields with Stone in pursuit firing at him.

Dismayed at his failure Stone targeted John's brother-in-law Joseph O'Kane. The booby trap he laid, however, blinded a nephew of Joe's wife in one eye. Neither man has republican connections.

A year later John was shot dead as he returned from a council meeting. He was in his own laneway 50 yards from home.

His family believe that crown forces personnel were involved in the killing.

``I heard the shots,'' recounted Mary, ``and a few moments later I heard a family friend, shouting for me to get an ambulance. When we went to the car we found that it was parked with the handbrake on. John would only have stopped if he had seen uniformed men on the lane, certainly not for masked men''.

The Davey family still struggle to come to terms with their grief. They know that the sorrow and loss that they feel is as real as that of other families who have lost someone in the last 30 years, but their grief is not recognised.

``I counselled my children myself. What we really needed was practical assistance and a recognition of our loss.

``Willie McCrea abused his parliamentary privilege when he named John in the House of Commons. He signed John's death warrant. As a man of God he should know the eighth Commandment - Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour''.

Mary Davey continues to hope that the peace process will work, for the sake of her family and the memory of her husband. John's legacy lives on. He was succeeded in his council seat by his daughter Pauline and the young activists whom he took under his wing and gave the benefit of his knowledge have matured and continue to provide fresh leadership in South Derry.

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