1992 Coalisland riots
|1992 Coalisland riots|
|Part of The Troubles and Operation Banner|
A British paratrooper confronts a Coalisland resident
|Date||12 and 17 May 1992|
|Location||Coalisland, County Tyrone,
|Causes||Provisional IRA attack on British army patrol near the village of Cappagh, County Tyrone|
|Parties to the civil conflict|
|Another soldier lost his legs during the previous PIRA bomb attack at Cappagh|
The 1992 Coalisland riots were a series of clashes on 12 and 17 May 1992 between local nationalist civilians and British Army soldiers (of the Third Battalion of the Parachute Regiment and the King's Own Scottish Borderers) in the town of Coalisland, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. The Third Battalion 1992 tour's codename was "Operation Gypsy".
Provisional IRA attack
On 12 May 1992, a unit of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) East Tyrone Brigade launched a bomb attack on a British Army patrol near the republican stronghold of Cappagh, County Tyrone. One soldier of the Parachute Regiment, Alistair Hogdson, lost both legs as a result. The landmine was described in an IRA statement as an "anti-personnel device". This incident triggered a rampage by members of the Parachute Regiment in the nearby, predominantly nationalist town of Coalisland, some ten miles to the east. The IRA attack has been described as a "provocation" tactic, devised to produce a troops over-reaction and made them unpopular among local residents.
The deployment of the paratroopers, which began in April had already been criticised by republican activist Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, who denounced the rising number of beatings, shootings and damages to property carried out by these troops. These previous incidents included the destruction of fishing boats and equipments in the townland of Kinturk, near Ardboe. In McAliskey words the regiment "appears to be intent on leaving their North of Ireland tour of duty with a Coalisland corpse under their belts. Over the past weeks, the paratroopers have made it perfectly clear to the citizens of this town that they intend to kill before they go." Ken Maginnis, then-Member of Parliament for the area, called for the withdrawal of the regiment, after receiving a large number of complaints about their behaviour.
Two hours after the IRA attack, members of the regiment sealed off the town of Coalisland, ten miles east of Cappagh. According to a Social Democratic and Labour Party politician, the soldiers fabricated a bogus bomb warning, while the RUC claimed that the operation began when a joint patrol was stoned by the crowd. Two pubs were ransacked by the troops and a number of civilian cars were damaged. Several people were allegedly hit with sticks. Following this, a lieutenant was suspended from duty and the regiment was removed from patrol duties inside Coalisland.
On the evening of 17 May, a fist-fight began at Lineside Road, where a group of young men were having a drink. A passing four-man patrol of the King's Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) regiment was defied to a 'boxing match' by the residents; apparently a common practice in the area according to Bernadette McAliskey. The soldiers set aside their weapons and engaged the youths who, after a brief clash, forced the soldiers to take shelter at the local Army/RUC base. The official claim was that the patrol was attacked by a mob of at least 30 people. In the melée, a rifle and a light machine gun were stolen. The rifle was later recovered nearby. The youths also smashed a backpack radio, left behind by the troops. Two KOSB soldiers had to be hospitalised.
The Parachute Regiment was called to the scene again, and at 8:30 PM, a major riot started outside Rossmore pub between local people and 20 to 25 paratroopers. The soldiers claimed that one of their colleagues was isolated and dragged by the crowd. Some witnesses said that the paratroopers were in a frenzy, showing their guns and inviting the civilians to take them. Suddenly, shots were fired by the troops —first into the air and then towards the people outside the pub. Three civilians were rushed to hospital in Dungannon with gunshot wounds, while the soldiers returned to their barracks. Another four civilians suffered minor injuries. One of the wounded was the brother of IRA volunteer Kevin O'Donnell, who had been killed by the SAS in February during an ambush at the nearby hamlet of Clonoe, shortly after carrying a machine gun attack on the RUC base.
About 500 people attended a protest rally in Coalisland on 19 May, and the wisdom of deploying the troops to patrol the town was questioned by members of the Dáil in Dublin. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Ireland, David Andrews, asked the British Government to withdraw the regiment. As a result, the paratroopers were redeployed outside the urban areas. The RUC claimed that the stolen machine gun was found 11 days later at Cappagh, along with another light machine gun and an AK-47 rifle. Republicans questioned the stealing of the weapon, suggesting this was merely an excuse for the army rampage at Coalisland. Unionist officials accused Sinn Féin of being the instigators of the riots, while Michael Mates, then Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office, stated that the incidents were due to "a gang of thugs motivated by the IRA". Eventually the battalion's 1992 tour in Northern Ireland was scaled down, with the patrols suspended before the official end of the deployment. The Third Brigade's commander, Brigadier Tom Longland was dismissed. Near the end of the tour, the soldiers were involved in the beating of two men in Cappagh and Dungannon, according to a republican source. The last patrol took place on 27 June, when two paratroopers drowned while crossing the Blackwater river. The same day, there were further clashes with local residents, this time in the town of Cookstown.
Six soldiers faced criminal charges for the May riots, but were acquitted one year later. Five of them were bound over. Maurice McHugh, the magistrate who presided the court, said that the five soldiers were "not entirely innocent", while Sinn Féin sources dubbed the ruling "a farce". Dungannon's priest Father Denis Faul was of the opinion that the soldiers should have been charged with conspiracy. The incident stirred memories of the regiment's actions on Bloody Sunday, whose 20th anniversary was marked in 1992.
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