Not Worthy of a Mention?
Belfast–Wednesday 16th March 1983 was an overcast early spring day. It couldn’t be classed as an ordinary day because no such thing existed in Belfast or Northern Ireland in those fearful times. The Provisional IRA showed no sign of letting up in their murderous campaign. The Loyalist war went on unabated as well with and we witnessed a shift—away from random sectarian targets to more selected objectives. Politically there was a seismic change taking place particularly within the Nationalist camp and most notably Sinn Fein. In the wake of the failure of the Hunger strikes two years previously a mammoth effort was being made by Adams and Co to ensure domination of nationalist voters for that party. As usual Unionism was fractured and the political future for the country seemed to perpetually driving into dead ends. A week previously the SDLP had proposed a New Ireland Forum..just the latest in the clutching at straws scenario that abounded then.
In the midst of the ongoing terrorist war a new and sinister development was emerging. The previous winter—in fact during November and December 1982 events were unfolding that would ultimately lead to the Stalker Inquiry of May 1984 but would leave ramifications that are still part of Northern Ireland fabric today. In three separate incidents in those months the RUC—under whatever guise—shot and killed a total of 6 Catholic males—all in County Armagh. The first 3 were IRA members but unarmed—the next was a young man shot dead, with an accomplice wounded whilst visiting an IRA arms dump—whilst the third incident was perhaps the one we remember most. Two INLA men Seamus Grew and Roddy Carroll were ambushed and shot dead at an RUC checkpoint in South Armagh. The man believed to be the intended victim—Dominic McGlinchey was not in the car when it was attacked. Many of us back then may not have given these incidents much thought or indeed agreed with the police actions believing that the only good terrorist is a dead one. We also have great difficulty coming to terms with inquiries into such matters and feel that there is no need for them. In these cases the attitude is..if they weren’t up to something they wouldn’t have been shot. Too easy and too simple.
Billy Millar and Bobby Morton were two experienced Ulster Volunteers based in Donegall Pass. Bobby a true character, was much older that Billy who was then 26 years old. On this particular morning both men along with a driver were sitting in a parked car in Elmwood Avenue, a busy street in the University area. Without warning the driver suddenly got out of the car and ran off. Before either Bobby or Billy could react they were struck from behind by a fusillade of bullets. Billy Miller was a back seat passenger and took the full brunt of the callous attack. He received multiple bullet wounds and died almost instantly. Bobby Morton who occupied the front passenger seat was also hit by a number of rounds and severely wounded. He would be subsequently charged –somewhat ludicrously under the prevailing circumstances, with attempted murder and be sentenced to fourteen years in Long Kesh. Their RUC killers would surely have finished Bobby off within seconds as they made their way up to the vehicle only for several witnesses to appear immediately. The man who ran for his life has never been seen or heard off again. Unlike the previous shoot to kill cases very little was said about the murder of Billy Miller. It goes without saying that 30 years ago we wouldn’t have expected mainstream politicians to highlight the case of a UVF man even if they thought that it was a mirror image of the South Armagh assassinations. Because the reality is that those same politicians boorishly categorised Ulster Volunteers with Irish Republican terrorists. Many still do.
Although both shot men were armed, the guns and gloves they had were actually found underneath their respective seats. If the police were acting on intelligence—say from the driver—they may not have known this detail, but the plain truth is that heavily armed and highly trained police surrounding a static car would have had little difficulty in arresting Bobby and Billy. The police would have been well aware—knowing that they were Protestants—of the policy of Ulster Volunteers not engaging with the military or police if faced with arrest. The RUC were out to do a job on both men that day and partly succeeded, foiled of total success only because of the appearance of witnesses. The shootings in Armagh months previously were conducted in isolated areas, devoid of witnesses, save for one man wounded in the attack at the IRA arms dump. For many reasons this case has been left unattended for 30 years. Loyalism has always been critical of the instigation of inquiries into—as they see it—virtually “everything”. They regard them as a waste of money and as unnecessary. Certainly in many ways inquiries seem to have the capacity to divide and in many ways to seemingly stall the peace process. But the truth is that republicans will continually call for inquiries where they feel they need and in most cases these requests will be granted. In light of this do we not owe it to the family and indeed the memory of Billy Miller to ascertain why the police callously murdered him that day 30 years ago tomorrow? Booby Morton is an elderly man in extremely poor health at present. For a number of years he has been confined to a nursing home after suffering a near fatal stroke. Unfortunately he can offer no coherent facts to help us understand what happened in Elmwood Avenue all those years ago as he is incapable of speech. A couple of months before Billy’s death he had been detained—not for the first time—by the RUC in Ladas Drive. On his release after a week’s questioning he was stopped by a senior detective who told him..” The next time I see you, you will be dead”. Very prophetic words.
In a land of many injustices the case of Billy Miller is a tiny almost invisible one. That is to some. It shouldn’t be to us. We owe it to him to find out the truth.