An Irishman's Diary

25 March 2003
Irish Times
Kevin Myers

A few days ago, a certain gentleman made a discovery of interest to us all: whether or not the devil exists. For last Wednesday the loyalist terrorist Davy Payne was buried. He was a uniquely evil man, and if I could have done anything to hasten his end, frankly, I would have. Payne was the beast from hell, and the sooner he was returned to his natural homeland, the better.

Payne was one of the earliest members of the Ulster Defence Association, when it was still a rabble, with its masks and combat jackets and ludicrous semi-military titles: one in 10 of its members seemed to be brigadiers, and one in three were "lootenant colonels" (so much for what they understood of "Britishness"). Curiously, almost none were corporals or privates. What Payne brought to this lumpen, clownish rabble was his astonishing readiness to kill. For most people, the taking of human life involves crossing a threshold of some kind or other. Not Payne. And it says something about the culture of violent loyalism that this creature rapidly became esteemed solely because of his unhesitating willingness to take human life.

The security policies of the British and Stormont Governments of the time - 1971-72 - in effect allowed Payne to roam free North and West Belfast, finding his victims; and he found them in large numbers. He is said to have invented the term "Romper Room" (after a children's television programme of the time) to describe places where Catholics would be beaten before being murdered. Thus the term "romper", to give a severe beating, entered the diseased argot of the Troubles.

In July 1972, a UDA roadblock - operating quite openly, and tolerated by the authorities in a quite scandalous and delinquent dereliction of their moral and legal duty - stopped a car carrying a young Catholic couple, Rose McCartney and Patrick O'Neill through the Shankill area. Rose was from the Falls, he from Ardoyne, and they were taking a shortcut through a loyalist area. Like so many Catholics who did so, they were to pay for their imprudence with their lives.

The UDA men took them to one of their headquarters, where they were separated. Patrick was beaten and burnt with cigarette-ends. Rose was merely questioned. The man supervising both interrogations was Davy Payne. He was masked, so they couldn't have identified him. Patrick had a reputation for being something of a messer, but his conduct during his final ordeal was, I'm told, extremely dignified. Rose was asked to identify any IRA men in Iris Street, where she lived. She said she didn't know any. But the UDA was aware that a prominent IRA man lived a couple of doors away from her.

The UDA had found a membership card for a traditional music club in her bag. Payne was fascinated. Was she really a singer, he asked. She was, aye. Prove it, he said. Go on prove it. How, she asked. By singing, he said. I don't know what song she sang: but the last song I'd heard her sing was My Lagan Love, just the week before in her club. Maybe she sang that. The loyalists solemnly sat around in their masks, listening to her. They liked her voice and congratulated her on it. But it didn't save her. Payne was the UDA commander in the area, and he insisted that she die, firstly because she hadn't named the local IRA man, and secondly, because he'd never killed a woman.

They brought Paddy and Rose together. Both were blindfolded. They were offered a cigarette each, and they lit up. Rose reached over and touched Paddy's hand, which had been broken during torture. He recoiled. "Did they hurt you?" she cried. "No," he lied, "I didn't want you to burn yourself on my cigarette." The two were put into the back seat of a car, and Payne shot them both.

Other UDA men involved in the interrogation then took turns to shoot them, both for the honour of killing a woman, and also to bind them all into the one conspiracy. One of that number later told me about the events of the night. Rose wasn't the last woman Payne killed. A year later he and Johnny White came across SDLP Senator Paddy Wilson and his Protestant girlfriend Irene Andrews in his parked car on the Hightown Road in North Belfast. The UDA men went berserk, stabbing Paddy 32 times, and Irene 16. Over the coming years, White and Payne were repeatedly questioned by the police about these killings. One day White cracked and confessed, but Payne never did.

At about this time, I was visiting a garage owned by Joe, a Protestant convert to Catholicism - a deadly crime in loyalist eyes. He told me that a suspicious car had been cruising around, and was now parked up the road. I checked it, and sitting inside was Davy Payne. I told him I hoped he wasn't targeting Joe. He asked me what the f-I was doing, messing around with a Protestant who'd thrown in his lot with the Taigs? Getting my car fixed, I told him. And now that I'd seen him, Davy Payne, checking Joe out, I said, he clearly couldn't kill him. "Mebbe not," he sniffed. He slid his spectacles down on to the bridge of his nose, and peered menacingly over the rim at me - a characteristic gesture of his.

"You know, I've never killed a journalist. Not yet, anyway." And now you won't.

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