DUBLIN, Ireland – The Irish Republican Army on Thursday admitted it killed a Catholic civilian during a botched 1974 attempt to ambush British troops, and it apologized to the man's family.
In a statement accompanying the group's traditional Easter policy statement, the outlawed IRA said its members were responsible for killing Eugene McQuaid, 35, whom security forces long suspected of being an IRA activist responsible for his own death.
But the IRA, which has been silent on the matter for the past three decades, said its own internal investigation had concluded that McQuaid was killed when an IRA roadside bomb "detonated prematurely" as the victim innocently passed the spot on his motorcycle.
"Eugene McQuaid was not a member of the IRA. He was not involved in the IRA operation," the IRA said. "At the time, the IRA did not acknowledge its involvement in the incident. The IRA leadership offers its sincere apologies to the McQuaid family for the death of Eugene and for the heartache and trauma that our actions have caused."
McQuaid was killed on Oct. 5, 1974, near a British army checkpoint on Northern Ireland's border on the main Belfast-Dublin road. At the time, police said McQuaid appeared to have been carrying three homemade mortar shells on his motorcycle when one detonated, an accusation his family denied.
The IRA never claimed McQuaid as a member on its "roll of honor" listing more than 250 members killed during the group's 1970-97 campaign.
Two books claimed McQuaid had been carrying the weapons for the IRA. One book published in 1990, "The SAS in Ireland," said the blast was accidental, while 1989's "War Without Honor" blamed British undercover agents for deliberately tampering with the shell to make it explode when McQuaid stepped on his brakes.
Such IRA apologies were once rare events but have become more commonplace in the past decade of peacemaking. They have done little to ease hostility to the IRA, particularly within Northern Ireland's British Protestant community, where such gestures are often dismissed as cynical public relations exercises.
The IRA's biggest admission came in July 2002, when the group -- responsible for killing about 1,775 people -- apologized for killing about a third of its victims, whom it categorized as "noncombatants." The IRA also said at the time it wanted to "acknowledge the grief and pain" it inflicted on the families of "legitimate targets."
The IRA in October 2003 apologized for killing nine Catholic civilians in secret and burying them in unmarked graves from 1972 to 1981. The group's simultaneous pledge to help find the isolated, rural grave locations failed in some cases.
The group's last apology came in June 2005, when it admitted that one of its members had shot dead a 14-year-old Catholic girl in Londonderry, Northern Ireland's predominantly Catholic second-largest city, in 1973. The IRA previously had insisted that the British army was responsible.