The son of a family man shot dead by the IRA early in the Northern Ireland Troubles has branded former senior republican Billy McKee a bitter and twisted old man.

Billy McCurrie’s father, James McCurrie, was randomly attacked in East Belfast during what republicans know as the defence of St Matthew’s Catholic church in 1970, and he said he wanted to dispel myths about the tragedy.

Mr McCurrie said it was not a case of loyalists attacking St Matthew’s first, and violence had not been expected in that area.

The republican gang in the area was led by the IRA’s former Belfast officer commanding, McKee, who died last week aged 97.

A eulogy following his funeral Mass said he died “unrepentant” and had no regrets.

Mr McCurrie said: “He lived and died under the Union flag, betrayed and forsaken by the movement he lived and breathed.

“He died a bitter, twisted old man with none of his goals realised.”

McKee split from mainstream republicanism and opposed Sinn Fein’s peace strategy. His aspiration for a United Ireland remained unfulfilled.

Mr McCurrie asked how supporters could eulogise someone who murdered innocent people.

“How is it possible to eulogise someone who concocted a cocktail of lies and fed it to the community that he said he was defending?

“To honour a liar and a murderer says everything about the degenerate morality of Irish republicanism.”

Mr McCurrie’s father was only 44 and had been returning from a rare night out at a social club on the Albert Bridge Road with some friends when he was attacked.

His son said: “My dad caught the full force of the blast and was the first shot, that was my dad.”

Mr McCurrie said his father had gone ahead to ask his mother, Kathleen, to put the kettle on for his friends.

“At that time the area was mixed with Protestants and Catholics but after that event the communities were polarised.

“That is why, when I read about his murder being described as ‘loyalists attacking’, it galls me, as that is not what happened.”

Billy McCurrie was only 12 when his father died. By the time he was 16 he had joined the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in response (Family/PA).

Mr McCurrie was only 12 when his father died. By the time he was 16 he had joined the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in response.

He reflected: “This devastated my family.

“As a result of what happened to my dad, I became involved in the UVF.”

His mother was three months pregnant at the time of the attack near Bryson and Beechfield streets.

He had a sister and a brother.

Mr McCurrie had been made redundant from Kelly’s Coal Merchants.

An offer of work as a security guard at Stormont arrived on the day of his funeral.

Another man, Bobby Neill, was killed the same night. Dozens of other men, women and children were injured.

Veteran republican McKee was wounded that night and taken to the Mater Hospital in Belfast.

Mr McCurrie said he was followed towards the hospital by members of the Army but they were “pulled back”.

He added: “Like a lot of historical cases, there are a number of unanswered questions.”

The Historical Enquiries Team (HET) of independent detectives carried out a review which exonerated his father and found that it was a totally random shooting, Mr McCurrie said.