Pastor Barrie Halliday is set to be grilled by specialist cops investigating his latest outburst on social media – and he could well face criminal charges.
This week we travelled to one of his services at the Five Mile Hill Pentecostal Hall where he preaches to a small band of devotees. And he told us he didn’t regret praising the notorious six-time sectarian killer, who he used to visit in the Maze prison.
“The police called out to see me and explained they were in the process of gathering evidence. They said would be soon in touch to conduct a formal interview,” explained Pastor Halliday shortly after preaching to his flock last Sunday evening. And the 54-year-old defiantly added: “I stand over what I said about Michael Stone and I won’t deny him.”
It’s not the first time he’s ended up in trouble over his sermons – two years ago this week he appeared before Newry Magistrates Court to face charges relating a previous video he had made about the Black Lives Matter campaign. That case is still live.
But when police recently visited Halliday at his farmhouse home outside Bessbrook, officers made him aware they were in receipt of a complaint about a new video he had made following the Northern Ireland Centenary Celebrations at Stormont.
In the film – which was supposed to be shared to a closed group but was inadvertently made public – Pastor Halliday directly addressed loyalist terror icon Stone, who had made a rare public appearance at the event.
Now 68, Stone catapulted himself into loyalist legend status when he single-handedly attacked an IRA triple funeral with guns and grenades in Belfast’s Milltown Cemetery in 1988.
And three weeks ago, Stone broke his self-imposed silence when he spoke to our reporters after they spotted him in a wheelchair attending the recent gala gathering.
Pastor Halliday told Stone in the video: “You were there Michael. You’re part of our history. You were right to be there.”
In a direct reference to Stone’s later arrest in the revolving door at Stormont 16 years ago – when he claimed he was trying to kill Sinn Féin chiefs Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness – Pastor Halliday also told Stone: “If you had blown up Stormont that day – I would have said Amen.”
He added: “And if they were all in it, I’d have said a double Amen.”
In the same video – one of three recorded for a unionist discussion group – he also speaks about “rats” who should be dealt with by “the rifle and grenade”.
He says he was referring to the terrorist threat of years ago when he said: “The rats were in the foundation and there’s only one way to deal with rats. It’s not to feed them, it’s not to give them a house, it’s not to give them a feel-good factor of power.
“The only way... is to go in with the rifle and the grenade and get rid of them, every last one including the young upstarts.”
Earlier in the same video, Pastor Halliday had point-blank refused to condemn Stone’s actions in Milltown Cemetery when he killed three mourners and injured another 60 attending a funeral service for three IRA volunteers executed by the SAS in Gibraltar.
Stone’s actions were filmed and beamed live around the world.
But the pastor told the Sunday World this week: “Like a lot of those who were on active duty during the conflict, what Michael Stone did, he did. I’m not going to apologise for it or shy away from it in any way. Our country was under attack.
“Michael Stone is part of our history. I’ve met the man. I met him with the late Willie Frazer. I visited him in prison.
“I had good conversations with him when the past, present and the future were discussed,” said the Pastor.
He added: “He is a very interesting human being.”
In 1989, Stone pleaded guilty to six murders, five counts of attempted murder and injuring another 60.
He was sentenced to nearly 850 years behind bars, but was released in 2000 under the Good Friday Agreement. Six years later he launched his Stormont attack, and was only released last year, having spent almost half his life in prison.
Pastor Halliday preaches at his Pentecostal Gospel Hall based on his family farm. The Hallidays have lived outside Bessbrook for generations. Pastor Halliday’s father Sinclair and mum Sandra – who had served in the RAF – raised two girls and four boys on their hilltop farm.
And just over 50 years ago, Sinclair Halliday helped establish a small gospel hall in a converted henhouse.
The congregation grew steadily. And in response, Sinclair and his friends replaced the chicken coop meeting house with the Five Mile Hill Pentecostal Gospel Hall on the site of a disused Brethren Hall.
Today, Sinclair’s son Barrie is Pastor and he serves the pastoral needs of a small but determined group of followers who enjoy his informal and down to earth approach to preaching.
A number of former parishioners – including the controversial loyalist victims spokesman Willie Frazer – are buried in a small plot adjacent to the church.
During his sermon last Sunday night, Pastor Halliday spoke about Jesus being condemned to die alongside two criminals.
And he reminded the faithful that just a few days before, they had buried a parishioner who had many Roman Catholic friends and family who had joined them at the funeral service.
And he took issue with those who branded his recent social media broadcast ‘anti-Catholic’.
Pastor Halliday – a former soldier in the Ulster Defence Regiment – explained to the Sunday World: “It’s like everything else. It was taken out of context.
“If you go into the middle of a book and you lift out a paragraph, you can miss the point of the whole book.
“That’s why I say – that whether we like it or not – Michael Stone is part of our history. What he did is part of our story. We just can’t take all the nice bits of unionism. We have to move forward together. That day Michael Stone was at Stormont, he was going for the leadership of the IRA,” claimed Pastor Halliday.
“Most of the people I talk to would have no issue if he had taken out the whole lot of them.
“That’s the reality. It has nothing to do with Catholics. I’m so annoyed that Catholics were even mentioned. It wasn’t my Catholic neighbours who done the likes of the Kingsmills Massacre. It is two different types of people.
“As I said during the sermon, last week we had at least 35 practising Roman Catholics in this gospel hall for a funeral. They were made welcome. Most of them stayed for tea and a chat.
“There was no issue whatsoever. Every one of those people knows exactly who and what I am,” insisted the pastor.
He added: “As far as I’m concerned, we have to take ownership of everything loyalism has done and we move on.”