Victims’ families awaiting justice 20 years after Loughinisland killings
Opinion: Words, but no action on the troubles of the past
Two years ago, the Ireland team during the UEFA Euro 2012 Group match at the Municipal Stadium, Poznan, Poland, wore black arm bands to draw attention to the anniversary of the Loughinisland atrocity. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
The PSNI today issued a fresh appeal for witnesses to come forward about one of the most infamous attacks of the Troubles. Twenty years ago tonight UVF gunmen walked into the Heights Bar in Loughinisland and opened up on the people who were watching the Ireland versus Italy World Cup game.
Six people died in the shooting, including Barney Green, at 87 one of the oldest victims of the Troubles, and five were injured.
While much of the rest of the country was celebrating Ireland’s famous 1-nil victory over the Italians through a Ray Houghton goal, the scene in the quiet little south Down village was of devastation, shock and heartbreak.
When Ireland manager Jack Charlton over in the US learned of the attack he was disbelieving, his English sensibility unable to grasp that innocent Catholics enjoying a football game could be the target of anyone.
In Northern Ireland there was a different sensibility. I remember well the atmosphere in the two days preceding the shooting. The word on the street was that such a loyalist paramilitary attack was imminent and there was a strong possibility it could happen on the night of the game.
The problem was that no one knew where it might happen. There was a palpable fear abroad and that was because two days earlier the Irish National Liberation Army carried out a lunchtime attack on the Shankill Road which claimed the lives of three people, two of whom were senior UVF figures, Colin Craig and Trevor King.
As night follows day most people in Northern Ireland knew there would be a revenge UVF attack and in the terrible parlance of the time “any Catholic will do”.
Ten people were killed in retaliatory attacks that happened within days. They included the six victims of Loughinisland – Adrian Rogan (34), Patrick O’Hare (35), Eamon Byrne (39), Malcolm Jenkinson (53), Daniel McCreanor (59) and Barney Greene.
It seemed mystifying that Loughinisland was chosen by the UVF. One supposition as reported on the Detail online investigative site is because it is the ancestral home of Irish American businessman Bill Flynn. The theory is that the UVF deliberately picked Loughinisland because it was angered at Flynn’s support for Gerry Adams being given a visa to the US six months earlier, during a key stage of the peace process that would help lead to the IRA ceasefire in August 1994.
Since then the Loughinisland families have been trying to obtain truth and justice. But it’s been a long journey of frustration. Nobody has been convicted. Many of the relatives suspect there was some form of RUC collusion in the shootings, possibly involving the protection of a loyalist informer or informers.
The previous Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson investigated how the police dealt with the murder inquiry. He found that there were police failings but that there was no evidence of collusion.
In 2012 the Belfast High Court quashed Hutchinson’s report with the new ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire carrying out a fresh investigation. But he too has been frustrated. He accused the PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott of refusing to hand over information about the six killings – as he claims the chief constable is legally obliged to do – and of also stalling on releasing information about more than 50 other killings.
That’s now part of a legal battle between Dr Maguire and Mr Baggott who is retiring and soon to hand over that headache to the incoming chief constable George Hamilton.
The experience of the Loughinisland families is the experiences of hundreds more families seeking truth and justice – or both about their loved ones killed during the conflict.
At New Year, US diplomat Dr Richard Haass, after working with the five main parties for six months, came up with proposals on how to address the past. But effectively they have been rejected by the DUP and Ulster Unionists. Talks on possibly resurrecting the Haass proposals on the past, flags and parades are due to start some time this month. Few if any people believe they will lead to agreement any time this summer, particularly as unionist politicians won’t even discuss the past until Lady Justice Hallett reports on the on-the-runs controversy. We’re not sure when that will be.
With such a response, the Loughinisland families and the other victims must feel that all they are getting on the profoundly troubling problem of the past is political lip-service. Words, but no action.
Gerry Moriarty is Northern Editor