Relatives of UVF victims welcome gesture

Fri, May 18, 2012, 01:00

RELATIVES OF the six people murdered by the UVF in Loughinisland 18 years ago have welcomed a decision by the Ireland team to wear black armbands in their Euro 2012 game against Italy next month.

The Football Association of Ireland was granted permission by the governing body of European football, Uefa, to allow the Irish players make the gesture of remembrance during the match on June 18th – the anniversary date of the UVF attack.

The FAI made the request to the European football governing body after it was approached by families of the bereaved.

The UVF attack on the Heights pub in the Co Down village of Loughinisland happened as the victims were watching on TV the Ireland versus Italy World Cup game in New York. Six men were murdered and five were seriously wounded when gunmen opened fire with assault rifles.

While the bar had a mixed clientele, all the victims were Catholic. The oldest of those killed was Barney Green, aged 87 and one of the oldest to die in the Troubles.

Ireland famously won the game 1-0 with a Ray Houghton goal. But after the game the then manager Jack Charlton and players were shocked and appalled to learn of the killings.

The families’ solicitor, Niall Murphy, welcomed the decision on their behalf. “The families are touched that this tragic event can be commemorated on such a poignant day, the 18th anniversary of the atrocity,” he said. “We would like to thank the FAI and Uefa for their assistance in providing a forum to recall the awful events that took place on that fateful day when Ireland played Italy in 1994,” added Mr Murphy.

Last year, former police ombudsman Al Hutchinson found that there were failings in the police investigation of the attack but insufficient evidence of any RUC collusion.

The families have challenged his conclusions, arguing there was police collusion.

South Down Sinn Féin Assembly member Caitríona Ruane said the FAI gesture was to be applauded.

“The families are still seeking truth and justice for their loved ones and with the game being on the same date and against the same opposition, it will be a difficult time for them,” she said.

“Our thoughts are with the families at this time as they not only mark the anniversary of their loved ones’ deaths but also continue in their search for truth and justice,” added Ms Ruane.

SDLP South Down MP Margaret Ritchie said the decision was a “very thoughtful and touching gesture” by the FAI.

“This is a great act of solidarity with the victims’ families and is hugely symbolic, as those whose lives were taken in the massacre all had a great love of the Irish football team,” she said.