By Kevin Henry
Martin O’Hagan was a journalist and trade unionist murdered in 2001. He was murdered for bravely writing, despite death threats, articles exposing of the loyalist paramilitaries, particularly the murderous sectarian gang known as the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF).
At the time the police promised to do everything to find his killers, yet over 20 years later no one has been convicted. A recent Spotlight programme has exposed a list of things that weren’t done to find the killers, including when a witness involved in assisting the killers came forward. There were allegations from someone claiming to be an army intelligence officer working undercover in the LVF passed on information that O’Hagan was to be shot which wasn’t acted upon. The O’Hagan family and his union, the National Union of Journalists, have rightly called for a new investigation.
This is just the latest in a growing mountain of evidence and published material that exposes the role of the British state during the Troubles. After decades of fighting for justice by the families of the victims, finally a 344-page report has been published by the Police Ombudsman into the murder of 11 people in eight attacks by the UDA, under its cover name “Ulster Freedom Fighters” in the early 90s in the South Belfast area. This included the infamous attack on the Sean Graham bookies in which five people were brutally massacred, as well as other vicious sectarian murders, often justified as “retaliation” for sectarian actions by republican paramilitaries.
The Ombudsman report highlighted that “collusive behaviour” was happening at “systemic” levels in the RUC. This litany included the fact that eight UDA members linked to murders and attempted murders of 27 people were police informants, and that there was a failure to investigate those involved in importing weapons used in these attacks because many involved in this importation and distribution were police informants. There was routine destruction of evidence and documentation. Special Branch also gave “deactivated” weapons to UDA members whom they knew could reactivate the same weapons. On several occasions, the RUC failed to notify those who were subjects of death threats that their life was in danger.
Half-truth is not enough
One family member described this report as providing “half-truth and half-justice” after 30 years. This sums up the attitude of many families who have been the victim of loyalist, republican or state violence during the Troubles. The Socialist Party supports the rights of all families to independent inquiries and inquests into atrocities committed during the Troubles. The recent “amnesty” proposed by the Tories is an attempt to cover up atrocities and a denial of those families’ right to truth and justice. However, families deserve more than “half-truth and half-justice,” yet that will not come from forces who have a vested interest in ensuring the role of the state or various paramilitary groups are not properly brought out and scrutinised.
As well as individual inquiries, the Socialist Party argues for a proper independent inquiry into the role of state and paramilitaries during the Troubles. The main political forces and the state however cannot be trusted and do not have the authority to conduct such an inquiry. But there are forces in our society with such authority, this includes trade unionists who organised against the tit for tat killing in the early 90s and have campaigned for justice for their colleague Martin O’Hagan. As well as providing truth and justice for victims of the Troubles, such an inquiry would shine a light on the role of all actors during the conflict.