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15 February 2001 Edition

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London hears O'Neill inquiry demand

BY FERN LANE

     
This young man could have had a different life. He made a decision to go away and fight for other people. He gave up his life in the end, but he was prepared to give it up when he made that decision. I think it is important to understand that young people who make such decisions make them from a position of compassion, not of hate. They want to help other people.
IThe family of Volunteer Diarmuid' O'Neill, who was killed by the Metropolitan Police in September 1996, were at Westminster on Thursday 8 February for the launch of a booklet, Another Case of Shoot to Kill, produced by the Justice for Diarmuid O'Neill Campaign. The booklet presents the case for an independent public inquiry into the shooting. The launch was hosted by Labour MP John McDonnell and was addressed by Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly, human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, who knew Diarmuid personally and who now represents the O'Neill family, and Shane O'Neill, Diarmuid's younger brother.

Gerry Kelly said that although he did not know Diarmuid, ``I know where he comes from. I know, in a way, what was in his head. I say that because as a young man I came over to England as well. I was a member of the IRA. I think it is important to say that because I know it [membership of the IRA] is one of the big issues in this case.

``One of the reasons that is given not to give a public inquiry is that Diarmuid was an IRA Volunteer. But people need to know - I mean all people need to know - that this is a very proud thing to be. I was proud to be in the IRA. This young man could have had a different life. He made a decision to go away and fight for other people. He gave up his life in the end, but he was prepared to give it up when he made that decision. I think it is important to understand that young people who make such decisions make them from a position of compassion, not of hate. They want to help other people.

``Diarmuid had the right to live. His family have the right to grieve and they have the right to have the truth. This is an attempt to take away all of those rights and to demonise Diarmuid as an excuse not to get to exactly what happened.

``That is what this booklet, Another Case of Shoot to Kill, is about. Nothing can bring Diarmuid back, but I think his case is important. The facts of it are simple. Diarmuid and his comrades were unarmed - nobody is disputing any of this. They were almost naked. And they were in the act - because they were unarmed and because it was a heavily armed group of people going in to them - of surrendering. Those who stormed the hotel knew all of that.

``Diarmuid was shot twice - and after being shot twice, no matter who you are, you're not going to be able to do much - they shot him another four times because they meant to kill him.''

Referring to the subsequent investigation into the killing, Kelly said there was a ``wall of recurring evidence'' insofar as ``all those who were asked about it did say something, but they all said exactly the same and they were all telling lies''.

John McDonnell reminded the audience that Diarmuid's case, along with others, had been raised before the House of Commons something like half a dozen times. ``It is just incredible the resistance that there has been to any form of independent investigation into any of these cases. You almost despair at times at the ability of the British state to be able to close ranks.

``I don't suppose it is just self-protection; I do link it to the Irish struggle. There is a position within the Metropolitan Police where they believed themselves to be waging war and, to be honest, they were because there was a war going on. The Met were geared up as a military force, because that was their role; to wage war just as much as the British Army in the Six Counties. They then pursued that to its logical end. They shot and murdered people who they thought were the enemy.''

A public inquiry, he said, should be linked to the peace process because ``peace will not be achieved until we know what went on; we will not have confidence in the peace process unless we know who ordered the execution of Diarmuid O'Neill''.

Shane O'Neill told those present that his family had a number of questions to which they wanted answers. ``Diarmuid, along with a number of other people, had been under intense surveillance for many weeks prior to the raid,'' he said.

``Every move he made had been watched by the police and intelligence services. He could have been arrested at any time and brought before a court to face his accusers, but a decision was taken that, rather than arresting him, officers from unit SO19 of the Metropolitan Police would mount an armed raid. My family wants to know why this decision was taken, and by whom. There are also many, many other questions about Diarmuid's death that we would like to have answered.

``We want to know why, when Diarmuid could clearly and repeatedly be heard to be giving himself up and that he was unarmed, an order was given to open fire. My brother was shot six times at close range as he was in the process of surrendering.

``We know all of this from the surveillance tape, which is transcribed in full in the booklet. I defy anyone to read this and tell me that officer `Kilo' credibly can claim, as he did at the inquest, that his life appeared to be in immediate danger when he opened fire.

``We want to know why the Metropolitan Police deliberately lied to the press about what had happened, and why no action was taken against them when these lies were uncovered. The media was told, as we all know, that a shoot-out with the IRA had occurred and that room 303 had been an arms and ammunition store.

``We, Diarmuid's family, believe that all of these questions can only be properly addressed through an independent and public inquiry into the events. If the Metropolitan Police really believe that they did nothing wrong, then they have nothing to fear from such an inquiry.''
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