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21 June 2007 Edition

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Remembering the Past

BY Aran Foley

On  Saturday night 18 June as they watched Ireland  play Italy in the soccer World Cup, the patrons of  a small public house in Loughinisland, County Down were targeted by a unionist paramilitary death squad.
At the time, the pub was packed with people watching the game. At about 10.20pm and during the second half of the match, spirits were high in O’Toole’s bar as Ireland led  by one goal to nil. Suddenly, and without warning the mood of elation was shattered as two armed and masked men stormed into the bar and opened up on the occupants with two automatic rifles. Firing up to 30 bullets they wreaked carnage before retreating out the door.  As they did so, one of the killers shouted “well done boys, good job.” They were then driven away in a stolen red Triumph Acclaim, later found  abandoned in a field between Crossgar and Ballynahinch.
The UVF had massacred six nationalists and seriously wounded another five. Those killed were 87-year-old Barney Green, his nephew Dan McCreanor (59), Pat O’Hare (35), Eamon Byrne (52), Malcom Jenkinson (52) and Adrian Rogan (34). It was a devastating blow to this small, rural community. Nine children lost their fathers in the slaughter.
Expressing a deep sense of revulsion and horror at the brutality of the attack the Football Association of Ireland chief Seán Connolloy, speaking from Orlando, Florida, had this to say “Every body in America – players, officials and supporters of the Irish team – was very distressed by the horrible news and offered every sympathy to the families”. He revealed that it was proposed that a minute’s silence be held for the victims at the upcoming Ireland against Mexico game.
The loyalist assassins who struck at Loughinisland appeared under little pressure and such was the methodical nature of their attack that most victims had been hit between two and five times at point blank range. Five died immediately at the scene while the sixth fatality died a short time later in hospital.
There have been persistent allegations of state collusion with the attack on O’Tooles bar. These allegations were strengthened when it later emerged that the car used in the attack had been destroyed by the PSNI in 1996. This car has been linked to the notorious Mount Vernon UVF gang. This gang based in North Belfast was led at the time by Special Branch agent Mark Haddock.
Also in a 2005 meeting October 11 between the families and a DSI Williamson of the PSNI it emerged that the weapons used were part of a South African consignment imported by the British agent Brian Nelson in the late 1980’s
Some of the serious issues raised around the Loughinisland attack are: the continued denial to the families of ballistic information on the weapons used despite precedents for this; the consistent failure to deny that any of the suspects were intelligence sources; the consistent mismanagement of exhibits in the case to the extent that the car used in the attack was destroyed thus destroying potentially valuable forensic evidence; that transcripts of helicopter logs and troop patrols have yet to be analysed; and the fact that the families believe that vehicle check points were strategically placed on the night to allow the killers to escape.
The massacre at Loughinisland occurred 13 years ago this week.

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