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15 May 1997 Edition

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Loughgall: ten years on and still seeking justice

By Peadar Whelan

Row Over Adams Visit

``The visit to Britain this week by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has been surrounded in controversy since it was announced that he had accepted an invitation to appear at this year's Oxford Union debate''.

You could be forgiven for thinking that this headline and opening paragraph were penned in this week's An Phoblacht given the knee-jerk reactions of the Unionists and their right wing fellow travellers from the Tory Party over the news that Sinn Féin may soon open an office in Westminster.

In fact these are the opening lines of an article written over ten years ago, just two months before the SAS ambush at Loughgall when IRA Volunteers Eugene Kelly, Tony Gormley, Paddy Kelly, Declan Arthurs, Seamus Donnelly, Jim Lynagh, Padraig McKearney and Gerard O'Callaghan as well as civilian Anthony Hughes were shot dead.

Adams may visit England soon, along with party colleague Martin McGuinness as the recently re-elected Sinn Fein MPs for West Belfast and mid-Ulster and bolstered by the votes of 126,921 Northern nationalists.

And the one certainty is that despite the obstructionist policies of the Unionists and Tories Adams and McGuinness will travel to the British capital with a message of peace similar to Adams's message in 1987. A message, incidentally that was reinforced when Sinn Fein launched its discussion paper A Scenario for Peace on 1 May 1987; a paper that was to become the basis of the Irish Peace Process that provided 18 months of hope that were dashed by the obstinacy of unionist privilege and the power greed of John Major's government.

A week after that, on 8 May 1987, eight IRA Volunteers and Anthony Hughes lay dead at Loughgall County Armagh. They were ambushed as they attacked a British crown forces base: caught in vicious hail of gunfire. Some of the Volunteers, who somehow managed to survive the initial, devastating fusillades were summarily executed with single shots fired into their heads at point blank range.

As for Adams he did, in fact, attend the Oxford debate and spoke to a packed house, although some of his opponents in the debate had withdrawn. He criticised those who condemn ``violence'' when it comes from the IRA, then in the next breath describe the British army's role in Ireland as a peacekeeping role.

Last Thursday saw the tenth anniversary of the Loughgall Ambush and relatives of the dead along with Tyrone National Graves Association remembered them.

Some of the families travelled to Loughgall itself and in a brave act of commemoration pinned roses on a fence behind which the SAS lay ten years ago; the fence bordered the ``free fire zone'' established by the British forces that allowed them to spring their trap with impunity.

For many of those relatives who travelled in our small convoy from the Moy it was a painful journey, one that they had never made since 8 May 1987. For Brigid Hughes it was almost too much, her distress obvious.

But it wasn't just past memories that worried the relatives. There are the ever-present threats posed by people who would begrudge republicans even their right to grieve and remember.

Two men driving past in their car made a two fingered gesture to the relatives. We were later told by others who travelled to Loughgall within minutes of the families, that the recently laid roses were torn from the fence and strewn across the road.

Following a memorial mass at Altmore church, where Volunteer Eugene Kelly is buried,we travelled to a wreath-laying ceremony at Cappagh, a small hamlet hidden in the Tyrone countryside.

Barry McElduff, Sinn Féin's representative in West Tyrone, described the Volunteers as among the best the county has ever known: a fitting tribute.

Later that night at the function organised to raise funds for the Loughgall Truth and Justice Group the newly elected MP for the area, Martin McGuinness described the Loughgall killings as ``one of the worst acts of state terrorism ever perpetrated''.

He commended the families for their commitment to finding out the truth about Loughgall and confronting a British state that has yet to accept responsibility for the hundreds of killings carried out on Irish citizens, ``by the British Army, the RUC and UDR\RIR and of course the loyalists''.

McGuinness agreed that there ``is a need for a cessation, but that a cessation must also come from the British and that there must be credible negotiations that deals with issues like Loughgall and Bloody Sunday''.

Loughgall epitomises British `peacekeeping' in Ireland: kill the dissenters and the rebels and terrorise us into submission. British terrorism hasn't worked in 800 years and it won't work, not ever. It's time the British realised that and standing on that hillside at Cappagh at the memorial stone to the Loughgall martyrs and Volunteer Martin Hurson who died during the 1981 hunger strike there is one sure thing to be gleaned from the determination of the republicans gathered there. ``The British ARE going to go, you know, because ...... republicans definitely aren't going anywhere''.

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