22 January 1998 Edition
Myth of tit-for-tat
By Laura Friel
Residents from the Lower Ormeau Road are challenging media reports which have described the loyalist murder of 52-year-old Larry Brennan as ``retaliation'' or ``tit-for-tat''.
The Catholic taxi driver was fatally wounded outside a taxi depot on the Ormeau Road just hours after the death of Jim Guiney, a prominent member of the UDA shot dead by the INLA. However, in a statement released by the Lower Ormeau Residents Action Group, local people said the van believed to have been used in the murder of Larry Brennan was seen on the Ormeau Road more than 15 hours prior to the UDA man's death.
Residents' spokesperson Gerard Rice said loyalist paramilitaries had carried out a dummy run for the taxi depot murder the night before Jim Guiney's death. ``A van of the same colour and with the same registration number was spotted outside the taxi depot and in the Fitzroy Avenue area at around 7pm on Sunday evening,'' said Rice, ``It attracted the attention of several people because the windows had been blacked out.'' A local shopkeeper reported the suspicious vehicle to the RUC.
Shortly after 7.30pm on Monday January 19, Larry Brennan was sitting at the wheel of his taxi outside the Enterprise taxi depot when he was fatally wounded by a lone gunman. Witnesses said the gunman was wearing a baseball cap, leather jacket, a white t-shirt and jeans. The loyalist gunman stood at the side of the road before firing four shots directly at Larry Brennan. The Catholic father of two, died shortly after being rushed to Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital.
According to a local report, after the shooting, the killer turned the corner to walk along Haypark Avenue to Haywood Avenue before entering a nearby pub. Local people said the RUC, who had mounted a checkpoint on the Ormeau Bridge on Monday evening, left the area at 7pm. At 7.30pm the loyalist death squad would have had a clear run onto the Ormeau Road.
Larry Brennan, a Catholic engaged to a Protestant, knew he might be targeted by loyalist killers. Dorothy Creaney, Larry's fiancee, said that the couple had been threatened by loyalist paramilitaries, but had been determined to wed despite warnings to call it off. Dorothy said the couple had stopped seeing each other for six weeks after being threatened, but ``we just knew then we couldn't be apart''. 72-year-old Mary Brennan, the elderly mother of the murder man, described herself as brokenhearted. ``This is the second member of our family we've lost, ``said Mary, ``I lost a nephew in 1972, his father died of a broken heart. I'm sure I will too.''
As in all recent sectarian killings, the family are expected to establish the dead person's status through the media. Like the victim of rape, Catholic victims of sectarian attacks must prove their ``innocence''. It is left to the family to dispell the victim's `culpability'. The victim's clothes are significant. A GAA shirt, a Celtic top, explains everything.
But most importantly, to be `innocent' a Catholic must be apolitical. A Catholic with a political agenda is treated by the media as an accomplice in their own murder. Sectarian killings are ``provoked'', they are ``acts of revenge'' and if the victim is a Republican, in any sense of the word, it becomes ``inevitable''.
In the current political vacuum, families of the victims are also expected to take responsibilty for future violence. When Elish O'Reilly, the sister of Larry Brennan called for no retaliation, Tony Blair simply reiterated her call. In doing so the British PM unwittingly acknowleged his government's inability to accept responsibilty for, and unwillingness to challenge, the sectarian operation of British rule in Ireland.
Another nationalist shot dead
On Wednesday night another nationalist was shot dead. The man, in his fifties, was was working in the loyalist Sandy Row area when he was gunned down shortly after 5.00pm. He was the third nationalist to be killed by loyalist death squads in less than four days.
The man is understood to be from West Belfast and was active in the GAA.
RUC saturation before McCusker killing
By Laura Friel
The RUC `were in no particular hurry' was how local people have described the RUC's response to reports that there had been a shooting incident in Maghera in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Shortly after 1.15am two gunshots disturbed the quiet South Derry town. According to local people, the RUC recieved a report of gunfire in the upper part of the town at around 1.30am. The RUC did nothing. Newspaper reports claim at 3am, the loyalist killers telephoned the RUC saying a man had been shot dead. The RUC still did nothing. The body of 28-year-old Catholic victim Fergal McCusker was discovered at the back of Fairhill Youth Club by a caretaker from the nearby St. Mary's Chapel. At 9am, almost eight hours after initial reports of a shooting, the RUC moved in and cordoned off the area.
Within a stone's throw from the murder scene stands a RUC barracks, but seemingly the RUC heard nothing. A surveillance camera, mounted high on a scaffolding tower above the barracks overlooks the murder scene, but apparently the RUC saw nothing.
At 1pm, twelve hours after Fergal's death, the RUC informed the McCusker family that their son had been killed. The lack of urgency displayed by the RUC after the murder of Fergal McCusker stood in stark contrast to heightened crown force activity in the run-up to the killing. Local people have reported intense RUC and British army activity for two weeks prior to the shooting. ``DMSU were driving up and down the road for days,'' says one resident, ``on Friday the town was crawling with British soldiers''. On Saturday night the streets were empty. In the early hours of Sunday morning, when the loyalist killers struck, the RUC were nowhere to be seen.
Christine McCusker sits besides the open coffin of her dead son in a small back bedroom of the family's Sunnyside home. There are no words to describe her loss. One of seven boys, Fergal was the third eldest child in a family of nine. Lack of employment, and sectarian discrimination in the Six Counties led Fergal to seek work in the USA. For six months he worked as a labourer with a construction company in Boston. Less than two weeks ago Fergal returned to Maghera. When he secured a job locally, his family were happy he would be staying home. On Saturdays, Fergal often played soccer with a few friends. Jim McCusker describes his son as ``a sporty kind of fella''.
Fergal was a member of the local GAA club. On 17 January he was wearing a GAA jersey but he did not play at the club that day. In the evening Fergal and his friends were socialising at a local bar. Shortly after 1am. he left `Maggies' with a number of other people. Suddenly Fergal left the group, saying he was ``going for a Chinese'' at the nearby takeaway before making his way home. In the darkness of a narrow alleyway it is believed Fergal was confronted by three men. Local people saw three loyalist killers were seen leaving the area. After hearing a gunshot, one witness describes passing two men ``with their faces painted orange'' as he made his way along Tircane Road to Kelly's newsagents. After a second shot, a third man appeared from behind the youth club, crossing the Chapel grounds towards the Glen Road. The killers seemed in no hurry to make their getaway.
``The wrong place, the wrong time, the wrong country'' read the front page banner headline of the British daily tabloid `The Mirror'. When 28-year-old Fergal McClusker was shot dead by loyalist killers, he was only a few hundred yards away from his home. When his loyalist assailants dragged him away, Fergal was returning from his `local' pub. When loyalist gunmen shot Fergal twice in the head, his shattered body lay behind a youth club in the grounds of the local chapel where members of his family attended Mass.
Fergal died in the town in which he had been born and in which generations of his family had lived and died. Fergal McCusker was a Catholic born into a sectarain state, a nationalist reared under the shadow of a unionist regime but he was not in the wrong place, at the wrong time, in the wrong country. The fact that the media can dismiss Fergal's death in this way, exposes the very operation of the sectarian Six County statelet. Northern nationalists, Catholics under an Orange regime have ``no place''. Denied all the normal criteria of citizenship, nationalists appear ``stateless'', refugees in their own country. This is the nettle which the British media, the British government and unionist politicans must grasp.
On Tuesday 20 January representatives from community groups in nationalist areas gathered outside Stormont to protest against the ongoing loyalist campaign of sectarian killings. ``Catholic Lives, Who Cares?'' read their banner.