AP front 1 - 2022

29 January 1998 Edition

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Sectarian slaughter

Sunday: Fergal McCusker shot dead, Maghera

Monday: Larry Brennan, shot dead, Belfast

Wednesday: Ben Hughes shot dead, Belfast; John McFarland, gunshot wounds, Belfast; Unnamed Protestant, gunshot wounds, Belfast

Thursday: Chris McMahon, gunshot wounds, Belfast

Friday: Liam Conway, shot dead, Belfast

Saturday: John McColgan, shot dead, Belfast

Sunday: Unnamed Catholic, gunshot wounds, Lurgan; bomb attack, Catholic family, Carrickfergus.

Tuesday: Taxi depot, murder bid, Belfast

Fourteen community groups from Belfast joined forces on Wednesday afternoon to mount a picket at Leinster House in protest at the failure of successive Dublin governments to highlight the collusion between the RUC and other elements of the British military machine with loyalist murder gangs.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern met with representatives of the groups to hear their concerns and requests for assistance in exposing what is happening on the ground in nationalist areas. Speaking at a press conference before the picket, Chairperson of the group Liz Groves said, ``In the face of ongoing loyalist violence, which is operating in the full knowledge of the RUC, we call on the Irish nation through its government to defend the rights and lives of Irish people living in the north of Ireland.''


Fear and anger as loyalist killings continue

by Laura Friel

Anger displaced despair, as Northern nationalists faced another onslaught of sectarian murders by loyalist gangs. Funerals followed shootings, shootings followed funerals in a week which witnessed five nationalists killed, four seriously injured, one murder bid and a pipe bomb attack.

On Wednesday evening, as television footage of the funeral of Fergal McCusker was viewed with sadness in thousands of homes across the North, reports were broadcast of another loyalist murder attack. The scene shifted from Maghera to Belfast.

Benedict Hughes, a 55-year-old Catholic from West Belfast was shot dead by a lone gunman in the loyalist Donegall Road as he left work shortly after 5pm. At 5.30pm Jean Hughes was still waiting for her husband to pick her up outside Belfast's City Hospital where she works as an auxiliary nurse. Returning home alone, Jean discovered from television news reports that Ben had been murdered.

This was the second loyalist killing in Belfast in 48 hours. Catholic taxi driver, Larry Brennan from the Markets area of the city had been shot dead outside a taxi depot on the Ormeau Road on Monday night.

Within three hours of the murder of Ben Hughes, a second Belfast Catholic narrowly escaped death. 37-year-old John McFarland, a taxi driver from Whitewell Road, was shot in the head by a loyalist gunman after being lured to pick up a fare in the Donegall Road. The injured man drove himself to the nearby Mater hospital where his condition was described as ``serious but not life threatening.'' In a third gun attack in Belfast on the same night, loyalist gunmen smashed their way into a home in the mainly Protestant Belvoir estate. Their victim was shot several times and rushed to the Royal Victoria Hospital where his condition was described as ``critical''.

Just hours before, Fr Seamus O'Connell described Fergal McCusker as a ``totally innocent man whose only crime was to fall into the hands of criminals'', his murder was ``an act of bigotry'' and the killers' motivation ``to instil fear into the community''.

As darkness fell, the despair of Maghera had turned to dread on the streets of Belfast. Grey skies overshadowed mourners gathering in Belfast's Friendly Street for the funeral of Larry Brennan on Thursday morning. At nearby St. Malachy's Church, Fr. Michael Sheehan said people were ``weary, sad and broken''. ``Who did these marauding murderers claim to represent?'' he asked.

Within hours loyalist killers struck again. ``Why me?'' said the North Belfast Catholic as he lay injured. Shortly after 6pm. 30-year-old Chris McMahon was shot by a lone gunman as he locked the Carnmoney bakery where he worked. The father of two, was rushed for emergency surgery to Whiteabbey Hospital. His condition was later described as ``serious but stable''. Friday night the traffic stopped in West Belfast as hundreds of people escorted the coffin of Ben Hughes from his Suffolk home to St. Michael the Archangel, on Finaghy Road. It was 4.30pm.

At 4.45pm loyalist killers struck again, killing Liam Conway. Hours earlier in a statement using the cover name UFF, the UDA admitted involvement in sectarian killings. The statement was prompted after RUC Chief Ronnie Flanagan was forced to admit forensic evidence linked the UDA with the murders of Ben Hughes, Larry Brennan and Eddie Treanor. The admission by the UDA and RUC confirmed what nationalists had known for weeks. UDA murder gangs were facilitating and participating in sectarian killings under the banner of the LVF. The UDA statement dismissed its campaign of terror as ``a measured response''. Within the nationalist community, anger replaced anxiety, determination displaced despair. Community groups called a rally to be held on Sunday afternoon.

As news of yet another killing filtered through the streets of Belfast, just hours after the UDA reaffirmed its ceasefire, nationalist anger hardened into outrage. 39-year-old Liam Conway was shot twice in the head and chest as he sat at the wheel of a mechanical digger at Hesketh Road, off the Crumlin Road. A lone loyalist gunman had selected his Catholic victim after walking past a number of other workmen digging up the road. Liam Conway was working less than a hundred yards from the nationalist community, Ardoyne, where he lived with his two brothers and sister. The fatally injured man was rushed to Mater Hospital where he died without regaining consciousness.

Those who spread anti-Catholic hatred are as guilty of murder as those who pull the trigger, Bishop Patrick Walsh told mourners at the funeral of Ben Hughes on Saturday morning. ``Tragic as this death is, we will not allow the men of violence to prevail,'' said local priest Fr Sean McCartney. On Saturday night a loyalist murder gang was to strike at the very heart of West Belfast. Tragically, the victim, a taxi driver, had assured his wife he was safe because the UDA statement reinstated their ceasefire. 33-year-old John McColgan was lured to his death after the killers hailed his cab on the Andersonstown Road. Shortly before 9pm three men entered Network taxi depot facing the Whitefort and asked to be taken to the Sloans, a club in the Whiterock area. After a 20 minute delay, the three men left the depot and hailed a passing taxi from `STS'. The taxi driver stopped to pick up a passenger but said he would radio for a second taxi. John McColgan picked up two of the three men, the third walked away. John radioed the `STS' depot and said his passengeres had changed their destination to Mourne View, on the Hannahstown hill.

John McColgan's body was discovered by a passer-by around 9.30pm at the side of a country road on the Hannahstown hill, just yards away from where Larry Brennan had been buried on Friday. The dead man had five gunshot wounds to the back of the head. His taxi was found burnt out at the Giant's Ring, a loyalist area of South Belfast.

``He was my life and they have taken away a precious thing,'' said Lorraine McColgan speaking after her husband's death. The couple's three children, Sean (11), Mairead (9) and three-year-old Gavin were described as devastated. At a rally in West Belfast's Dunville Park, the mood was angry as thousands of people turned out on a cold Sunday afternoon. ``I'm a Catholic, I'm a target,'' read a homemade placard. ``Unionist cheerleaders for loyalist death squads,'' and ``retaliation a myth'' read other placards held by people in the crowd.

Loyalist attacks continued, shifting this time to Lurgan, with a shooting in the nationalist Taghnevan estate. A Catholic in his thirties was shot early on Sunday morning by a lone gunman as he sat in his lorry outside his home. The man sustained a gunshot to the shoulder before his assailant ran off in the direction of the Old Portadown Road.

In a second sectarian attack, a Catholic family was forced to leave their home after it was targeted by a pipe bomb attack. Over 30 families were evacuated after the device was discovered in the driveway of a Catholic family living in Prospect Heights in Carrickfergus.

The funeral of Liam Conway was held in North Belfast on Monday morning. His sister Marion was supported by her brother Brian in the short journey from their home to The Sacred Heart Church on the Old Park Road. A second brother, Patsy was too distressed to attend the funeral. ``Our anger is a just anger,'' Fr Sean Gilmore told mourners, ``As Liam worked to keep his family an evil coward came out of the dark, took his life and ran back into the shadows,'' said the priest. Tuesday morning at 3am and a Catholic working in a North Belfast Taxi depot escaped death when his assailant's gun jammed. As details of the murder bid at Metro Cabs hit the news, thousands of nationalists had begun to gather outside John McColgan's Westrock home. The night before hundreds of people had silently queued for hours to leave their cards and condolences.

Loyalist killers, Fr Denis McKinlay told mourners, ``thrive on the vilification of the whole Catholic community. Their peddling of death is a result of a hatred born of careful nurturing, sadly even from those who claim to be in positions of leadership.'' As the funeral cortege moved off, a child's sobbing was the only accompaniment. Inconsolable in her mother's arms, her persistent screams seemed wholly appropriate amid a community crying out for justice but finding little comfort. Wednesday morning and nationalists awoke after a killing-free night. A pale sun hung over Belfast city, its cold light barely dispelling the shadows, its rays devoid of warmth.


Public anger against killings

Last Sunday over 1000 people showed their support for families bereaved in the current loyalist murder campaign and challenged the ``British government and unionist and loyalist people'' to stop the killings. The impromptu vigil in Dunville Park on the Falls Road in Belfast was organised by a wide consortium of community groups who spoke of the pain and anger of the nationalist community.

Hours earlier Catholic taxi driver John McColgan had become the latest victim of the brutality inflicted on nationalists across the Six Counties.

The crowd, both young and old, heard community worker Maura McCrory say, ``words cannot express how we feel'' and ``we will not be intimidated.'' She then turned directly on the media to denounce their lack of understanding in describing the recent onslaught against Catholics as `tit-for-tat' or `retaliation'. She said: ``the loyalist violence against the Catholic community has been in place since 1922.''

Community worker Liz Groves said, ``this murder campaign is designed to terrorise our community into accepting a return to Stormont. The nature of these attacks and the hatred of Catholics should not determine our political future.''

Homemade banners echoed the sadness of the community at these murders and demonstrated the depth of anger at the distorted portrayal of the current campaign. The sentiment of the crowd was strong and dignified and much of the anger was directed at the British government's lack of will to tackle the death squads. They was also anger at the attitude of the Unionists in the talks.


Taxi drivers in firing line

Catholic taxi drivers in Belfast are living in fear of their lives following attacks by loyalist gunmen which have left two dead and another injured.

In the latest LVF murder attempt at 3.15am on Tuesday the desk clerk at the Antrim Road Metro cab company had a lucky escape when a lone gunman wearing a baseball cap attempted to fire through the security window. The weapon apparently jammed and after repeated attempts to clear the jam, the gunman calmly turned and walked out onto the Antrim Road.

This is the third, and most serious, attack on the North Belfast taxi depot. Last Thursday at 2.30am a British Army bomb disposal team had to tackle an elaborate device left in the waiting room. Telephone threats from the LVF were received last Friday and again on Wednesday. The RUC also informed staff that they should upgrade their security arrangements because they had information of imminent attacks on taxi companies.

Speaking after Tuesday's attack the owner of the company outlined the fears and anxieties of his staff. ``We are in an extremely vulnerable position. Catholics are being slaughtered and taxi drivers are the easiest of options. Most of our drivers are family men striving under very dangerous circumstances to provide for their families. Many feel they are being forced out of work and like the wider nationalist community are very fearful for the future''.

There is great anger among nationalists that loyalists can effortlessly cut down so many people seemingly with impunity; and a deep resentment that the slaughter of Catholics is constantly described as ``another tit-for-tat killing''.

Commenting on the attack Sinn Fein Councillor Alex Maskey said, ``I cannot over-emphasise the urgent need for all Catholic-owned businesses and licensed premises to immediately implement watertight security. Last night's attack is further evidence that loyalists are intent on continuing their murderous campaign against Catholics''.


Newry protest

Activists from Newry housing estates staged a silent protest on Saturday, starting at Corry Square RUC station, at the murders of Catholics and the lack of effort by the RUC in dealing with the loyalist murder gangs.

Sinn Fein Councillor Brendan Curran said, ``The time has come to explode the myth that the killing of Catholics is seen as some sort of tit for tat or retaliation. The killings of Catholics is part of the reactionary opposition by Unionists to change or the potential for change. These killings have continued relentlessly since the formation of this corrupt Unionist-dominated state, aided and abetted by the RUC. It is time for the so-called silent Unionist majority to say to these people, enough is enough.''


Lurgan incidents not linked

After initial fears that three attacks on Catholics in Lurgan on Sunday were linked, An Phoblacht has learnt that the first two incidents involved local joyriders.

In the first incident at 6.30am on Sunday morning, a white car drove at a Catholic man on the Levin Road, on the Kilwilkee Estate. As the man fled towards his home the car with three men on board chased him. As the man literally fell through his front door his assailants shouted abuse at him. After the incident the RUC were called to the house and given the car details.

About 30 minutes later there was an attempt to abduct a man delivering newspapers to a nearby shop, also on the Kilwilkee Estate. After the man struggled free the attackers rammed his van before making their getaway in the same white car. Local residents told An Phoblacht the car had been located on Monday night and it is believed that those involved were stupidly playing `practical jokes'.

Later on Sunday morning at 8am a man was shot as he sat in a lorry outside his home in Taghnevan. The man is described as in a comfortable condition in hospital. Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd noted ``the RUC's pointless response to the shooting was to set up a checkpoint in nearby Ashwood.'' A short while after the shooting the LVF claimed responsibility.


Killing Catholics is part of the state

By Mary Nelis

The grief of the Catholic people of the North was visible in the tears of the mourners at the funeral of the latest victim of the Loyalist murder gangs, John McColgan. Their anger and bewilderment was expressed by the priest at John's Requiem Mass. Fr McKinlay said that ``whole communities, and in particular the Catholic community, feel close to rejection in this land, our land, the place we call home.''

``Why?'' said the child of John McColgan. Indeed, the entire nationalist community might ask why. What have we done to be persecuted for so long in our own land?

What have we done? Is our crime that we were born in that partitioned entity, the Six Counties? Or that we are Catholic by religion and Irish nationalists by politics? Is our crime a belief that we should all equally call this land home, and that we should be allowed to live without fear in every part of it?

In the eyes of those who murdered John McColgan, we Catholics, Nationalist, we Irish ``are children of a lesser God''. We are papists, Taigs, non persons, to be disposed of in much the same manner, as the Ku Klux Klan disposed of the African Americans.

Nowhere was this more apparent than on the walls of the Loyalist wings in Long Kesh. The ``Kill `em all - God will sort `em out'' mentality has been woven into the tradition of militant Unionism and the demonic artwork on the gable walls in Loyalist areas finds its inspiration in the banners of the Loyal institutions. Such institutions have fed and fuelled the sectarian appetites of the loyalist killers and the legitimacy conferred on the Orange Order by the British establishment ensures that the killing machine is continually oiled and ready for use in the event of any threat to the Union.

The same British establishment pressurised Mo Mowlam into conferring political patronage on the mass murderers of Catholics in much the same way as David Trimble did with the late Billy Wright. It was a hard pill for the grieving relatives of those brutally murdered to swallow but it was made much worse by the attempts by the media in Britain and Ireland to describe the current pogroms against Catholics as tit for tat.

In the midst of the killing fields of Belfast, the silence of the paper doves and lighted candle brigade is palpable.

Those who came pouring onto the streets after the IRA ceasefire ended, shouting ``Give us back our Peace'', obviously don't equate the murder of 20 Catholics in the past year as a violation of the peace process.

How come the white ribbon groups waited until 20 Catholics died to reactivate their ``support for peace''? After the Warrington bomb and the terrible deaths of two children, condemnation reigned down on the heads of the IRA. Thousands took to the streets. Flowers and books of condolences appeared in every City Hall from here to Cork. Choirs were set up, and the relatives of those so tragically killed became media stars overnight and were sent on world tours.

It has taken 20 Catholic murders to produce a half hearted response from the professional peace groups and the Trade Unions. Could it be that the deaths of pregnant woman, teenagers, men trying to earn a living, are seen as part of a necessary sectarian consensus to keep the status quo intact? In the eyes of the British and pro Union establishments, murder is only murder if done by the IRA or the INLA. All other killings are tit for tat and the media with few exceptions have willingly pursued this line, consigning the murder of Catholics as non-events. Those who die are just statistics.

Is it any wonder that the UVF, in a coded message to a newsroom after the sadistic murder of the seven months pregnant Kathleen O'Hagan and her unborn child, could say to the Catholic community, ``Brace yourselves for death, because you are going to see plenty of it''?

And is it any wonder that its counterparts the UFF, whose representatives walked out of the talks this week, could proclaim at the same time, that the British government were preparing for a United Ireland and that they would be targeting Sinn Féin, the Irish government and the SDLP and that even if the IRA were to lay down their arms permanently, they, the UFF, would continue their activities?

Last year, prior to the elections and only days after the killing of three Catholics in North Belfast, Ken Maginnis defended the loyalists, stating that their ceasefires were still intact but warning that if Sinn Féin won seats at the election, it could result in an upsurge of violence. Can you imagine the reaction were Gerry Adms to make such a declaration? Yet the message given to the Catholic community from the respectable leaders of Unionism and the loyalist murder gangs is clear, ``If we don't' get our way, you will get it in the head''.

Political Unionism have never had a problem with the loyalist killing machine, either publicly or privately. Neither, it would appear, have the Labour Party. The Heads of Agreement document was written over the bodies of Catholic and it seems once more that the British military establishment are literally calling the shots. Why shouldn't Trimble laugh?


An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1