Cross-Community Labour Candidate for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Donal O’Cofaigh has condemned recent attacks on the right to politically campaign.
“The 2022 Assembly Election campaign has been marred by attacks on the democratic right to campaign and seek the support of the voters. There have been dozens of reports of posters being torn down, across every constituency and affecting every party. Candidates have been intimidated on-line and on the streets. Candidates have faced state interference in their campaigns. On more than one occasion candidates and their campaign teams have suffered violent attacks.
“We all know that elections are a reflection of society at large. The sectarianism, repression and intimidation that mar everyday life in many working-class communities remains a massive problem during elections.
“The right to free speech, the right to political organisation and the right to vote were hard won, with the labour and trade union movement leading the way. We will continue to defend the right to democratic expression now and in future elections”.
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) held vigils in Belfast and Derry on Tuesday September 28th to mark the 20th anniversary of the murder of journalist Martin O’Hagan. The vigils also demanded justice for Martin.
Twenty years on, nobody has been convicted. Nobody has even faced trial. This is despite the names of the killers being well-known. Even the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (as conservative as its name suggests) has raised concerns. “It is unacceptable that all this time has passed and not one person has been held responsible for what was a public execution,” a representative said. “The failure to prosecute can create an environment of impunity for those who might attack journalists.”
Martin was a courageous journalist. He had particularly worked on stories about collusion. He was shot to stop him shining light into dark places.
Several members of the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) gang who killed him are known to be security force agents. At the time he was murdered, Martin was investigating links between the LVF and persons in the security forces. That was why he was killed.
Martin was also the most senior trade unionist killed in the Troubles. At the time of his death he was Secretary of the Belfast and District Branch of the NUJ. He was also a socialist, who hated injustice and sectarianism.
Martin was the first journalist murdered in Northern Ireland. It was fitting that the Derry vigil was addressed by Sara Canning, partner of Lyra McKee. Lyra was the second journalist murdered, two years ago.
Both were killed during the ‘Peace Process’, mis-sold throughout the world as a perfect political solution. In recent years, Northern Ireland has become more dangerous for journalists. Threats have become more frequent, and more sinister.
Anti-goldmining protestors have picketed Omagh police station in protest at the detention of fellow-campaigner Martin Tracey. This is the latest turn in the long-running campaign.
Tracey detention stems from an incident when he and another campaigner had challenged three people in two cars acting suspiciously in the Greencastle area of Tyrone.
The three confirmed they were working for mining company Dalradian. Dalradian’s prospecting licence for that area had expired two years ago. One of the three started shouting she was being harrassed. Then one car reversed, shot forward at speed and struck Tracey on the foot.
He reported the incident to police, who did not come for an hour. Some time later police went to his house seeking him. He went voluntarily to Omagh police station, where he was detained for five hours. He was released on his own bail, which restricts his movements, and may face charges. Police have so far not taken a statement from the other campaigner.
This is the latest incident where police have ignored complaints of threats, intimidation and assult by people associated with Dalradian. In contrast, complaints against campaigners are followed up.
Mistrust of the police role is fuelled by a statement from Dalradian Chief Executive Patrick Anderson. Speaking at a Precious Metals Summit in Colorado, he said: “The police who deliver the explosives bought shares.” (Irish News July 7th 2016).
If police officers involved in policing the mine area have shares in Dalradian, that is a major conflict of interest. The PSNI has been asked what is their attitude. In a reply, a police spokesperson said: “Police officers and staff are not required to declare the purchase or sale of any shares listed for public sale on the stock market.”
Dalradian so respects the law it is reported not to have paid a bill of some £400,000 to police for escorting the explosives. Meanwhile the establishment parties, both green and orange, remain totally silent about corporate policing of environmental protectors.
In recent months, sharp debate was sparked in Fermanagh and Omagh District Council around controversial court action to extradite the well-known Republican Liam Campbell, to Lithuania. The hearings are being held in the Dublin courts, but such is the controversial nature of the issues involved that there has been widespread awareness north of the border.
Fermanagh and Omagh Councillor, Donal O’Cofaigh, had an opportunity to speak during the key debate in the Council. As always, Donal outlined a principled cross community labour position that challenged repression, paramilitarism and attempts to create sectarian division in the working class. Donal’s brief speech is carried below. Given the limited time available when he spoke at the Council meeting, he could not develop a more detailed view on state repression, sectarian division and paramilitary campaigns. We intend producing a longer article to address those issues.
“A proposal was passed by the July 8th meeting of a committee of Fermanagh-Omagh District Council regarding extradition proceedings against Liam Campbell. This recommended that the Council write to the offices of An Taoiseach and the Department of Justice and Equality in Dublin in support of Liam Campbell and against his extradition to Lithuania on charges relating to the purchase of arms.
“The original proposal has been followed by a related motion from the UUP, and this motion has attracted several amendments which are now both before us at this full council meeting. The media has covered all of these developments and many people in our council area are following our discussions intensely, especially the families of those who died in the Omagh bomb.