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.
Unfortunately the approach to the second anniversay of the killing of journalist Lyra McKee was marked by a potentially deadly attack on another journalist. Two masked men jumped photographer Kevin Scott from behind when he was working covering rioting at Lanark Way in Belfast. He was knocked to the ground, kicked, and his cameras were damaged. The attackers also called him a F***** c***.
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) at local and national level immediately came out in support of Kevin.
By the nature of journalists’ work, we must go to riots. Photographers like Kevin are particularly visible because they carry camera equipment. Attacks on journalists are more than attacks on inviduals: they are attacks on the public’s right to know.
At time of writing, the attack on Kevin was the most recent physical attack on a journalist in Northern Ireland. In recent months police have warned several journalists they were under threat. Women journalists have been particularly targeted. Some Co Antrim UDA members have threatened Patricia Devlin. A faction of the East Belfast UVF has painted threats against her on walls. More recently, she has also been viciously trolled on social media. A threat against Allison Morris has been painted on a wall in a Catholic area of North Belfast.
In December, Northern Ireland NUJ members held very effective socially-distanced protests in Belfast and Derry against threats to journalists. These were very important. They showed those under threat that they were not alone.
Over the past couple of years, the union locally and centrally has also successfuly campaigned for journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey. The two made a film about the Loughinisland Massacre of 1994, when the UVF killed six Catholic civilians watching a football match in a pub. The journalists were the only arrests in connection with the killing. Police were more interested in finding out who leaked material documenting collusing than in arresting the alleged killers.
All these threats against journalists endanger the public’s right to know, because they can mean certain issues cannot be covered.
Until now, two journalists have been killed in Northern Ireland. The Loyalist Volunteer force killed Martin O’Hagan in September 2001. The New IRA shot Lyra two years ago.
Our motto is simple. No more Martin O’Hagans. No More Lyra McKees.