The Northern Secretary John Reid announced recently that he considered the ceasefires of three loyalist groups to be over. The actions of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) were so blatant and persistent that they could no longer be ignored by politicians.
The move came mostly in response to the murder of Northern journalist Martin O’Hagan, who was shot dead as he walked home from the pub with his wife, Marie, in Lurgan, County Armagh, in October. Mr. O’Hagan, 51, saved his wife from injury by pushing her into a hedge as the couple came under attack. He is also survived by three daughters.
Mr. O’Hagan reported on the activities of loyalist groups for the Sunday World newspaper, and his death is believed to have been carried out by the so-called Loyalist Volunteer Force although responsibility was claimed by the Red Hand Defenders, a cover name used by several loyalist groups.
He was shot a number of times and lay bleeding on the street when he was found by his eldest daughter, Cara. He was the first journalist to be murdered by paramilitaries in the North, and his funeral was attended by hundreds of journalists in a show of solidarity. The National Union of Journalists in Dublin opened a book of condolences at its offices in Liberty Hall.
NUJ spokesman Kevin Cooper said Martin O’Hagan was not aware that his life was in danger. “Martin had no sense that he was under threat other than the fact that obviously he was under the attention of both republican and loyalist paramilitaries for the stories he had done in the past.”
Mr. O’Hagan’s widow, Marie, appealed for no revenge attacks to be carried out in her husband’s name. She urged her daughters not to be overcome with hatred following their father’s murder. “That is how Martin brought them up and that is how it shall remain,” she said.
Secretary Reid also ruled out the ceasefire of the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), suspected to be a cover name for the UDA when it carries out particularly horrific attacks against Catholics. The Ulster Volunteer Force is now the only loyalist organization officially on ceasefire.
“The attacks by these organizations are incompatible with any claims to be on ceasefire,” Reid said. “They have systematically breached their ceasefires and I believe the patience of the people of Northern Ireland has run out. I have therefore decided to specify the UDA and UFF.”
The LVF, he added, was also clearly not on ceasefire, as the RUC had clear evidence linking the group to the journalist’s murder. It is now expected that the ruling will have implications for members of those groups who were released early from prison because of the ceasefires. ♦