The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Marty O’Hagan Three Years On

Martin O'Hagan's murder represented an attack on journalism and on democracy, since journalism is such a fundamental part of the democratic process - NUJ President Jim Corrigall

Anthony McIntyre • October 4 2004

Last Wednesday, on the third anniversary of the death of Sunday World journalist Marty O'Hagan, his colleagues from the NUJ observed a minute's silence in the room in Transport House where the Lurgan man regularly conducted union business and in which he spent a number of hours the day of his murder. There was nothing ethereal about the event; journalists, if they are experienced, as many there were, can be hard nosed, preferring the solid to the spiritual. The meeting was business like. Throughout it ran not a thread but a rope of determination never to allow the murder of Marty O'Hagan to disappear into the archives. After the meeting the NUJ called on Paul Murphy, the British Secretary of State, to ensure that all resources would be used to apprehend the killers. But if there are foundations to the suspicions of many of Marty's colleagues, apprehending those responsible may lie nearer to the floor than the ceiling of PSNI priorities.

Six weeks after the murder, Jim McDowell the editor of the Sunday World complained, 'my main concern is that once again a tout is being protected.’ This sentiment was reinforced in yesterday’s Sunday Business Post which alleged the killing was carried out by an agent of the Special Branch operating within the LVF. It was also reported in the paper that a former contact of the dead journalist, Barry Bradbury, alleged that O'Hagan was working on a story regarding collusion between loyalists and the police. Mick Brown, a journalist currently working with the Irish Star, last year alleged that one of the police assigned to help find those behind the murder was himself the subject of O’Hagan’s investigations into links between the police and loyalists. Jim Campbell, a staff colleague of the dead Sunday World man, who was himself seriously injured in a loyalist gun attack twenty years ago after he had reported on UVF activity, claimed that ‘the LVF was set up with the knowledge and help of the Special Branch.’ That there has been more than a passing familiarity between the two bodies was confirmed by the judge at the trial of Philip Blaney - convicted of involvement in the LVF pipe bomb death of Portadown mother Elizabeth O’Neill - when he pronounced that, 'it is clear that prior to the offences with which he was charged and, indeed, at the time those offences were committed, the accused was acting as a Special Branch source.'

But such disclosures continue to play second fiddle to the needs of the British state's security apparatuses. That old unconquered wall of police silence remains as formidable as it did in the days when the force termed itself the RUC. Two years after the Lurgan writer was gunned down, Index On Censorship reported that the police were still denying running an agent in the LVF gang. That Blaney is believed to have been on the payroll of RUC Special Branch since the late 1980s is a matter that the police prefer to kick into touch. When Mick Brown, who accompanied Marty O’Hagan the day prior to his death on a story about collusion, met with police shortly after the September 2001 killing, he felt an attempt was made to physically intimidate him during interviews. The police who for long routinely employed intimidation to obtain information are now, seemingly, applying it to prevent information emerging.

Although the PSNI have met with the NUJ to discuss the lack of progress in the case, the force has been less than frank. In the wake of the first meeting, a year after the murder, the PSNI claimed that Marty O’Hagan’s seized notebooks were illegible and that nothing could be obtained from them that might throw light on the identities of his killers. Yet in correspondence with a relative of one of those killed in the Omagh bomb, the PSNI stated that the notebooks had been deciphered at great cost. While nothing conclusive emerges from this, a clear inference can be drawn – the police are back to doing what they do best, covering for someone or something.

The journalist community is in no doubt about the identities of those who murdered their colleague. Nor is the PSNI. Despite a long history of involvement in drug dealing, extortion and administering beatings, the cops maintain that the evidence is simply not there to press charges against them. An alternative view is that the evidence is there but the PSNI don’t want it to surface as it might lead to the removal of their agents from the streets. That society may need protection from police agents intent on murder seems to weigh only lightly, if at all, in the mind of officialdom.

Shortly before he died Marty O'Hagan penned an article for a journal, The Philosopher. In his tabloid columns he had revealed little of his philosophical side. He was a deep thinking person given to serious reflection on his life and the circumstances in which he lived it. In The Philosopher he wrote:

I came across the Stoics and the rest of the Greeks, whose approach to philosophy flew in the face of the discourse that was being promoted. Philosophy as a way of life interested me. It was a mode of existing in the world that might yet transform my mediocre being.

Speaking of his own radicalisation as a teenager he referred to:

pictures of a thorn walking-stick wielding, out of breath, RUC Inspector repeatedly beating a peaceful protester ... found a ready comparison in people's minds with the harsh south African regime ... it seemed natural that the British Army had to be opposed because in the 1970s it served a repressive regime, interning hundreds of, and at one point several thousand, men and women. People who were never convicted of any crime.

His disapproval of state violence led him to embrace the Official Republican Movement and its armed republicanism. His philosophical reflections linked to a probing independent mind caused him to part ways with it - 'there was a split: me and the rest of the party. Someone had decided that I had a disruptive attitude - whatever that was.'

His critical stance towards state authority coupled with his disruptive attitude was sustained up until agents in the pay of the state pumped bullets into him from the safety of their car. Three years after his death there is a strong suspicion that the PSNI would be more than happy to let the inquiry slip into the cold case files. The challenge to journalists and writers is to bring it to the boil beneath the fundaments of those who wish to sit on it - and scald the truth out of them.



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All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

5 October 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

Marty O'Hagan Three Years On
Anthony McIntyre

Say it in Breac'n English (Part Three)
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Shankill Education
Mick Hall

Where Are We After Fours Years of Intifada?
Haithem El-Zabri

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John Kerry: He's Milking it, He's Milking it!!!
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Say it in Breac'n English (Part Two)
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Tears of Women Heal the World
Elana Golden

When a Beautiful Soul Comes to Visit
Mary La Rosa

Via Haiti US megaphones Venezuela: "Will you comply?!"
Toni Solo



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