The Loughgall massacre
The Loughgall massacre

On May 8, 1987 eight members of the east Tyrone Brigade of the Provisional IRA were gunned down in highly suspicious circumstances by members of the notorious British Army SAS Regiment in the small Co Armagh village of Loughgall.

A local civilian was also shot dead by the SAS and his brother severely wounded. In the years which have passed since the murder of their loved ones, the families have all shared a common experience of exclusion, demonisation, particularly at the hands of the media and a failure to understand the loss they as families have endured. With the exception of their local communities the families could find no channel by which they could tell their own stories of a lost son, brother or father.

With the date of an inquest being continually postponed the families’ feeling that the British government had serious questions to answer in relation to the deaths of the nine men, came together as the Loughgall Truth and Justice Campaign in order to lobby for an independent investigation into the SAS ambush. In early 2001 members of the group, frustrated at the failure to have their story heard approached the Community Think Tanks Project. This group provides a vehicle by which all members of the community within the Six Counties can tell their stories and also share them with others. The pamphlet The Unequal Victims is the result of a number of these group meetings.

A common thread running through all of the accounts of the families experiences in the aftermath of the killings is the dehumanisation which they suffered at the hands of the media and the British Government, the relatives spoke also of faring little better at the hands of the 26-County state. “Those who were killed in Loughgall are always portrayed in the media as ‘monsters’, as evil people. No-one wants to know that they were all real people, with their own individual personalities, that they each had families - that they were our loved ones.” Whilst other victims of the conflict in the Six Counties received recognition in the form of counselling and support groups, the Loughgall Families were not even granted the status of victims.

The families on meeting the then British Security Minister with responsibility for victims was told by him that they did not have the same right to grieve as other victims. As one of the families put it: “The State especially has a continuing need to dehumanise the Republican struggle, to rob it of any legitimacy.”

Their experiences with the 26-County State are equally negative. Members of the relatives group sought advice from the 26-County Foreign Affairs legal department on the papers relating to the case. After two years they finally managed to elicit the response that the Attorney General’s Office had read through the material and believed there was “a suggestion” that there might have been a “shoot to kill “ aspect to the episode, but not enough evidence to support it. The families believed that even this much could be used in their campaign but were then told the comment was confidential. “The interest of the people in Foreign Affairs in the north is minimal. Their main interest is to keep it quiet, hoping it will all go away,” one of the relatives said.

In their discussions the families spoke about what kind of people their loved ones were, something which until now had been denied them. What comes across is that they were ordinary people caught up in an extraordinary set of political circumstances; not the one dimensional monsters as portrayed by the British Government and their media cheerleaders. One of the relatives makes the point that the conflict in the Six Counties has been simplified as being about individuals, a conflict between Catholics and Protestants.

“What erupted here in this society was something which, although it embraced the entire community, was not the making of ordinary people. And yet the thrust of all this ‘community relations’ stuff is that the problem has been largely put down to people as individuals; you know - Protestants and Catholics fighting each other. And people are being asked; well, how do you, as an individual, deal with your neighbours in the Protestant Community and Protestants are being asked the same about us. And I think people are only made to feel more isolated by such an approach, because in reality it is not down to them individually.”

The families all expressed the opinion that the most effective means of closure they could achieve was a full disclosure of the truth surrounding the deaths of their relatives. The recent provision of “Professional Support” met with a sceptical response from the group. The families feel that these “Middle Class Professional” people have no grasp of the reality on the ground. “The same as you have in the South with the ‘Poverty Industry’ in the North you have the ‘Victim Industry’. And people with no understanding of our needs, and who have never been asked to explain what they were doing throughout the years of conflict - and whether they accepted what was happening here, or whether they opposed it - are now creating jobs for themselves on the back of all those who have been hurt by that conflict”.

On May 4, 2001 the relatives campaign secured from the ‘European Court of Human Rights’ at Strasbourg a judgement that stated there had been a violation of Article Two of the ‘European Convention on Human Rights in the British Government’s investigation into the killings.

The relatives who took part in the project were Brian Arthurs, Letitia Donnelly, Hugh Gormely, Bridget Hughes, Maura Hughes, Shelia Hughes, Mairead Kelly, Roisin Kelly, Maura McKearney, Carmel Lynagh and Colm Lynagh.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News