The arrest of two people in connection with the 1994 Loughinisland pub killingws is being seen as the result of a campaign for justice by the families of the victims.
The unionist paramilitary UVF murdered six and wounded five more in a County Down pub as a crowd watched a World Cup game between Ireland and Italy.
The murders caused Irish and international anger and revulsion, and shocked manager Jack Charlton and the Irish team when they learned of the killings after their victory over Italy in the Giants Stadium in New Jersey.
The gunmen opened fire with automatic rifles and then escaped in a waiting car. The UVF admitted the attack but no one has been convicted for the killings.
An RUC police agent within the UVF was the source of the getaway car used in the massacre, although the RUC claims that their informer did not know what the car was to be used for.
Despite his involvement in Loughinisland, the man known as ‘The Mechanic’ was not arrested and allowed to continue to work as a double-agent for another three years when his cover was finally blown. With the UVF determined to kill him he was spirited out of the North and given #10,000 by the RUC.
After twelve years of inactivity on the case, a man and a woman from the Belfast area were arrested last week. However, they were both later released without charge.
The Loughinisland families welcomed the development and suggested that it was prompted by a complaint they made to Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan about the police handling of the investigation.
“It would appear that the attention of the Police Ombudsman’s office has infused fresh endeavour into what is now a 12-year-old inquiry.
“The families hope that this arrest operation will result in charges and convictions but will await the outcome of these arrests before making further comment.
“We have maintained a dignified degree of hope and optimism that some day the killers will be brought to justice, yet by its very nature we have no input into the police investigation and have no real knowledge of it.”
Sinn Féin South Down Assembly member Caitriona Ruane said the families must be supported in gaining justice for “this horrendous tragedy has left deep scars on them”.
There have also been suggestions that the arrests are related to the attempt last week to murder former UVF leader Mark Haddock, another Special Branch agent.
Haddock is currently recovering under armed police guard in hospital after being shot six times by former UVF associates as he stood outside an Orange hall in Newtownabbey last Tuesday.
Haddock was a close friend of ‘The Mechanic’. Loyalists have said they now believe that Haddock has revealed the identities of those involved in the massacre to police in exchange for a deal to given a similar relocation package.
On Saturday Haddock’s former best friend Darren Moore was charged with his attempted murder.