By Suzanne Breen (for Belfast Telegraph)
It is poignantly fitting that the truth about Loughinisland has emerged at this precise time. Tonight, in towns and villages across Northern Ireland, people will gather in their local pubs for the start of Euro 2016.
The television screens are bigger and brighter than they were for the 1994 World Cup, but the atmosphere will be the same. The sense of excitement, anticipation and pride will be just as strong as it was on that fateful night in the Heights Bar in the Co Down village.
We can see the men so clearly, their eyes glued to the tiny television, praying that Ireland would hold its 1-0 lead over Italy.
They never stood a chance when the two gunmen in balaclavas and boiler suits burst into the bar. The UVF assassins fled laughing as the bodies of their victims lay piled on top of each other on the bloodstained floor.
We know that the men who pulled the trigger were evil personified and filled with sectarian hatred.
One shouted “Fenian b******s!” as he opened up indiscriminately.
The perpetrators were liars too, claiming that a republican meeting had been taking place in the pub. But we expect no more from paramilitaries whose hands are stained with the blood of innocents.
It is the State, in this case, that stands shamed and condemned. The words of the Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, were unequivocal. “I have no hesitation in saying collusion was a significant feature of the Loughinisland murders,” he said.
In Dr Maguire, we have an Ombudsman as forthright and fearless as Nuala O’Loan.
He detailed the “catastrophic failings” of the police investigation.
How the names of suspects were known within 24 hours, but arrests were delayed.
How one of the suspects was an informer. How the murder inquiry was riddled with errors and omissions.
At the time, those who alleged police collusion in paramilitary attacks were criticised and isolated. Their claims were dismissed as propaganda.
We now sadly know that the “conspiracy theorists” too often were right.
An appalling vista of State collusion - in loyalist and republican murders - is unfolding before our eyes.
This is not a matter on which we should divide along sectarian lines. As many Protestant as Catholic lives were lost as a result of collusion. As many IRA, as UDA and UVF, godfathers were protected species.
Pictures of the Loughinisland families’ huge Press conference yesterday, where they sat holding photos of their loved ones, were heartbreaking. They may have recognition now, but for so long these families’ struggle for the truth was a lonely one.
The legacy of the conflict is not just a matter confined to the older generation. The powerful words of Emma Rogan, who was just eight when her father, Adrian, was shot dead in the Heights, is testimony to that.
John Major, who was Prime Minister at the time of the massacre, was in town yesterday campaigning against Brexit.
Rather than lecturing us on the rights or wrongs of leaving the EU, he would have been far better apologising to the families for the State’s failures, as their solicitor Niall Murphy suggested.
When I think of Loughinisland, first and foremost I see Barney Green with his pipe and hat. Aged 87, he was the oldest victim of the Troubles.
To mark the sense of occasion, he had put on his best suit to watch the match that night. Little did he think he would die in it.
We owe Barney and Adrian Rogan, Daniel McCreanor, Eamon Byrne, Patrick O’Hare and Malcolm Jenkinson justice.
It is not enough that the truth is finally told.
Surely, someone must be held accountable?