British Direct Ruler Theresa Villiers has refused to withdraw comments she made about the Loughinisland massacre, following a report last week which found that British state forces had indeed colluded in the murders.
In February, Villiers said claims that the state colluded with loyalist death squads were “pernicious” and a “deliberate distortion of the truth”. She referred to the gun attack on a County Down village pub in 1994, claiming that it wasn’t the RUC of British Army that “pulled the trigger” at Loughinisland.
Six innocent Catholics were killed and five others injured as they watching an international soccer game on TV in the Heights Bar when a massacre was carried out by members of the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).
Last week’s report of the Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire concluded that one suspect in the UVF attack was a police informer. His report also said that the death squad that carried out the mass shooting had been involved in a number of other murders in the period beforehand, but had avoided arrest because the RUC Special Branch police had withheld evidence, and had also tipped off the murder gang in advance.
While the RUC may not have known the exact details of the Loughinisland attack, they did have the names of the suspects within hours and didn’t arrest them until a month later.
Mr Maguire found that a gun used in the Loughinisland attack was part of a shipment of arms brought in by loyalists with the help of state agents in late 1987/early 1988. He said he had no hesitation in determining collusion between the forces of the state and loyalist paramilitaries.
Villiers is now under pressure to resign. An online petition has also been launched to urge her to apologise to relatives of those killed. The petition was set up by campaign group Relatives for Justice on Monday.
Director Mark Thompson called on Ms Villiers to now withdraw her remarks. “It was RUC paid agents who pulled the triggers and it was the RUC who failed to investigate the atrocity, with houses not searched and no arrests made for a month, despite having names within a day,” he said.
“Alibis weren’t checked out and evidence was persistently destroyed by the police. It was the RUC who destroyed the getaway car after 10 months denying future police investigations the opportunity to test for DNA.”
“Following the publication of the Police Ombudsman Report on Loughinisland Ms Villiers cannot say she accepts the findings of the report and allow her hurtful and damaging remarks to stand.
“She must retract the remarks and make apology to the Loughinisland families and all families affected by the British military policy of collusion,” he said.
SDLP MP for South Down Margaret Ritchie said Villiers must resign if she does not accept the findings of the Police Ombudsman’s report into the Loughinisland massacre in its entirety.
Ritchie added: “Her continued equivocation over state collusion in the face of the damning report is outrageous. It is an insult to the families who have campaigned with dignity and resilience for so long and offensive to all the people of the North who are opposed to paramilitary and state violence.”
The tragedy is being remembered by many soccer fans this week as Ireland plays in another major international competition. A social media campaign has been launched urging football fans to remember the Loughinisland gun attack victims during the European Championship soccer match later today [Saturday].
‘Stand Up For the Loughinisland Six’ is urging supporters to stand in the sixth minute of the match against Belgium, which takes place on the anniversary of the attack on Saturday.
A survivor of the Loughinisland attack last week said those affected by the tragedy will come together in the Heights Bar to watch the Ireland games during the European Championships.
Aidan O’Toole, who survived the attack on his family bar, said relatives of those who died and were injured still meet to watch Ireland play in big tournaments as a way of supporting each other.
* The Villiers apology petition can be signed online by clicking here.