By Andree Murphy of Relatives for Justice (for the Belfast Telegraph)
On August 7, 1994, three weeks before the IRA ceasefire, in the picturesque Tyrone townland of Brackagh South near Creggan, horror visited the O’Hagan family.
Kathleen O’Hagan (38) was home alone with her five young boys. Seven months’ pregnant, she stayed home while her husband Paddy went out to a function. The family had been concerned that Paddy and Kathleen’s home, an isolated bungalow, might be attacked by loyalists, as other republican homes had been.
Roseann Mallon (78) had been killed weeks earlier just outside Dungannon and mother of two Theresa Clinton had been killed in April in Belfast. Republican homes were being targeted and the new reality was that family members were being killed, not just the usually male republican activists.
Paddy O’Hagan was a well-known republican who had been in Long Kesh and on the blanket protest. When he got home, he found his wife in their 18-month-old baby’s bedroom, both she and her unborn baby shot dead. Their five sons surrounded her body.
The UVF claimed responsibility in a statement the next morning, saying that Mrs O’Hagan had been “executed” by their mid-Ulster “active service unit” and that Mr O’Hagan would have been killed had he been at home. The family immediately called for independent investigation as they believed the state was working in collusion with the mid-Ulster UVF.
Three years later, Thomas O’Hagan, the 18-month baby, was killed in a barn fire.
In 2002, Paddy O’Hagan dropped dead. His family simply say he died of a broken heart.
In 2008, Niall O’Hagan, aged 19, died in a motorbike accident. After Niall’s death, his brother Patrick, who was eight years old when their mother was killed, had a devastating nervous breakdown.
On Thursday, International Human Rights Day, news broke that Patrick had died suddenly in Enniskillen’s South West Hospital.
The last time I saw Patrick, he was restating his father’s wish that there be a human rights-compliant investigation into Kathleen’s killing. At the age of 34 he, like so many others affected by conflict, has now died without seeing truth, justice or acknowledgment.
The O’Hagan’s experience is a desperately tragic illustration of our society’s cruel failure to deliver to victims of the conflict.
Last week there was some spotlight on ‘legacy’, the flippant term used to diminish the impact of devastation for so many families in all of our communities.
Some of the great and the good have taken it upon themselves to try and find a way forward, meeting at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, chatting about what is “possible”. There are two absences in that dialogue. The first is the voice of victims and survivors. The other are their enshrined human rights.
The truth is that there has not been a human rights-compliant and effective process to deal with the past because it is too uncomfortable and there is no soft landing. And discomfort means the British Government stubbornly refuses to allow it.
We would be more than halfway through the Stormont House Agreement processes of investigation by now had it been put in place after Christmas 2014. The issues collusion raises, as well as individual experience, could by now have been examined and families offered the dignity of truth.
Patrick O’Hagan might have seen his mother’s case examined to the standard she, and her family, deserved. Instead, Patrick O’Hagan has died, like his father and brothers before him, without seeing justice.