Mass marks the 50th anniversary of Michael Leonard
Mass marks the 50th anniversary of Michael Leonard


A special anniversary Mass was held at the weekend to remember a County Donegal man shot dead by the RUC police 50 years ago next week.

Michael Leonard was shot after a car chase close to the Fermanagh and Donegal border between Pettigo and Belleek on May 17, 1973.

A ‘Remembering Michael’ event was also held in Pettigo, County Donegal, on Saturday.

At the time of his death, the RUC claimed that Mr Leonard had failed to stop when he got into a car after leaving a shop and that a single shot was later fired during a chase.

New evidence later uncovered by research charity Paper Trail contradicted the single shot claim, with British army logs from the time revealing that a total of three shots were fired at the cattle dealer.

New material, also contained in British army logs discovered by Paper Trail, also refuted claims at a 1973 inquest that the shooting had been an accident.

An entry in a military log falsely claimed that Mr Leonard was a member of the IRA while a second claim made by a senior officer in a report also wrongly suggested that “he was known son of an IRA man (sic)”.

In recent years members of the Leonard family, including his cousin and campaigning Catholic priest Fr Joe McVeigh, have met with Dublin government officials, including Tánaiste Micheál Martin.

Fr McVeigh repeated his call for a fresh inquest into Mr Leonard’s death.

“This year, we are stepping up the campaign for truth and justice for Michael,” he said.

“Our first demand is for a new inquest. This is now urgent because of the British government’s proposed legacy bill aimed to stop all inquests of victims of the Troubles.”

In a written reply to a Parliamentary Question Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty, Mr Martin said he recently wrote to British Direct Ruler Chris Heaton-Harris, bringing the case to his attention.

“The prospect of no full hearing of the evidence in this case, including the effective cross examination of the facts, such as whether the determination in the original 1973 inquest was correct, is deeply upsetting to the family, as is the possibility that no Police Ombudsman investigation would take place.”

Ciarán MacAirt, of Paper Trail, will be the main speaker at the ‘Remembering Michael’ event on Saturday.

He said the secret British army and RUC files uncovered prove Mr Leonard was deliberately targeted before he reached the “sanctuary” of the border and his home in Donegal.

“The British armed forces then tried to criminalise Michael and blacken the good name of his family,” he said.

“But they failed. The family’s dignified campaign over the last half century is testimony to their love of Michael.”

Adrian O’Kane, who represents the Leonard family, said they “are within touching distance of independent investigation into Michael’s death, which has always been denied to them”.

“To further deprive them of justice now would be cruel and justice cannot be denied to the Leonard family for eternity,” he said.

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