Martin O'Hagan

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Martin O'Hagan

Owen Martin O'Hagan, (23 June 1950 – 28 September 2001) was an Irish investigative journalist from Lurgan, Northern Ireland and a former member of the Official Irish Republican Army who spent much of the 1970s in prison. He was assassinated by the Loyalist Volunteer Force, the only journalist to be killed in Northern Ireland.

Life[edit]

Martin O'Hagan's father worked as a radio and TV repairman for the British military. O'Hagan was one of six children, and spent part of his childhood in the married quarters of British bases in Germany. His grandfather was also a British soldier, and saw service at Dunkirk. O'Hagan's family returned to Lurgan when he was seven, and he was educated in the town, leaving after taking O-levels to work in his father's TV repair shop.

O'Hagan worked as a reporter for the tabloid newspaper, the Sunday World. In this capacity, he wrote about a range of criminals and paramilitaries. He was also secretary of the Belfast branch of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) at the time of his death.[1]

O'Hagan was an atheist.[2]

Work[edit]

Notwithstanding his history with the Official IRA, O'Hagan became accepted into the press community in Northern Ireland, his hard work quickly gaining him respect. In addition to his insightful stories on paramilitaries, he was known for old-fashioned, muck-raking tabloid stories, especially for exposing the private and sometimes seedy lifestyles of Ulster loyalists. One story included a picture of a well-known Orangeman, wearing Orange Order regalia, beside one of the same man found in a sex-contact publication, showing him naked.[3]

In the late 1980s he was prominently featured in the controversial Channel 4 documentary The Committee, which made allegations of Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) collusion in loyalist murders of Roman Catholics. As a witness in a subsequent libel action against the producer of the programme at the High Court in London, he said: "I have tried to be an independent and objective journalist but my conviction has hung over me like a sword, although I have always tried to be honest about it... I have always tried to be squeaky clean because people will always try to cast this up in my face." [4]

Not all of his work was controversial. In the early 1990s he collaborated with several Portadown musicians and took over a talent competition previously run by the Ulster Star newspaper in Lisburn, turning it into a Northern Ireland-wide event.

O'Hagan would often write under an assumed name or not name the subject of his articles, instead using a nickname. The person would be described in great detail: appearance, habits, haunts, associates, type of car, etc. – everything but his name, but in the Who? column (a long-running and sometimes hard-hitting page of snippets in the newspaper) he would refer to the person by name in a way which would allow the reader to link both stories.

In the early 1990s, he wrote several pieces about the UVF Mid-Ulster Brigade. He coined the nickname "the Rat Pack" for this group, and "King Rat" for its leader Billy Wright. Wright later founded the Loyalist Volunteer Force, a breakaway faction. He was responsible for an attack on the Sunday World offices in Belfast, and threatened to kill O'Hagan. Wright was assassinated by the Irish National Liberation Army in 1997.

Provisional IRA abduction[edit]

O'Hagan was abducted by the Provisional IRA in 1989 following a report by the Sunday World about the killing of John McAnulty on 18 July 1989.[5] He was interrogated for several days regarding the source of reports to the newspaper (supposedly from an IRA insider) and expected to be killed. He was later released unharmed. Following this incident and loyalist threats, he moved to the Cork offices of the newspaper for several years but later returned to the Belfast office.[4]

Assassination[edit]

After returning to live in Lurgan, O'Hagan published a series of articles on the drug dealing of a loyalist paramilitary group,[6] and had been the subject of death threats. He had bumped into a known loyalist paramilitary on a previous walk home from his pub and had been advised that he had been "clocked" (a local term meaning 'observed') walking the route.[7] He and his colleagues on the Sunday World were accustomed to threats of this nature, however, and although "rattled" by the veiled threat, O'Hagan continued to walk home from the pub on Friday nights. He varied his route as a precautionary measure.[7]

On 28 September 2001 Martin and his wife Marie walked to "Fa' Joe's" pub, a well-known mixed bar on Lurgan's Market Street, for their usual Friday night drink together. The pub had been O'Hagan's favourite for many years. As they walked home to Westland Gardens, close to the loyalist Mourneview Estate, a car pulled slowly alongside them just yards from their house. O'Hagan pushed his wife into a hedge as a gunman opened fire from the car, hitting him several times. As he lay wounded he asked his wife to call an ambulance. When she returned from doing so he was dead.

Martin O'Hagan's murder was "claimed" by the Red Hand Defenders, a nom de guerre used by the Loyalist Volunteer Force.[8]

Legacy[edit]

No-one has yet been prosecuted for the killing of Martin O'Hagan. His colleagues at the Sunday World (particularly Jim Campbell, who was also attacked in an assassination attempt by loyalist paramilitaries),[9] and the NUJ continue to criticise police and prosecutors in Northern Ireland for the absence to date of any murder convictions. On 6 April 2008 the Sunday World published an article naming Robin King as the killer, and asked why the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) had not arrested and charged him with the murder.[10] In the same issue the newspaper ran a story on the unveiling of a plaque in memory of O'Hagan at Belfast's Linenhall Library.[11] The Sunday World has run a series of articles which have "targeted the O'Hagan suspects with an extremely accurate weekly account of their activities."[9]

The NUJ has discovered that O'Hagan's journalistic notes, written in a personalised and initially undecipherable shorthand, have been partially decoded by the PSNI, who are examining them in connection with the Omagh bombing.[12]

Writing in the NUJ newsletter "Freelance" in September 2008, Kevin Cooper said:

He continues to be remembered and missed by his colleagues and friends of the Belfast and District Branch of the NUJ. We miss his good humour, his love of mischief, his tireless commitment to socialism and trade unionism. He was no saint; he was, like the rest of us, human and made mistakes. He could infuriate and delight you at the same time. He was not always treated with the respect and dignity he deserved.[13]

Murder trial[edit]

Five men were arrested and sent for trial in September 2008 for the murder of Martin O'Hagan. However, no one was ever convicted.[14]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Freelance Nov07: Martin O'Hagan remembered". londonfreelance.org. 10 October 2007. 
  2. ^ "Faith, hate and murder." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 17 Nov. 2001. Web. 19 Feb. 2017. "He was an atheist"
  3. ^ "Obituary: Martin O'Hagan". the Guardian. 
  4. ^ a b "Martin O'Hagan". Telegraph.co.uk. 1 October 2001. 
  5. ^ Martin Dillon, The Dirty War, Arrow Books Ltd; 1991 ed., ISBN 0099845202, p329
  6. ^ http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/story.asp?storyCode=40772&sectioncode=1
  7. ^ a b "Faith, hate and murder". the Guardian. 
  8. ^ Steven Morris. "Reporter 'killed for telling truth'". the Guardian. 
  9. ^ a b http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=1&storycode=39466
  10. ^ "Why has Robin 'Billy' King not been prosecuted by the PSNI for the murder of Martin O'Hagan? Journalists Arrested and Executed in the UK for political reasons - Policing the News". bilderberg.org. 
  11. ^ 1 and 2
  12. ^ "National Union of Journalists: Murdered reporter's notes deciphered". apc.org. 8 April 2004. 
  13. ^ "Freelance Oct02: Who killed Martin O'Hagan, and why?". apc.org. 1 October 2002. 
  14. ^ "Four on trial over killing of journalist Martin O'Hagan". BelfastTelegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 12 September 2015.