By Ciarán MacAirt
There are shining lights for campaigning families that stand as testimony to the courage, industry and will of ordinary people even when pitched against the State and its forces. The Bloody Sunday families and the family of Stephen Lawrence are paradigms. So too are the families of the Hillsborough victims whose 23 year battle for truth and justice for their 96 loved ones continues to humble us all.
One of the most sickening lies that the Hillsborough families had to face was the smear by the police published in the media that the dead and the survivors were somehow responsible for the disaster, that they were to blame. We knew that they were not but their families still had to fight relentlessly to clear the names of their loved ones and to force the police to face up to their heinous cover-up.
I found this particularly harrowing as it is a similar service journey that the families of the McGurk’s Bar victims have endured with the police for over 40 years now. The lie that the bomb was in-transit and the innocent civilians in the bar that night were guilty by association or complicit in terrorism was a pretext that was quite horrifically created and then promulgated by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). We know this as it was left to us and our great friends in the Pat Finucane Centre and British Irish Rights Watch to track the mountain of black propaganda, through information streams, back to its genesis in an RUC Duty Officers’ Report. It was created hours after the bombing and at a time that some of our loved ones, including my own grandmother, Kathleen Irvine, had not yet been identified. Without substance or substantiation, the RUC placed on file the lie:
“Just before the explosion a man entered the licensed premises and left down a suitcase, presumably to be picked up by a known member of the Provisional I.R.A. The bomb was intended for use on other premises. Before the ‘pick-up’ was made the bomb exploded.”
Those who are charged in a civilised society to defend the rights of citizens instead sought to criminalize them. Unfortunately for our families, though, we are still fighting a monolith of intransigence and lies. Indeed, even today we are faced with a Chief Constable who is unable to recognize and admit to grave and blatantly evidenced police failings in the past. This should concern us all as Matt Baggott is the man who polices our present in the north of Ireland.
Our families though will take great strength and inspiration from the likes of the Hillsborough families regardless of how long we fight. These ordinary people – great heroes – have yet again proved that right is might. Matt Baggott and his ilk should take note.
Ciarán MacAirt’s grandmother was killed along with 14 other civilians in the McGurk’s Bar massacre of 4th December 1971. He is author of The McGurk’s Bar Bombing: Collusion, Cover-Up and a Campaign for Truth, available from all good bookshops and Amazon online.