This weekend I will be going to the Ormeau Road to remember the five people killed in Sean Graham’s bookmakers 25 years ago. I can’t believe it’s 25 years ago. I remember the day like yesterday.
I remember the day before too when Sinn Féin’s office on the Falls Road was attacked and Paddy Loughran, Pat McBride and Michael O’Dwyer were killed.
I worked as a proof reader in An Phoblacht then and we were phoned with the news. Outside on Dublin’s Parnell Square life went on and the killings in the North went largely accepted if not unnoticed. But in our office we were shell shocked. It fell to one of the longest serving members of staff to put the black flag out.
A few weeks later the black flag was once again placed outside when news came in that four volunteers had been assassinated in Clonoe. Last week when journalists were commenting on the appointment of Michelle O’Neill they said no one had heard of Clonoe. For republicans of my generation that isn’t true. It is burned on our consciousness.
That Spring Sinn Féin held its Ard Fheis in Ballyfermot in a community hall. The walls surrounded us with photographs of republicans whose lives were lost in that violent year which saw British shoot to kill and collusion policies waged at unprecedented levels.
Since then I have had the privilege of getting to know many of those families bereaved in those actions. Their tenacity and courage to uncover the truth and hold those accountable is constantly humbling.
On February 3rd we attend the anniversary ceremony of the New Lodge Six 44 years after an atrocity which saw the British army engage in sickening actions, taking the lives of six men of that district with total impunity.
And on 12th February we will all be remembering Pat Finucane, once again renewing the insistence that the British Government meet its commitments to holding a full public inquiry into the killing of this most respected of officers of the court killed by the British state using its proxies in loyalism.
If anyone thinks that these families will give up, or settle for anything less than due process they are seriously mistaken. Or if anyone thinks that those of us not directly bereaved but whose lives were entirely defined by these injustices might not continue to stand beside, behind and with those families until they realise their rights, they are equally wrong.
International and domestic law vindicates the position of all families seeking truth, justice, accountability and reparations.Whether they were affected by republicans, loyalists or the state. None of those agencies should or indeed can set their face against that.
Our peace process was far too slow in this regard. When decommissioning was possible, meeting families’ rights was not. When reforming policing was possible meeting families’rights was side stepped. When establishing a joint Executive, once considered impossible became possible, victims were again at the back of the queue.
Well not anymore. There is a Stormont House Agreement that very clearly outlines that victims will at last have bespoke processes, deliver to their rights. It’s far from perfect, but it has come of its time.
Families must no longer tread a lonely path. They ALL need us to say never again.