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We remember Martin O’Hagan

ON 28 SEPTEMBER Belfast and District branch of the NUJ held a vigil in memory of its former secretary Martin O'Hagan, murdered 20 years ago on that day.

Vigil for Martin O'Hagan, 28 September 2021

The vigil

The event, outside the Police Ombudsman's Office in Writers' Square, Belfast, highlighted the failure of the police to bring Martin's killers to justice - and the impunity all too often enjoyed by those who murder journalists around the world. We unveiled a new banner, including a poignant image of Martin carrying the union banner.

In recent correspondence with the branch, the minister of justice, Naomi Long, said she appreciated the union's "desire to see justice in this case'. She wrote: "It is a mark of any democratic society that we have a free press and that journalists should be free from violence and intimidation. The murder of Martin O'Hagan was a heinous act and my thoughts are with his loved ones as the anniversary of his killing approaches."

The Council of Europe Platform to promote the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists lists Martin's killing among 24 instances of the murder of journalists, across the 47 member states, where justice has yet to be done. It points out that states party to the European Convention on Human Rights, such as the UK, have an obligation - under article 2 of the Convention, guaranteeing the right to life - to carry out effective investigations into attacks on journalists.

Vigil for Martin O'Hagan, 28 September 2021

The new banner in close-up

NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet said before the event: "The failure of the authorities to properly investigate the brutal murder of Martin O'Hagan is a stain on the history of policing in Northern Ireland. The passage of time does not obliterate the need for an independent investigation drawn from outside the UK to investigate the murder and the subsequent police failings.

"Martin was killed because he, as a dogged, determined investigative journalist, knew too much. The widespread belief that those who murdered Martin were informers or linked to informers and thus protected is sadly not a far-fetched theory. We have long called for an international investigation and I renew that call today."

The NUJ's Irish Secretary and Assistant General Secretary, Sé‚Äč‚Äčamus Dooley, said: "Our thoughts are with the family of Martin O'Hagan and his many relatives, friends and colleagues for whom this anniversary brings back painful memories. We lost not just a fearless journalist but a dedicated husband, father, brother, a trade union activist, a man of courage and integrity. As journalism comes under renewed attack we need a genuinely independent investigation and the NUJ will continue our campaign."

Vigil for Martin O'Hagan, 28 September 2021

Another view of the vigil

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland director of Amnesty, said: "Twenty years on, Amnesty remains deeply concerned at the failure to hold accountable those responsible for the murder of Martin O'Hagan. Impunity breeds contempt for the law. And the failure to bring Martin O'Hagan's killers to justice is the backdrop to Northern Ireland still being the most dangerous place in the UK to be a journalist.

"Reporters here continue to work in a climate of fear amidst regular death threats from the very sort of armed groups responsible for Martin O'Hagan's murder 20 years ago. Journalists everywhere deserve the protection of the societies which they serve. Tragically, that has not happened in this case. It is time for a new investigation."

In a letter from the office of the chief constable, the PSNI has told the NUJ branch that a "full review" of the case will be conducted "as soon as practicable". It said: "In addition to the personal tragedy for the family of Martin O'Hagan, the murder represents a deplorable attack on journalistic freedom and the PSNI remains committed to bringing those responsible to justice."