Pictured (l-r) Paul Maskey MP, Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice, and AOH Freedom for all Ireland chair Martin Galvin at the Springhill Massacre victims memorial. Photo by Nuala Purcell

Hibernians Conclude Ireland Fact-Finding Mission

A just concluded fact finding mission to Northern Ireland conducted by the Ancient Order of Hibernians heard appeals for American help from legacy victims across the six counties.

According to a release, the Freedom for all Ireland delegation, which included senior national officers from both the Ancient Order of Hibernians and Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, spent ten days meeting relatives on pending British amnesty measures, and then holding discussions with Irish party leaders and Irish government representatives.

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“Without the AOH and Irish America, Boris Johnson would have already shut everything down and made sure there would be no justice," one legacy victims’ campaigner, Martin Mallon in Tyrone.

The visiting Hibernians also presented more than $100,000 in Freedom for all Ireland grants from the Houben Centre, located on the grounds of Holy Cross Church  in Belfast's Ardoyne.

Stated the release: The fifty member fact-finding delegation held its first major event in Tyrone, at the Battery Bar Ardboe, where American citizen and longtime Bronx resident Liam Ryan was murdered by off-duty members of the British Army’s Ulster Defense Regiment. Here Hibernians joined with relatives and friends of the murder victim, for the launch of a special case study in collusion report by Relatives for Justice.

"RfJ announced they had received a congressional intervention by (New York) Congressman Jamal Bowman, who wrote: 'Your investigation and report on Mr. Ryan’s murder on November 29, 1989, is expected to raise important questions whether the family of this American citizen was denied justice because British crown forces were culpable in his murder…I am requesting a copy of your report and intend to monitor any progress you may make with the Police Ombudsman, courts, or other legal channels in getting the truth about the murder of Liam Ryan.'

"Relatives for Justice then reported overwhelming proof of collusion in this murder along with 17 others using the same weapons over a 5 year period. The Royal Ulster Constabulary seemed to celebrate at the murder scene, and conducted nothing resembling a murder investigation. Relatives for Justice was calling for an investigation by the PSNI Constabulary Ombudsman into this murder, while Liam’s widow had applied for a new inquest. His family feared that all such paths to justice would be cut off by the British amnesty proposals."

In Dungannon, continued the release, Hibernians heard from Peadar Thompson of Relatives for Justice, on the targeting of members of the Gaelic Athletic Association. Frankie Quinn of EALU (Escape), talked about the continuing impact of the Troubles on ex-prisoners and their families. Gerry McGeough gave an inside view of the historic campaign to elect Bobby Sands MP in 1981.

In Derry, SDLP Party Leader Colum Eastwood flew directly from a Westminster debate about investigating Boris Johnson’s conduct to brief the delegation on his party’s strategy to get legacy justice. Hibernians met Democratic Unionist Party Mayor Graham Warke, at the Derry Guildhall, for a wide ranging discussion of legacy issues, along with Derry Councillor Conor Heaney representing Sinn Fein, and Emmet Doyle representing Aontu.

Continued the AOH release: "Hibernians then met Bloody Sunday family members John Kelly and Tony Doherty at the Museum of Free Derry to discuss the implications of the amnesty proposals for Bloody Sunday prosecutions. They also thanked Hibernians and all those who supported HR 888, Congressman (William Keating’s Resolution to give Bloody Sunday justice and oppose any British amnesty plans."

The Hibernian fact finders then traveled to Belfast "for an emotional visit to the site of the Springhill-Westrock Massacre, where on July 9th 1972, British troopers following a ceasefire, shot five people including Catholic priest Fr. Noel Fitzpatrick, Paul Butler, Margaret Gargan 13, John Dougal 16, and David McCafferty 16. Relatives of each victim described the massacre and how they have waited years for the inquest, which is now threatened by new British amnesty proposals."

The delegation then attended a special program “Victims and Survivors Symposium on Dealing With the Past."

Families representing plastic bullet victims, the New Lodge Massacre victims in 1973, the victims of the Operation Greenwich killings from 1989-94, and in the Operation Achille killings in the Ormeau Road area 1989-1994, spoke about the emotional impact of these murders and their fight for justice and truth. This session was chaired by RFJ Deputy Director Andrée Murphy.

Leading legacy solicitors Niall Murphy, and Patricia Coyle, joined Mark Thompson, CEO of Relatives for Justice, for analysis of the current barriers which face families, who have been searching for basic truths and access to justice for decades in a session chaired by Professor Mark McGovern.

The symposium was attended by representatives from the Department of Justice, Executive Office, PSNI, Police Ombudsman’s office, and the Victims’ Commissioner.

One of the key events of the tour, according to the AOH release, was the presentations of more than $100,000 dollars in Freedom for all Ireland grants to 15 approved applicants, this during a live webinar from the Houben Centre, where loyalists recently disrupted a peace lecture by Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney.

The FFAI mission then spent its final two days in Dublin, where it held discussions on legacy with U.S. Ambassador Clare Cronin, and Irish government Department of Foreign Affairs representatives led by Ciaran Madden and Helena Nolan.

Hibernians then met Fine Gael TDs Neale Richmond and Fergus O’Dowd, and Fianna Fail members Brendan Fitzgerald TD and Senator Niall Blaney.

On its final day in Dublin, the delegation met with Sinn Fein Party leader Mary Lou McDonald, received updates on the Ireland’s Future campaign from Senator Frances Black, this in a talk attended by Sinn Fein Senator Niall Donnghaile, and got a preview of an upcoming book on the part played by Irish America during 1970-94 conflict years from Professor Ruan O’Donnell and author Robert Collins.

AOH Freedom for all Ireland committee chair Martin Galvin said of the fact finding mission: “Families across the six counties say the AOH and other Irish American organizations have succeeded in playing a crucial role in delaying the British proposals for an amnesty whitewash.

"However Britain is now moving ahead to take away basic rights to Inquests, Ombudsman Investigations, criminal prosecutions and civil action. Victims’ relatives are counting on us in their fight for legacy justice.

“Meanwhile the reception and interest that this AOH-LAOH delegation received from all government and party leaders shows that Irish America is playing a part that is highly respected.

"It is crucial now more than ever that we continue to bring the facts back across America in support of those still denied justice and truth, especially in Congress."