There was a sombre atmosphere at the Devenish Complex on Friday as family and friends of people murdered as a result of collusion between loyalists and the state attended the Annual Bobby Sands Lecture.

Over 1,500 people packed into the large hall to hear speakers, including Michael Finucane – son of murdered Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane – Bairbre de Brún MLA and many of the loved ones of the collusion victims tell of the loss suffered by them as families and their continued campaign to find out the truth.

The event was organised by An Fhirinne, and included a photographic exhibition and film produced by the families telling their story of how collusion had affected them.

Robert McClenaghan’s grandfather, Philip Garry, was one of 15 Catholics murdered at McGurk’s bar in December 1971. He attended the event and praised the strength and courage of all the families that took part in the exhibition.

“Almost immediately after the murders we knew it was the loyalists who had done it but you had the unionist politicians, RUC, British government and the British army saying that it was not UVF,” he said.

“For all the victims’ families what we want is the British government to admit that they had been covering up for the loyalists for all these years. I think that events like this with the video and the families coming together to tell their stories and standing up means the British government have to tell the truth of what happened.

“We are determined to campaign for the truth. We want to find out why it was necessary for them to lie and cover it up. We want to find out the truth not just for McGurk’s bar but for all the hundreds of photos here of the people killed through state collusion during the Troubles.”

Hundreds of people filed past the tunnel of photographs which included mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters, all murdered by loyalists and British agencies throughout the Troubles. Collusion has been an issue at the heart of the peace process with families campaigning throughout the world trying to hold the British government accountable for British agents who worked with the RUC and the British Army in seeking out vulnerable Catholics and sanctioning their deaths. Among the many people at the lecture were some of the families of the hunger strikers. Enda McLoughlan, sister of Thomas McElwee, the ninth hunger striker to die in August 1981, attended the Bobby Sands Lecture.

“Events like this are important for the families because the younger generations need to know about what happened during the Troubles,” she said. “Even though it brings back old wounds, our loved ones have to be remembered and should not be forgotten about.”

As the event began the families braced themselves to tell their moving accounts of how collusion and the loss of loved ones underpin the need to struggle for the truth.

Leontia McCauley’s sister, Philomena Hanna, was shot dead on April 28, 1992 by a UDA gunman in a chemist shop on the Springfield Road. The mother-of-two’s death was one a number of controversial murders – the weapon was used in more than one murder.

Leontia said: “When Philomena died no police or police liaison officer came to our family to tell us that she had died. They fired bullets at her face and chest. When my father went to identify her body he fell on top of Philomena and cried. As he came home later we noticed that he had blood all over his shirt.”

Leontia’s emotional recollection of her sister’s murder was one of the entries shown in the video.

She said: “My father was taunted constantly by the British army after Philomena’s death. He died on Christmas Day of a broken heart.”

Teresa Slane’s husband Gerard was murdered by the UDA at his home in Waterville Street in September 1988. His murder was linked to the notorious UDA/British army double agent Brian Nelson.

In Teresa’s sequence she recalls that she was upstairs protecting her three children when Gerard was murdered. “I was protecting the kids but I remember smelling smoke and seeing Gerard’s blood everywhere.

“I was so angry at Brian Nelson getting away with murder. I wanted to know why the charges were dropped against Brian Nelson – but now I know that it was because he was a British Intelligence Officer.

“It was hard bringing up the children on my own, especially during holidays, the kids’ first Communion, Confirmation and Christmas morning when they were opening their presents without their father being there.”

As the numerous families spoke of the loss of their loved ones many of the people in the hall cried and comforted one another, but their strength and determination was clear for all to see.

A particularly striking and poignant moment during the collusion film was the entry of young Katie Hanna, Philomena’s daughter. Katie was only one when her mother was murdered.

In the film she said that she never knew her mother really and that it was hard growing up without her. As the young child spoke about her mother and life without her, the full horror of the issue of collusion was made real, and the need for an evening such as this became apparent.

Her closing remarks moved all the families and friends at the exhibition. Katie’s final words in the film were: “I never got to call her mummy.”
It seemed to highlight the loss for all the families on the night.

• See more pictures and the text of Michael Finucane’s speech on Thursday

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