Wednesday 18 September 2019

Long search for the truth over 'World Cup killings'

Barry McCaffrey and Tervor Birney. Photo: Barbara Lindberg.
Barry McCaffrey and Tervor Birney. Photo: Barbara Lindberg.
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

On the evening of June 18, 1994, the Republic of Ireland beat Italy in one of the opening games of the soccer World Cup in Giants Stadium, New Jersey.

The shock win ignited huge celebrations and became one of the more memorable nights in Irish sporting history. In the village of Loughinisland in Co Down,, though, the night went down in history for much darker reasons.

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A few moments after Ray Houghton scored the deciding goal, men in balaclavas burst into the Heights Bar and opened fire on those who had gathered there to watch the game. Eleven of the 24 men present were shot in the back; six of them died outright. The oldest, Barney Greene, was 87; the youngest, Adrian Rogan, was 34. A survivor described bodies "piled on top of each other on the floor" of the small public bar. As the gunmen fled the scene, their peals of laughter could be heard by witnesses on the street - the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) claimed responsibility for the murders. Amid the depressingly regular carnage of the Troubles, the Loughinisland attack stood apart: it occurred just a few months before a ceasefire was declared by paramilitaries and it remains unsolved, despite evidence identifying the suspects and linking them to members of the security forces.

Much of that evidence was unearthed by Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, two Northern journalists who worked with Oscar-winning director, Alex Gibney, to produce a film, No Stone Unturned about the massacre and it posed many questions. Chief among these, Birney says, was how did the police not know that a UVF attack was likely when they had sworn revenge for an attack on a UVF member on the Shankill Road days previously? "The police were watching them that afternoon," Birney says.

The journalists, who had access to a previously secret evidence from an unredacted internal police report, urged police to pursue the killers. Instead, about 100 police officers were deployed last year to raid the journalists' homes and offices and the pair were arrested on suspicion of stealing the material.

The police searches were highly traumatic for both men. "Our relatives had come in from London and my daughter was about to go back to school. Everyone was in the house for a nice weekend only to be woken by armed police," Birney recalls. "I can still see the shock on my relatives' faces."

The journalists were eventually bailed and had to give three days' notice of their intention to cross any national border. Amnesty International said the treatment of Birney and McCaffrey meant freedom of the press in Northern Ireland was at risk, while the National Union of Journalists said the police had violated "basic media freedoms".

Last June, vindication came for the journalists. Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland Declan Morgan said the police had obtained "inappropriate" search warrants and ordered them to return laptops, phones, documents and other material seized from Birney and McCaffrey. The judge said the journalists had acted in a "perfectly proper manner".

There was no nationalist viewpoint connected with the film, the journalists say. "My father was in the RUC and lived with the terror of working along the Border," Birney says. "We have no anti-unionist agenda. But there has been an online campaign by supporters of the UVF to undermine the truth of this film."

The film is now the favourite to win an Emmy award in September (Gibney has already won gongs for his work on Scientology and Wikileaks). "The film stands up to scrutiny," says McCaffrey. "We did this for the people who died while that match was being played. All these years later, their families deserve the truth."

There will be a special screening of No Stone Unturned on Saturday, September 7 at 7.30pm in the Pavillion Theatre in Dún Laoghaire. It will be followed by a discussion with Trevor Bernie and Barry McCaffrey. 

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