Diarmuid O’Neill: ‘framed up to be killed’
by Theo Russell
SUPPORTERS of the Justice for Diarmuid O’Neill Campaign gathered in London last Saturday to mark 10 years since he was shot six times during an early morning police raid in Hammersmith.
Gwen Cook of the Justice for Diarmuid O’Neill Campaign drew parallels between Diarmuid’s case and the more recent shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes. Immediately after the event, she recalled, the Metropolitan Police said that a gun battle had taken place when they had raided a “bomb factory”. In fact Diarmuid has been followed for weeks and police had searched the flat, and knew that he was not armed and there were no weapons in the flat.
Diarmuid, she said, “was killed because he aspired to a united Ireland free of British occupation”.
The justice campaign’s demand for an independent public inquiry received support from human rights groups (including Amnesty International), trade unions and community groups.
But the Police Complaints Authority handed the investigation to the Metropolitan Police itself – a departure from the norm of giving the responsibility to another force. After three years, the family were informed that no-one was to be charged.
The inquest into the shooting, in 1999-2000, was chaired not by the coroner for Hammersmith and Fulham but the previous, retired coroner, and not in Hammersmith but in Kingston-upon-Thames, far more inconvenient for family and supporters to reach.
The coroner shocked observers by addressing the jury after he had made his summing up, declaring that and unlawful killing verdict would make Diarmuid into a “martyr”, and then getting into a row with the family’s legal representative Michael Mansfield. A verdict of lawful killing was returned.
Pete Middleton of the Wolfe Tone Society, again comparing the case with the Menezes shooting, said bluntly: “When the British government decide that you are enemy, you will be framed up to be killed.”
He described Diarmuid O’Neill as “a young, proud and enthusiastic man” who was active in selling Republican News and in protests against the poll tax and the 1990 Gulf War.
“He had strong principles and moved on to become a volunteer for the Irish Republican Army – but he was no different, he was the same enthusiastic young man. He was an internationalist with a keen interest in the Basque Country and Palestine. He wasn’t anti-English, he was anti the establishment occupying his country.”
Middleton said that “on this 10th anniversary, people should be thinking of getting back involved with the republican movement”. If Diarmuid O’Neill had lived, he said, “he would have known that progress was possible not just through armed means, but through political struggle.”
Gerry Kelly, Sinn Fein’s spokesperson on policing and justice, told the meeting that while it was hard being a republican in the north or the south of Ireland, “it was even harder being a republican in London”. shoot-to-kill
“Diarmuid didn’t want to die, and more important he didn’t deserve to die”, he said. “But unfortunately this was a shoot-to-kill operation, and unfortunately it doesn’t sit on its own – there have been many such events over the years.”
Kelly said the British authorities’ greatest fear of holding inquiries is not that some people will go to prison, “but their being stopped from carrying out actions which override all the rules of society and of democracy. For this reason their greatest fear was an independent public enquiry.”
Comparing the Justice for Diarmuid O’Neill Campaign with the many other ongoing campaigns and inquiries arising from the conflict in Ireland, such as those on the killings of Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson, Kelly said that such campaigns were “long, slow, frustrating and sometimes demoralising – but they work, they change things, and they’re very worthwhile doing.”
He ended by saying, “Given that Diarmuid was an ordinary fella living in extraordinary times, Diarmuid rose to the challenge. My commitment is to finish the struggle that Diarmuid was involved in.”
The meeting was also attended by Diarmuid’s father, Eoghan, who had travelled from Ireland, and heard of plans for plaque in Hammersmith commemorating Diarmuid’s death – likely to be on hold since the borough is now Tory-controlled.