NEWS FROM THE CELTIC LEAGUE
I never had contact with Veronica Guerin the murdered Irish journalist mentioned in an earlier post but as General Secretary and Director of Information (a role I finally relinquish in March this year) over the years I got to know a good few journalists in newsroom in Belfast and Dublin and farther afield.
Indeed although always keen to keep a watchful eye on the goings on in what one Manx politician described as the ‘wild west’ offshore centre the Isle of Man became in the 1980s it was an Irish journalistic query that prompted our pressure on the Chief Ministers office in the late 80s/90s.
Irish journalists particularly those based in Belfast were absolutely certain that the Isle of Man was used extensively by paramilitaries and indeed a number of articles were published to that effect. In addition main stream papers in Britain periodically published similar stories.
Regulation in the Isle of Man was minimal at the time and the FCU was years away policing the situation fell to a poorly resourced (although from my contact with them at the time an enthusiastic) Police Fraud Unit – despite their enthusiasm they had neither equipment or manpower and to be blunt there was not a great political will to secure it.
Occasionally the frustration boiled over and I can recall a conference in the early 1990s when the head of Police Fraud gave public vent to his concerns – the government promptly engaged in damage limitation.
The Belfast investigative journalists knew that both the IRA and the main Loyalist paramilitary groups needed vast amounts of money to function. They raised this in a variety of ways much IRA money came from the US but all paramilitaries were involved in crime including smuggling extortion, drugs and bank robberies.
The journalists in Belfast knew this and were extremely courageous in following up stories and trying to nail down where the money was being ‘washed’. In that regard the Isle of Man not least because of the lax regulation at the time and location was a destination of choice.
I won’t mention the journalists I dealt with some are now retired or still working in some instances having left the North despite the uneasy peace to work in Dublin. I still keep in touch with one of two.
One journalist I can mention though is Martin O Hagan because like Veronica Guerin Martin O’Hagan was murdered, however unlike her no one was ever brought to justice.
I never met O’Hagan face to face but often dealt with him over the phone and I could tell even from that limited contact he was a sincere, purposeful and dedicated individual. He also had the essential attribute shared with many Northern journalists at the time an innate and dark sense of humour.
Given what happened to him perhaps he knew the dark corners he would poke in would ultimately prove lethal. His paper the Sunday World was of all the Northern media always on the front line. Its Offices were burned its journalists threatened and several were the target of assassination attempts.
Being a tabloid the World focused on the lifestyle of the main paramilitaries (both sides of the coin) but especially the Loyalists – where did they get their money and where did they ‘wash it’. Perhaps the answer lies in some of those suitcases of money that apparently were arriving on the Isle of Man over the years?
Martin O’Hagan was murdered in Lurgan on the 28th of September 2001, whilst walking with his wife in the street, he was 51 years old. It’s a measure of the man that recognising what was about to happen he pushed his wife away and she survived the shooting spree. Martin a family man left three daughters. He was Secretary of the Belfast branch of the National Union of Journalists at the time of his death.
O’Hagan was never was able to track down the ‘end of the rainbow’ where the paramilitaries kept their ‘pot of gold’ but like others in Belfast’s news community they had a good idea that the IOM was in the frame.
Despite his murder and the wave of outrage no one was ever convicted and things soon returned to normal. Three years later a massive £26.5 million pound robbery took place at the Belfast Northern Bank. This heist was attributed to the IRA and once again speculation was rife that some of the money that still remains unrecovered went offshore!
The ‘wild west’ of the Manx offshore finance industry it seems it may have been a lethal place!
Photographs; (1)Martin O’Hagan Journalist and Belfast NUJ Secretary (2) Martin O’Hagan funeral.
Issued by: The Celtic News
THE CELTIC LEAGUE INFORMATION SERVICE.
The Celtic League established in 1961 has branches in the six Celtic Countries. It promotes cooperation between the countries and campaigns on a range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It highlights human rights abuse, military activity and socio-economic issues