The International Federation of Journalists, the world's largest group of journalists, has expressed shock and outrage over the killing of Martin O'Hagan, the first reporter killed by terrorists in more than the 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland. "The terrorists who struck down O'Hagan were desperate cowards afraid of the quiet, painstaking professionalism of a fearless reporter," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ.
O'Hagan, an investigative reporter for the Dublin-based Sunday World and father of three children, was shot outside his Lurgan home on Friday evening. He had been the victim of earlier threats from Protestant gunmen. Responsibility for his killing has been claimed by the Red Hand Defenders, related to the Loyalist Volunteer Force.
"Journalists throughout Ireland and Britain are in deep shock over this brutal assassination," said Aidan White, "their anguish and anger is shared by colleagues around the world."
Two years ago the IFJ presented its international journalism tolerance prize to the editors of the Belfast Telegraph and the Ulster News, rival daily newspapers representing Ulster's different traditions, for their contribution towards promoting peace and reconciliation through professional journalism in reporting Ireland's long-running conflict.
"The irony is that in the midst of a so-called ceasefire, people afraid to face the consequences of their past and present will ruthlessly strike down any attempt to expose the corrupt reality of this agonising conflict," said Aidan White. The IFJ notes that O'Hagan, who was threatened by Loyalists in 1993 and had to leave Ireland for his own safety, was working on a detailed investigation of links between Loyalist terrorist groups and the security forces.
"He was a brave journalist who never flinched or was intimidated," added John Foster, General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists of Great Britain and Ireland, who helped negotiate arrangements for O'Hagan to go into hiding.
O'Hagan was generous in his appreciation of the support of his union -- "The NUJ saved my life", he said in an article paying tribute to the solidarity of his colleagues. At the time of his death he was the union's branch secretary in Belfast.
"For all the talk of peace, investigative journalists and courageous reporters like O'Hagan remain in the frontline of a war against truth and honesty," said Aidan White. "The challenge to the authorities is to bring these killers to justice, to make the streets safe for honest journalism and to remove the scourge of terrorism from Irish life."