Following the raising of the issue by Aontú leader Peadar Toíbín in the Dáil again, An Taoiseach Micheal Martin has finally agreed to meet with families of the victims of the loyalist Glenanne Gang.
The gang operated mostly during the 1970s and is believed to have murdered over 120 people. Almost all of them were randomly-selected Catholic civilians. According to the Cassel Report, Anne Cadwallader’s book Lethal Allies and Seán Murray’s documentary Unquiet Graves almost all of the murders involved serving members of the security forces.
The gang was based on a farm owned by a member of the RUC reserve, James Mitchell, close to Markethill in County Armagh. Mitchell was not the only member of the RUC or UDR involved, and it would appear that the gang had considerable protection from within RUC Special Branch and the British covert intelligence apparatus.
An inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings under the direction of Justice Liam Hamilton documented links between the Glenanne gang and those who carried out the bombings. But while it contains damning information regarding the involvement of the Glenanne Gang and its British state mentors, its conclusions are curiously ambiguous.
While accepting that the gang had close connections to serving members of the security forces it claimed that it had been capable of carrying out its actions “without help from any section of the security forces in Northern Ireland.”
In November 2019, the former Bedfordshire Chief Constable Jon Boucher was appointed by the British government to conduct an independent inquiry into the Glenanne Gang. The Boucher inquiry set up a website Operation Kenova which is seeking information from anyone who had contact with the Glenanne Gang. It is not known at what stage that investigation is at.
That grisly past was brought to focus again in recent weeks following the discovery of a gun and several hundred rounds of ammunition close to Moy in county Tyrone. The need to bring closure to all of this is underlined by the fact that the find was made close to the home of Aontú Councillor Denise Mullen whose father was murdered by loyalists believed to have been part of the death squad in September 1975.
That all of that is not in the past was recently highlighted by the arrest of convicted loyalist killer Garfield Beattie in early October 2020 in connection with threats to Councillor Mullen. Beattie was a member of the Glenanne gang and it is likely that the threat originated in her having been prominent in calling for a proper investigation into what took place in those times.
Beattie was out on license after his release under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. He had been convicted of three murders, including that of Denise Mullen’s father Denis and two other men killed in June and July 1976. Beattie had been a member of the British Territorial Army at the time of his involvement. The threat to Councillor Mullen was signed by the East Tyrone Ulster Volunteer Force.
Beattie was the subject of a somewhat bizarre interview in the Irish News following his arrest last year. In it he admitted to the murders, but claimed that he had become born again in prison and rejected loyalism. He said that he knew Denise Mullen personally and that his mother’s side of the family had been republicans. Despite his repentance, Beattie said that he refused to co-operate with the Boucher investigation.
Peadar Toíbín has been seeking a meeting between the relatives of the victims of the Glenanne and Taoisigh for years. “Over 5 years I have formally asked 3 Taoisigh to meet with the Glenanne families. I have formally asked Enda Kenny, Leo Varadkar and Mícháel Martin [but] they have not deemed the request important enough to reply,” he said last year.
It is to be hoped that Micheál Martin’s commitment this week will be honoured soon. And more importantly that the families of the victims of the Glenanne Gang not only be given a full inquiry into what took place, but that any ongoing threat to them is also immediately removed.