Families deserving of truth and justice over Loughinisland massacre: Ritchie
A former South Down MP has paid tribute to the victims of the Loughinisland massacre 25 years on from the tragedy.
SDLP politician Margaret Ritchie had family ties to two of the six Catholic men who were killed in a bar in the Co Down village on June 18, 1994.
The victims had been watching the Republic of Ireland take on Italy in the World Cup in Heights Bar when loyalist gunmen armed with assault rifles entered and opened fire.
Ms Ritchie - who lived close to the village at the time - said it is wrong that families of the victims are still waiting for justice.
Tonight loved ones will remember the victims: Adrian Rogan (34), Malcolm Jenkinson (53), 39-year-old Eamon Byrne, Patrick O'Hare (35), pensioner Barney Green, and his nephew Daniel McCreanor (59) at a Mass held at a local church.
Mr Green was 87, making him one of the oldest victims of the Troubles.
His brother Paddy was married to Ms Ritchie's father's sister, Kathleen.
Recalling their deaths, Ms Ritchie said Barney and Daniel enjoyed visiting the bar and typically went every two weeks.
On the evening of the tragedy, Ms Ritchie, who was MP for South Down for seven years, had been visiting her aunt.
It was only when Ms Ritchie arrived back at her parents' house that she learned Heights Bar had been targeted.
That moment she feared for Barney and Daniel's safety.
"I rang my cousins and my next question was had anyone been killed and they said yes," she recalled. "My second question was had Barney and Dan been killed, and they said they were. I told my parents and they never spoke.
"Barney and Dan were the epitome of decency, very honourable individuals. They looked out for others, those who were vulnerable in society and provided for them."
She said all six victims were decent people who embodied everything that the men who took their lives didn't.
"They were all innocent. I remember the first World Cup match after it. There was a sense of eeriness that covered the community," she added.
The day following the massacre Ms Ritchie visited the scene with then South Down MP, the late Eddie McGrady.
"We met with all of the families. There were wives without husbands, children without fathers, families without brothers and sons.
"The feelings of grief and disbelief were overwhelming, but the community refused to let it create divisions," she added.
"There was shock and revulsion, but people coped remarkably well and all credit to the local community."
She said her thoughts today are with all of the victims' families.
"Barney lived a long life but he left it in such an abrupt manner, leaving behind his widow, Brigid," said Ms Ritchie.
"All of the relatives are hard-working individuals, getting on with their lives but the police need to get out and find those people who carried it out."
In a 2016 report, Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire concluded that the security forces colluded with the Loughinisland killers.
No one has ever been convicted of the murders.
Ms Ritchie was also critical of the PSNI's treatment of journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey.
They were arrested over the alleged theft of a police watchdog document that appeared in their film No Stone Unturned about the massacre.
However, the High Court ruled search warrants used by police had been "inappropriate", resulting in the criminal probe into the pair being dropped.
Ms Ritchie said the PSNI's focus should have always been on apprehending those who were responsible for the murders.
"People deserve justice and the rest of the truth. That applies to all tragedies, all form of paramilitaries," she insisted.
The people of Loughinisland did not allow the atrocity to harm community relations, she stressed.
"People were determined to keep the good community relations. The wider unionist and wider Protestant community reached out.
"The events outside (Loughinisland) never did tarnish relations locally."
And she said this was still the case a quarter of a century onwards.
"The community has a love and support for all of their neighbours, regardless of religious or political affiliation," she added.
"Twenty-five years on, I hope the families get truth and justice."