Jack Charlton was Ireland's favourite Englishman. His death last weekend provoked a massive wave of sympathy across the whole island. He will be fondly remembered for his outstanding management of the Irish soccer team from 1986 until 1996, achieving two World Cup and one European Championship appearances.
What he succeeded in doing was to restore confidence and pride in the national team at a time when morale was at rock bottom.
Through soccer, this good humoured, but hard-driven Englishman, restored national pride and the realisation that Ireland could aspire to greater heights in the world, if it put its mind to it.
On the night of June 18, 1994, in the tiny village of Loughinisland in the heart of rural Co Down a group of local men in O'Toole's pub were keenly absorbed in watching Jackie Charlton's Irish football team play Italy in the World Cup. It was a beautiful and unusually hot summer's night and there was an excited atmosphere. Their innocent enjoyment of this exhilarating game was brutally interrupted by a gang of UVF gunmen, who indiscriminately sprayed the small bar with an assault rifle, killing six of them. This massacre was one of the worst atrocities of the late Troubles. There was no obvious motive for this attack on a peaceful Catholic rural community, except to exact revenge for the killing of three UVF men murdered by the INLA a few days before.
The repercussions of that wanton act of loyalist terrorism still live on and in a manner, which has been sadly damaging to the current standing of the PSNI, as well as the old RUC.
In a recent High Court decision the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan has criticised the actions of the police - albeit carried out by detectives from the Durham Constabulary acting on behalf of the PSNI - in carrying out searches of the homes and offices of two investigative journalists enquiring into the controversial RUC investigation into the appalling murders at Loughinisland.
He ruled that the search warrants, in relation to two high profile and highly experienced investigative journalists, Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, were wrongly obtained.
The judge described the ex parte hearing to authorise the warrants as being: "...woefully short of the standard required to ensure that the hearing was fair."
The case was connected to the 'No Stone Unturned' documentary, on the Loughinisland outrage. The ironic title of the documentary is taken from the promise by the RUC to the relatives of the victims, to leave no stone unturned in catching the perpetrators of this appalling crime. Both Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey were involved in its production. In the event nobody has ever been brought to justice for these sectarian murders. The RUC promise was empty.
The drastic action taken by the police against these journalists posed a serious threat to investigative journalism and the protection of sources both here and in Britain.
In August 2018 the two were subjected to raids on their homes and offices. The motive for these raids by the police was the alleged theft of confidential documents from the Police Ombudsman's Office. These documents purportedly related to the Loughinisland investigation.
The raids were excessively heavy-handed with the early morning arrival of several police vehicles and seven or eight police officers, as children were being woken up to prepare to go to school. Electronic equipment was seized and the two reporters arrested. They were subsequently released without charge.
The court was clear, that at all times the two investigative journalists adhered to their National Union of Journalists professional code in protecting sources. They also had acted responsibly in seeking a meeting with senior police to raise the issue of any risk and also refrained from publishing the identity of an alleged informant.
Quite properly the two men have demanded an apology from the PSNI Chief Constable, Simon Byrne, for the unlawful actions of the police against them in carrying out their journalistic functions.
Barry McCaffrey, widely respected and a prize-winning investigative journalist, declared that: "Journalists throughout Ireland and the UK were waiting for this judgment, because it has now copper-fastened protections. The highest court in the land has protected our right to protect our sources and to ask difficult questions."
The granting of the search warrants to the police was properly deemed to be wrong by the court, who have by this judgment robustly defended press freedom and independence. This is a hard lesson for the PSNI, but they now have an opportunity to apologise to the two reporters.
However, there is a much more important point, which is the deplorable way in which the Loughinisland massacre was investigated by the RUC and their complete failure to bring anyone to justice for this barbarous attack.