Martin O'Hagan

Martin O'Hagan
Martin O'Hagan

Owen Martin O'Hagan, (23 June 1950 – 28 September 2001) was an Irish investigative journalist from Lurgan, Northern Ireland. He was the most prominent journalist to be killed as a consequence of the Troubles and the only one to be specifically assassinated as a result of his work.



Martin O'Hagan's father served in the British Army. One of six children, he spent part of his childhood in the married quarters of military bases in Germany. His grandfather was also a soldier, and saw service at Dunkirk. O'Hagan's family returned to Lurgan when he was seven, and he was educated in the town, leaving after taking O-levels to work in his father's TV repair shop.

As a teenager, he joined the Official IRA's Lurgan unit. He was drawn to the Officials because of their then radical socialist-republican politics, and became active in their military wing. He was interned in 1971 and spent more than a year in the Official IRA compound at Long Kesh. After he was released in 1973, he was jailed for seven years for transporting guns, and was released in 1978.

He despised the sectarianism of Northern Ireland life and married a local Protestant girl, Marie Dukes, by whom he had three daughters. O'Hagan retained his socialist outlook throughout his life. He studied sociology at the Open University and the University of Ulster.

O'Hagan worked as a reporter for the tabloid newspaper The Sunday World. In this capacity, he wrote about a range of criminals and paramilitaries. He was also secretary of the Belfast branch of the National Union of Journalists at the time of his death. [1]


Notwithstanding his history with the Official IRA, Martin became accepted into the press community in Northern Ireland. His hard work quickly gaining him respect. In addition to his "insightful stories" on paramilitaries, he was known for "old-fashioned, muck-raking tabloid stories". He was known for exposing the private and sometimes seedy lifestyles of loyalists. One story included a picture of a well-known Orangeman, wearing regalia, beside one of the same man, found in a sex-contact publication, showing him naked. [2]

In the late 1980s he was prominently featured in the controversial Channel 4 documentary "The Committee", which made allegations of RUC collusion in loyalist murders of Roman Catholics. As a witness in a subsequent libel action against the producer of the program at the High court in London he said: "I have tried to be an independent and objective journalist but my conviction has hung over me like a sword, although I have always tried to be honest about it. "I have always tried to be squeaky clean because people will always try to cast this up in my face." [3]

Not all of his work was controversial. In the early 1990s he collaborated with several Portadown musicians and took over a talent competition previously run by the Ulster Star newspaper in Lisburn, turning it into a national event for Northern Ireland.

Martin would often throw paramilitaries by writing under an assumed name or by not naming the subject of his articles. He would instead use a nickname. The person would be described in great detail: appearance, habits, haunts, associates, type of car, etc. – everything but his name, but in the Who? column (a long running and sometimes hard hitting page of snippets in the newspaper) he would refer to the person by name in a way which would allow the reader to link both stories.

In the early 1990s, he wrote several pieces about the Ulster Volunteer Force's Mid Ulster Brigade. He coined the nickname, "the rat pack" for this group and "King Rat" for their leader Billy Wright. Wright founded the Loyalist Volunteer Force a breakaway loyalist faction. He was responsible for an attack on the Sunday World offices in Belfast and threatened to kill O'Hagan. Wright himself was assassinated by the Irish National Liberation Army in 1997.

Provisional IRA abduction

O'Hagan was abducted by the Provisional IRA in 1989 following a report by the Sunday World Newspaper about the killing of John McAnulty on 18 July 1989. [4] He was interrogated for several days regarding the source of reports to the newspaper (supposedly from an IRA insider) and expected to be killed. He was later released unharmed. Following this incident and Loyalist threats he moved to the Cork offices of the newspaper for several years but later returned to Belfast.[3]


Having previously published a series of articles on drug dealing in a loyalist paramilitary grouping [5] he had been the subject of death threats. Indeed he had bumped into a known loyalist on a previous walk home from his pub and had been advised that he had been "clocked" (a local term meaning 'observed') walking the route. [6] He and his colleagues on the Dublin-based Sunday World were used to threats of this nature, however, and although "rattled" by the veiled threat, O'Hagan continued to walk home from the pub on Friday nights but varied his route as a precautionary measure. [6]

On 28 September 2001 Martin and his wife Marie walked to "Fa' Joe's" pub, a well-known mixed bar on Lurgan's Market Street, for their usual Friday night drink together. The pub had been Martin's favourite for many years. As they walked home to Westland Gardens, close to the loyalist Mourneview Estate, a car pulled slowly alongside them just yards from their house. Martin pushed his wife into a hedge as a gunman opened fire from the car hitting him several times. As he lay wounded he asked his wife to summon an ambulance. When she returned from doing so he was dead.

Martin O'Hagan's murder was "claimed" by the Red Hand Defenders, a nom de guerre used by the Loyalist Volunteer Force.[7]


No-one has yet been prosecuted for the killing of Martin O'Hagan however his colleagues at the Sunday World (particularly Jim Campbell who was also wounded in an assassination attempt by Loyalist paramilitaries)[8], and the NIJ continue to ask questions of the police in Northern Ireland and produce columns asking WHY? On 6 April 2008 the Sunday World published the name of Robin "Billy" King as the killer and asked pointedly why the PSNI had not arrested and charged him with the murder. [9] In the same issue the newspaper ran a story on the unveiling of a plaque in memory to Martin at Belfast's Linenhall Library 1 and 2. The Sunday World have continued to pressure for answers by running a series of weekly articles which have "targeted the O’Hagan suspects with an extremely accurate weekly account of their activities." [8]

The NUJ have discovered that Martin's journalistic notes, written in a personalised and initially undecipherable shorthand, have been partially decoded and the PSNI are examining the translations in connection with the Omagh Bombing. [10]

An article in "Freelance" the NUJ newsletter, Kevin Cooper wrote in September 2008 said:

He continues to be remembered and missed by his colleagues and friends of the Belfast and District Branch of the NUJ. We miss his good humour, his love of mischief, his tireless commitment to socialism and trade unionism. He was no saint; he was, like the rest of us, human and made mistakes. He could infuriate and delight you at the same time. He was not always treated with the respect and dignity he deserved. [11]

Murder trial

Five men were arrested and sent for trial in September 2008 for the murder of Martin O'Hagan. [12]

See also

  • Billy Wright

External links


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