Denzil McDaniel: Sean Brown’s family deserve answers, not evasion

Sean Brown's family, including his widow Bridie (centre), leaving court in Belfast last month. File photo by Jonathan Porter, Press Eye

Sean Brown's family, including his widow Bridie (centre), leaving court in Belfast last month. File photo by Jonathan Porter, Press Eye

THE financial benefit of the GAA to the economy has long been estimated to run into multi millions every year.

Now a study by Sheffield Hallam University is trawling through the accounts of many clubs and counties across Ireland in an attempt to quantify it.

The man overseeing it, Professor Simon Shibli, admits it is “bordering on vulgar” to place a monetary value on the impact of the association, due to how embedded GAA clubs are in their communities.

Last week’s The Late Late Show on RTÉ was devoted entirely to a GAA special in which host Patrick Kielty talked about the “sense of the GAA community” and the many ways the organisation’s members acted as a supportive family.

GAA president Jarlath Burns told the show: “It’s our entire life.”

In another recent interview, Mr Burns recalled how important the GAA had been in his youth.

“It was the GAA that kept a lot of us away from the IRA,” he said.

“That story has never been properly appreciated by the unionist community.”

It’s a fair point; indeed, some unionist politicians who’ve openly described the GAA as “the IRA at play” still persist with talk of grounds being named after paramilitaries and protests at a ground-breaking club in predominantly unionist east Belfast.

According to a report by Relatives for Justice, around 156 people linked to the GAA were killed during the Troubles.

Among them was Sean Brown who was abducted and killed by the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) in 1997. He was taken as he was locking the gates to his club, Bellaghy Wolfe Tones in Co Derry and was later shot dead near Randalstown in Co Antrim.

Highly respected by all communities in the area, after 27 years the question remains, why Sean Brown?

Did his GAA role play a part? We now know that up to 25 people were linked to the murder, including State agents. But a long-awaited inquest into the killing was stopped last month after MI5, the PSNI and the British Army lodged four Public Interest Immunity (PII) applications to prevent many of the circumstances being put into the public domain.

The Coroner, Mr Justice Patrick Kinney, said the inquest could not continue because so much information was being withheld.

He then wrote to the Secretary of State, Chris Heaton-Harris asking for a public inquiry.

Denzil McDaniel

Denzil McDaniel

In one of his last acts as Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar supported the call for an inquiry.

Adding his voice to others, including Tánaiste Micheál Martin, Mr Varadkar said the case “underlines the ongoing value of, and need for, human rights compliant processes to address legacy cases in Northern Ireland".

This was a direct reference to the British Government’s Legacy Act which has closed down criminal investigations and legal proceedings into Troubles cases.

The Act has faced widespread opposition from parties in Northern Ireland as well as victims’ groups.

The Brown family remain determined to seek answers, along with many families on all sides of the conflict who face the frustration of the closure of most legal processes.

Labour has already indicated that, if it forms the next British Government, it will repeal the Legacy Act. But they haven’t said what exactly they would replace it with.

Various attempts to address legacy since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement have floundered.

The Act has led to a new Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery, which is still in the process of being set up.

The body has the power to review Troubles-related murders and serious injuries. It has already said these reviews “could include a full criminal investigation where judged appropriate”.

But it remains to be seen what will be done in practice.

What is clear is that families, including the Browns, will never stop seeking answers about what happened to their loved ones, and why.

If we truly believe that victims should be at the front and centre of our approach to legacy, they must be given those answers.

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