"We cannot let the bully boys win. They have shot our messenger but they will never kill the message."
It was Colm McGinty, editor of the Sunday World, in this leader tribute to his staffer Martin O’Hagan, the first journalist murdered in 30 years of Northern Ireland’s Troubles, who spelled out the determination of Ireland’s press not to be deterred from reporting the atrocities of paramilitaries and terrorists.
Newspaper offices throughout the country observed a minute’s silence on Monday for O’Hagan, who refused to stop writing about paramilitary criminal activities despite threats to his life.
The Sunday World gave O’Hagan an honour rarely accorded to those who write for newspapers – it cleared 16 pages at the front of the book to tell its readers of his cold-blooded shooting by the Red Hand Defenders and about the man they called "a hero".
The paper’s front page bore the one-word headline "FEARLESS" with the strap "OUR MAN SHOT IN THE BACK BY THE LVF".
Inside, northern editor Jim McDowell, who worked closely with O’Hagan, detailed the reporter’s last walk from his local with his wife Marie, whom he died defending as seven bullets smashed into and around him.
Sunday World reporters chronicled why he was killed, describing him as a constant thorn in the side of all paramilitaries – he had been at work on a tricky story, he had told colleagues.
O’Hagan was particularly hated by the killer gang, the Loyalist Volunteer Force, after he nicknamed the LVF’s late leader, Billy Wright, "King Rat".
"Martin’s career path in journalism was littered with threats and intimidation from people who were determined to silence him and in the end they did," said the Sunday World report.
O’Hagan was jailed himself for his involvement with the official IRA, but turned his back on Northern Ireland’s secret organisations when he was released, to become one of their severest critics.
"Martin O’Hagan was a hugely dedicated journalist who worked for Sunday World in the deadly war zone of Northern Ireland for almost 20 years," reporters wrote.
"He was an extremely brave and highly enthusiastic reporter who refused to be intimidated."
He was well aware of the daily dangers he faced because of his work and took precautions, they said, always making sure of the exits to whatever building he was in. For a time he carried his own legally issued protection weapon while covering stories because the nature of his journalism brought him into contact with "some of the most dangerous and evil figures in the north".
Yet "Wee Marty" was inclined to answer threats with the nonchalant, "Sure a fella has to be doing something. None of us knows what the future holds. You could be run over by a bus tomorrow."
Jim Cusack, security editor of The Irish Times, said of him: "No other journalist that I know of had the bravery to write the way he did in the face of ever-present danger. Marty didn’t just break the big terrorism stories – he exposed all the dirt.
"Many people who purport to be fighting for Ulster or Ireland are just criminals intent on making money. When Marty exposed this they went berserk."
By Jean Morgan and Des Cryan