“I do believe they were from a republican background, but I can`t say any more.”

A reminder today of the kind of event which was supposed to be part of that sealed and buried past – even though this murder actually took place in 1999. The inquest into the murder of Eamon Collins, the former Provisional IRA member who was the key witness against a number of suspects until family pressure caused him to retract his evidence, co-author of Killing Rage, he himself walked free from court on 50 terrorist charges when the judge dismissed his alleged confessions. In 1998 Eamon Collins had testified against Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy in Murphy’s failed libel case against the Sunday Times. According to the reports today, “A member the Historical Enquiries Team told the court the case was being re-examined.” Some arrests did take place at the time, but no-one has been ever been charged with the murder – described today by both the coroner and the state pathologist as “one of the most brutal, horrific and grotesque murders they had encountered.”From the UTV report

Collins, a former IRA intelligence officer, owned up to his reign of terror in a book, Killing Rage.

He feared for his life after becoming an informer and giving evidence that convicted a number of IRA men during the 1980s.

He fled Newry but returned years later when the IRA offered a post-ceasefire amnesty to informers if they made a public retraction of their evidence.

The murdered man`s widow, Bernardette, told the inquest they suffered harassment and experienced difficulties after returning to Newry. On one occasion, she said, their house was burnt down.

When she was asked whether she believed the IRA was responsible for her husband`s murder, she said: “I do believe they were from a republican background, but I can`t say any more.”

While the BBC report notes

Retired detective chief inspector Kenneth McFarland, who led the investigation into the killing, said: “I believe south Armagh Provisional IRA carried out this murder.”

And from Kevin Toolis, writing in the Guardian on 3 July 1999

News of the murder, and Collins’s identity, was on the midday news, but there was none of the long litany of anguished quotes that accompanied most of the Troubles’ victims. Secretary of state Mo Mowlam did not get up in parliament to lambast the killers; there were no cries of outrage from Ian Paisley or John Hume. The Dublin government and taoiseach Bertie Ahern were silent. David Trimble said it was a breach of the IRA ceasefire and that the British government must address the issue.

Martin McGuinness said he had “no idea” who killed Collins. But the public protests pretty much stopped there, as if the killing of Collins was personal, internal unfinished business between republicans. And definitely not something to be raised over the table between Gerry Adams and Tony Blair in Downing Street. It should have been.

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