The family of Donegal civilian, Michael Leonard, who was murdered by a Royal Ulster Constabulary patrol in 1973, met with officials from the Irish Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs yesterday (Omagh, Wednesday 1st February 2023).
The family found out how little the Irish Government has done to get justice for Michael from the British state since they last met the family in November 2021.
In the interim period, Paper Trail discovered a tranche of new evidence regarding the police murder.
The family presented the officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) with an updated family report which includes the new evidence and which they will launch in Dublin next month.
The meeting follows the failure of the Office of the Police Ombudsman to advance its investigation in over three years which in turn has delayed a new inquest before Britain enacts its controversial Legacy Bill and shuts down all conflict-related legal cases.
When asked for comment by Connla Young of the Irish News, a spokesperson for the Office of the Police Ombudsman said that "a full investigation cannot proceed until resources allow" The spokesperson added:
"It is not currently anticipated that the Ombudsman will be in a position to commence an investigation in advance of any new legislation".
"The decision to hold an inquest is a matter for the coroner."
These are outrageous comments from OPONI as it has done nothing to investigate the blatant police murder in the three years since its officers met with the family (November 2019).
Furthermore, it is up to the Attorney General to direct a new inquest, not the Coroner.
The Attorney General in March 2019 wrote to the family that the:
"... Attorney is of the view that even on the police case as related to the original inquest there was no justification for a warning shot and the act of preparing to fire such a shot was, in his view, grossly negligent. There was clearly no justification for shooting at Mr Leonard whether by way of warning or otherwise and the posthumous attempts to blacken his character are despicable."
The Attorney General deferred a decision to direct a new inquest pending a referral to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS). The PPS then referred the killing to OPONI.
There the investigation sits and OPONI has failed to begin a full investigation.
OPONI is delaying the family's fight for truth and justice.
New evidence that the family presented in 2019 proved that Michael was not shot accidentally with a single shot as the RUC alleged, but deliberately targeted and shot at multiple times by his police killers before he could reach the sanctuary of the border and his home in Pettigo, County Donegal, on 17th May 1973.
The new evidence discovered by the charity Paper Trail in 2022 provides further admissions by the British Armed Forces that Michael was deliberately targeted and shot dead by the RUC.
A British Army Intelligence Summary from RUC Divisions L & M, recorded on 22nd May 1973
“The RUC… recognised Michael LEONARD a suspected member of the PIRA [Provisional Irish Republican Army] from Pettigo. When they went to question him he ran off despite the fact that he was warned to stop. He then drove off in his car and the police fired two shots at the vehicle which did not stop. The police followed up in a landrover and fired one more shot which struck LEONARD, who later died.”
Michael was not a member of any proscribed organisation, he was an unarmed civilian, and this was false information inserted by the RUC.
A Headquarters 3 Brigade Border Report from RUC L Division recorded on 22nd June 1973:
“The RUC shot dead Michael John LEONARD when he refused a call to halt.”
The family were accompanied by Fr Joe McVeigh, Michael’s cousin, and the family solicitor, Adrian O’Kane from Pat Fahy Solicitors, along with Ciaran MacAirt from the charity Paper Trail (Legacy Archive Research), and Donegal County Councillor Michael Naughton.
Speaking after the meeting with DFA officials, Councillor Micheál Naughton of Donegal County Council said:
“The family demanded a meeting with Tánaiste and Minister of Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin as a matter of urgency and before the 50th anniversary of Michael Leonard’s murder by the RUC.”
Michael’s cousin, Fr. Joseph McVeigh said:
“50 years is far too long for any family to wait for truth and justice. The RUC murdered Michael on 17th May 1973 and then lied to the family, the Irish Government and the Coroner. The British state has done nothing but deny us the truth and delay our campaign for justice.”
“We asked the Department of Foreign Affairs again for support and presented them with the new evidence we have been forced to find in British archives ourselves since our last meeting in November 2021.”
Adrian O’Kane of Fahy Solicitors said:
“The Dept of Foreign Affairs and the Attorney General have expressed serious misgivings about the circumstances of Michael’s death. Nearly 50 years later, it is clear that the truth is still being withheld from the Leonard family. A fresh Inquest is called for as a matter of priority and public importance.”
Ciarán MacAirt of Paper Trail said:
“As Michael’s family approach the 50th anniversary of his murder by RUC and ask once again for the support of the Irish Government, Britain’s pernicious Legacy Bill threatens the family’s basic human rights. Britain wants to bury its war crimes in Ireland and to protect its killers in uniform.”
For further Information on Michael’s murder read our report (PDF).
Irish News: Police Admit To Murder of Michael Leonard
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The author Ciarán MacAirt is donating all of the profits of his book, Trope: Essays and Articles, to Paper Trail and its work with victims and survivors of the conflict. Trope features some of his ground-breaking discoveries and represents a personal journey as he trudges across the killing ﬁelds of World War 1 to the back-streets of Belfast where death-squads roamed. Foreword by Father Sean McManus, international human rights activist, author, and President of the Irish National Caucus.