First killing of the ceasefire brings grief and frustration: Shooting of Belfast Catholic prompts fears that loyalist paramilitaries will not give up violence

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The Independent Online
DAY TWO of the IRA ceasefire and the scene was sickeningly familiar. On a patch of grass strewn with toys Mike, a friend of John O'Hanlon, the Catholic gunned down by loyalist terrorists, wavered between grief and frustration.

Just feet from the garden swing Mr O'Hanlon, 33, father of a three-year-old boy, became the first victim of sectarian violence since the IRA declaration. He was shot five times by the UFF as he worked on a car with a friend, Fergal O'Connor.

'John had no involvement in terrorism and no interest in politics,' said Mike, 45, Mr O'Connor's lodger, glancing towards the garage where he found Mr O'Hanlon dying. 'But he had no faith in the ceasefire. He said to me when it happened that the other side would never give up.

'I am so disgusted. John was a hard grafter but his eyesight was poor, which made it difficult to get employment. He didn't even claim the benefit he was due for his disability.' With his voice breaking, he added: 'He never hurt anyone in his life, it wasn't in his nature, there was no reason for him to die.'

Mike was upstairs when he heard one shot, then four more in quick succession and Mr O'Hanlon screaming: 'Fergal.' After checking on Mr O'Connor's son, two, and daughter, six, he found Mr O'Hanlon dying in the driveway from 'horrific' injuries. Mr O'Connor escaped by jumping the garden fence. Mr O'Connor said Mr O'Hanlon, who was separated from his partner, was as harmless as a child. If he had had faith in the ceasefire it had gone. 'This will go on and on and on,' he said. 'These are faithless men.'

Yesterday's calls from Unionist politicians to loyalist paramilitaries to lay down their arms and promises from Gerry Adams that the IRA would not respond in kind to Mr O'Hanlon's murder did nothing to reassure Mr O'Hanlon's neighbours in Skegoneill Avenue, north Belfast.

As the funeral of Sean McDermott, the last victim of loyalist gunmen before the ceasefire, blared out on a radio, one woman spoke of her children's terror the previous night. 'One of the policemen who came round after the murder said: 'So that's the peace.' I said to him you just have to pray every time that this is the last one.

'You wonder how it can work with the loyalists still murdering,' one middle-aged man said.

A woman pushing her granddaughter in a pram said a few felt naked now the IRA had ceased operations. 'But most of us believe it was still the right thing to do,' she added. 'The IRA never provided protection from this kind of attack. Everything depends on the police. They need to get whoever did this.'

The police's quick response after the O'Hanlon shooting was praised by Catholics and Protestants. 'But they have to catch the gunmen before they get here if they want to gain our confidence,' a neighbour said. 'No matter what happens this is the right thing for the IRA. For the first time they look like the peacemakers.'

In the living room of Mr O'Hanlon's flat, Michael, 29, a friend and neighbour was red- eyed. He had been up all night. 'The loyalists seem to be doing their best to pull the IRA back into conflict,' he said. 'John said that would happen. He was such an inoffensive, gentle guy. It is a terrible injustice, but then this is an uncertain country. There wasn't a hurtful bone in John's body. It is sad that now he will be remembered only as the first victim of the ceasefire.'

(Photograph omitted)

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