Stakes in N. Ireland conflict rise after Catholic reporter shot

Sunday, September 30, 2001

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- The death of a Catholic journalist, fatally shot in front of his wife as he walked home from a pub, has raised the stakes in Britain's just-launched effort to quell violence by Protestant militants.

Martin O'Hagan was the first journalist gunned down after three-decades Catholic-Protestant conflicts in Northern Ireland.

He had made many enemies within the ranks of the Protestant paramilitary underworld because of his hard-hitting reports on their alleged criminal rackets and murders.

His death Friday came hours after Britain warned Northern Ireland's largest outlawed Protestant group to stop attacks or face the political consequences.

O'Hagan's wife was not hurt in the drive-by shooting in Lurgan, a religiously polarized town south of Belfast. The couple was walking home after a visit to the pub, police said.

The reporter, who worked for the Sunday World newspaper of Dublin, left Northern Ireland in 1993 after the tabloid's Belfast office was bombed and he received death threats from Protestant militants.

"Obviously, as a fearless journalist and a secretary of the National Union of Journalists in Belfast, an attack on someone of his stature is an attack on the freedom of speech and freedom of the press," said O'Hagan's editor, Jim McDowell.

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