Rosemary Nelson – 22 years On – by Joe McVeigh

Posted By: March 15, 2021

Rosemary Nelson – 22 years On – by Joe McVeigh

Jude Collins  Blog on March 15, 2021



On 15th March 1999, human rights lawyer, Rosemary Nelson, was assassinated by a pro-British death squad who planted a bomb under her car outside her home in Lurgan, Co Armagh. A group calling themselves The Red Hand Defenders claimed the bombing. Many questions were asked about how the death squad could get in and out to her home when the area was saturated by RUC and British soldiers.

Twenty –two years later, nobody has been charged with her murder. The British government has refused to hold a Public Inquiry into her murder. They did set up an internal police Inquiry which came to nothing.

From my first meeting with Rosemary in 1996, I knew she was a woman of integrity and a lawyer who was totally committed to getting justice for her clients. She was involved in some high-profile court cases like representing the family of Sam Marshall who had been killed by pro-British loyalists in 1990.

I soon began to realize that Rosemary’s life was in danger because of her profile. Ever since the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989, many high-profile solicitors knew their lives were in danger from the Unionist/loyalist death squads who were being manipulated by the British MI5. RUC detectives made threats against some solicitors during interrogation of people arrested on a number of occasions.

Rosemary had been a lawyer in Lurgan for more than ten years. Her role as legal adviser to the Garvaghy Road residents meant that she had a high profile. During that time when the sectarian Orange Order insisted on their right to march down the Nationalist Garvaghy Road, Rosemary stood with the Residents of Garvaghy Road. Rosemary was a professional lawyer determined to protect the people who had put their trust in her. She felt that the people on the Garvaghy Road and Nationalists in Portadown needed protection from the loyalists, the RUC, the UDR, and British army.

People came to her with their stories of harassment and beatings by the RUC. She was outraged and every time I met her she expressed that outrage at the way her clients were being abused by the forces of the State. She was also appalled at the silence of the Church leaders about the abuse of so many people who belonged to the Church.

She wanted the whole world to know what was happening. She herself traveled to Washington to testify about the harassment of Catholics in her native county. She urged me and others to write about it and to make the situation known to as a wide an audience as possible.

She was deeply affected by the murder of Robert Hamill in the center of Portadown within sight of an RUC patrol sitting in a police landrover. He was attacked by a gang of Unionist-loyalists and beaten to death in 1997. She called for justice and organized meetings wherever she could. I was asked by her to go to meet Mo Mowlam secretary of state, along with Robert Hamill’s family. She saw it as her duty as a lawyer to defend the defenseless Catholic people under severe duress at that time.

Because of her advocacy and effectiveness in highlighting the abuses by the RUC and British state forces, she became a target for those forces. In collusion with loyalists, they set about killing her. They placed a bomb under her car and Rosemary died instantly when it detonated. They were determined to silence her so that they could continue to intimidate and harass the Catholic/nationalist people of Lurgan and Portadown.

Rosemary had made a complaint to the United Nations about the threats to her life. She had also addressed the United States House of Representatives International Relations committee.

The RUC must bear huge responsibility for her murder. They had singled her out and threatened to her clients that she would be killed on many occasions while they were in custody.

We who still mourn her cruel death and owe it to Rosemary to continue to campaign for the truth about her murder.  The British government must be held accountable.