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Depression and anxiety which led to suicide bids means ‘war is far from over’ for former activist

By Staff Reporter

A New Lodge man who had six separate attempts made on his life by loyalists has described for the first time the mental scars he bears almost twenty years after the ceasefires.

Denis O’Hagan (64) says he believes he is not the only one who is struggling to get over the conflict, but hopes that by going public he can show people in the same position that there is help out there and they too can work through their difficulties.

A former Sinn Féin member, the father of three suffers from anxiety and depression, and has attempted to take his  life on two occasions. But he says his friends and GP have been a great source of strength and with their help, he is surviving.

“I am a wreck, honestly, but fair play to my doctor who has been able to help me through.”

A member of Sinn Féin from 1980, it was only after ten years as an activist that loyalists began to target him, explained Denis.

“I knew there was a risk but nothing happened until July 1990. I was at my door and the RUC came round and asked me to come to North Queen Street barracks. There they told me a girl had overheard men planning to shoot me. They told me to take the threat very, very seriously.  That was the 5th of July. Only for that wee girl I’d be dead.

“The minute I left I made sure the security on my house was improved. On July 7 three men came to my house with AKs – one of them blew the windows out and the other one shot the wee lad putting grilles on my windows in the backside. He ran into the house and the gunman chased him upstairs, but when he saw it wasn’t me he backed off.”

The next years were to see more attempts on his life, as well as approaches from members of the British establishment to become an informer – all of which failed.

He says he still fears for his safety despite having a sophisticated CCTV system and bulletproof windows.

“There’s people out there who think the war is over. Let me assure you for me, the war isn’t over. People tell me, ‘Denis, it’s all in your mind’, but that’s how I feel.

“They say it’s paranoia but how can it be paranoia when they have come to kill me six times? Those are facts.”

In a bid to change his appearance so he wouldn’t be identified by would-be killers, Denis paid for weight loss surgery in 2009.

“I used to be 26 stone and the loyalists knew me as the ‘fat man’. I got a gastric bypass in 2009 because I thought it would stop them reognising me. I lost 14 stone.”

But despite this when he leaves the house he says he still covers up for gear of being recognised.

“I wear a balaclava and pull my hood up. It’s  unbelievable that I’m running about like that at 64 years old, like a wee child. I go walking early in the morning with a hood on me because I’m so afraid of being recognised.”

The fact he is able to get out and about at all he credits to his psychiatrist and GP who provide constant support.

“If you look for the help it’s out there, and I would advise anyone who is in my position to seek help.”

Denis says despite the legacy of the conflict on himself, he doesn’t regret the choices he made.

“No, not in the slightest. I would be with the party today apart from personal reasons. I know my problems are related back to the troubles but I found it easier during the war. You had something to fall back on – a support network. That’s all gone. I felt more secure then – it sounds funny but it’s true.”

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