Statement from the Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin TD on Cunningham Award

15 April 2010

Henry Cunningham was a 16 year old young man from Carndonagh in County Donegal who was murdered while travelling home to Donegal from work in Glengormley on 9 August 1973. The van in which he was travelling was fired at from a motorway bridge near Randalstown. Henry was shot and died almost instantly. No one was ever convicted of his murder.

The PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team (HET) re-examined Henry’s murder and produced a report for the family. That report concluded that it was likely that the murder was carried out by the UVF in the mistaken belief that the occupants of the van were Catholics from the South.  Henry’s family are Presbyterian. His brothers Robert and Herbert were travelling in the van on the day with their colleagues who were Catholics and Presbyterians.

I met with Henry’s brother Robert last year and he presented me with a copy of the report prepared by the HET. I was deeply moved by the pain which Robert Cunningham expressed when we met. Though it is almost 40 years since Henry was murdered, the pain that the family feel has not gone away. At that meeting we discussed how to commemorate Henry’s life.

I am impressed that the family have decided to commemorate Henry’s short life by providing a valuable opportunity for students of the same age that Henry was when he was murdered. I am pleased to announce the provision of funding for the establishment of the Henry Cunningham Human Rights Essay competition. Initially, the essay competition will be open to Transition Year students from the Inishowen peninsula, where Henry’s family come from.

None of the students who will write for this competition were born when Henry Cunningham’s young life was cut short during one of the darkest years of the Troubles. They may not know of the pain and suffering endured by many families across this island during the Troubles. It will remind them of how one local family suffered and continued to suffer because of a senseless murder.

This competition will also remind students of the importance of human rights. By dedicating it to the memory of Henry, a young Donegal man who was denied the most fundamental human right, it serves as a fitting tribute to a young life cut short tragically.

Once again, I would like to offer my deepest condolences to the family. Their loss can never be set right but it is important that they know that the people of Ireland share their grief and will work to make sure that no other family has to suffer a similar tragedy in the future.