Do secret files hold the key to Troubles darkest day?

From the Irish World:

TOM GRIFFIN meets the researchers looking for the truth about the Dublin-Monaghan bombings and the Murder Triangle at the National Archives in London.

EVERY January, thousands of British Government files are released under the 30 year rule. Every year for the past four years a small delegation has travelled over from Ireland to the National Archives in the leafy West London suburb of Kew to trawl through the documents.

The group has been seeking the truth about the bombings of 17 May 1974, which killed twenty-six people in Dublin, including a pregnant woman, and a further seven in Monaghan Town.

Although this was the bloodiest single day of the Troubles, nobody has ever been charged with the crime. In the face of decades of official indifference, the Dublin-Monaghan families themselves and their supporters in campaign group Justice for the Forgotten have played a major role in piecing together the events behind the bombings.

“We don’t know who gave the orders, but we believe the gang was comprised of members of the security forces, both the RUC and the UDR, and loyalist paramilitaries,” says Justice for the Forgotten Secretary Margaret Urwin, who has organised the group’s trips to London.

Research by the Pat Finucane Centre in Belfast has also linked permutations of the ‘Glennane Gang’ to a large number of attacks north of the border, in the so-called ‘murder triangle’ of Armagh and neighbouring counties.

PFC researcher Alan Brecknell, whose own father was killed in one such attack on Donnelly’s Bar in Silverbridge, Co Armagh in 1975, was among those visiting the National Archives.

“One thing that’s definitely come out of the research that we have done over the last six years is that the personnel who were involved in Dublin-Monaghan, were also involved in a lot of other incidents in what would be commonly known as the Murder Triangle, but also in South Armagh,” he says. “There’s a lot of talk about a group of loyalists among security force members, operating out of a farm in Glennane in South Armagh. We’ve gone to meetings in recent years with the police in the north, and they’re fairly accepting of the fact that something was going on out of this farmhouse.”

It’s frustratingly difficult to find traces of such activity in the official files. There’s a remarkable paucity of material about loyalists, which contrasts with a strong propensity for the officials of 1974 and 75 to name names where republicans were concerned. For example, one document notes the arrest of the suspected Belfast commander of the IRA.

“It’s very evident that the vast majority of resources were being targeted against republican activities, there’s very little reference to loyalist activities at all, in any of the files that I’ve looked at,” Brecknell notes.

A major theme of the British documents is the need for the Republic to beef up its border security as part of the struggle against the IRA. Indeed, some British Army officers were warning that failure to do so could leave the Republic vulnerable to loyalist attacks. Margaret Urwin sees the British desire for security co-operation as a possible motive for higher-level collusion.

“At that time, the British were really pressing for the Irish Government to co-operate on security matters,” she says. “In particular, they were really pushing for the Gardai to liaise directly with the British Army.”

“The unbelievable thing is that all of the pressure is coming from the British on the Irish Government during 1974 to co-operate with them in border security, whereas of course, it was a breach of border security going the other way that resulted in the Dublin-Monaghan bombings.”

The Irish Government’s reticence on Dublin-Monaghan contrasted with its stance on other issues, according to Urwin. “There are so many documents relating to for example Garret Fitzgerald, pressing and pressing on various issues, but no documented evidence in those files of any pressure in relation to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings.”

Yet there are indications in the files that the Irish authorities did not believe the bombings were straightforward loyalist attacks. An internal meeting of British officials in September 1974 recorded that: “The Gardai were unconvinced that the recent bombs in the Republic were the work of Protestant extremists as had been widely assumed in the media. There had been only one indirect claim by Protestants to this effect, and there had been no confirmatory intelligence after the event.”

One potential way forward for the families is the Historical Enquiries Team, currently being put in place by the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Alan Brecknell argues that the team needs to look at Dublin-Monaghan even though it is outside their jurisdiction. “You can’t look at any case individually, you have to look at the whole wide-ranging activities of the group. I think they’ve accepted that, and they’re going to look at where there are links and where the modus operandi is the same.”

“Hopefully over the next number of months and years the families will get some more information that is in the police files. The only way to get that is through the police, but that is just a stepping stone to being able to put more pressure on the Governments.”

Brecknell believes there needs to be a comprehensive truth process for all victims of the Troubles. “Going through the courts system in the north isn’t going to do it for you, because the way the system’s set up, you only find out what an individual did, you don’t find out what was going on behind that,” he argues. In the Republic, Justice for the Forgotten still hopes for a full public inquiry. Although the Oireachtas Committee on Justice has called for Britain to hold its own inquiry into the role of collusion in the bombings, Margaret Urwin believes that’s unlikely ever to happen, and that the Irish Government should appoint its own tribunal.

“We have consistently called for a public tribunal of inquiry, since the foundation of the campaign,” she says. “From day one, what the families want is the truth more than to see somebody convicted or imprisoned. What they really want, their first priority is to get the truth.”







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