The worst day in the history of the recent conflict took place 40 years ago this week. A report from Justice for the Forgotten, which was formed in 1996 and continues to campaign for truth and justice for the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.
On Friday, 17 May 1974, three no-warning car bombs ripped through the heart of Dublin at 5.30 pm. Twenty-six people (including a French and Italian citizen) and an unborn baby lost their lives. Parnell Street, Talbot Street and South Leinster Street were devastated. Ninety minutes later, a fourth car bomb exploded outside Greacen’s Pub in North Road, Monaghan town where a further seven people died. This has been the greatest loss of life in a single day of the Troubles, including even the Omagh atrocity of 15 August 1998.
The no-warning Dublin car bombs exploded during the Friday evening rush hour - the busiest time on the busiest day of the week - ensuring maximum casualties. An entire family- a young father and mother and their two baby daughters - was wiped out in Parnell Street.
The bombings occurred at a time of acute instability in Northern Ireland and coincided with the loyalist Ulster Workers’ Council strike, which brought down the power-sharing executive at Stormont established by the Sunningdale Agreement. The arrangement collapsed on 28 May - 11 days after the bombings.
On the evening of the bombings, the Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave, said in a TV and radio broadcast that he wanted to express ‘the revulsion and condemnation felt by every decent person in this island at these unforgivable acts.’ He said it would help ‘to bring home to us here what the people of NI have been suffering for five long years.’ He added ‘everyone who has practised violence, or preached violence or condoned violence must bear a share of responsibility for today’s outrage’.
In Belfast, the UDA and the UVF denied responsibility for the explosions and in Dublin a statement issued by the Provisional IRA called the explosions ‘vile murder’. Mr. Brian Faulkner, NI Chief Executive, sent a message to Mr. Cosgrave expressing ‘deepest regret’ from himself and his colleagues. The UDA Press Officer, Mr. Samuel Smyth, said: ‘I am very happy about the bombings in Dublin. There is a war with the Free State and now we are laughing at them’.
An attitude of resignation appears to have been adopted by the Government insofar as the bombings were seen to have been inevitable because of the actions of the IRA. Speeches by the Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave; the Minister for Justice, Paddy Cooney; the Minister for Posts & Telegraphs, Conor Cruise O’Brien; the Minister for Local Government, Jim Tully; the leader of the Opposition, Jack Lynch and the Attorney General, Declan Costello, all gave this message loud and clear.
It was repeatedly stated in the days following the bombing that any Irish citizen who had even entertained the thought of supporting the IRA’s contemporary campaign was every bit as guilty of the slaughter of the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings as were those who had, cold-bloodedly and without any warning, planned and carried out the atrocity.
The obvious follow-on from this playing down of the atrocity caused further anguish for the families of the victims and the injured. Only in a few instances did politicians visit the families or wounded. There was no national day of mourning as there had been for Bloody Sunday. A decision was even taken, but quickly reversed, that the National Flag should not be flown at half-mast. (In the event, the National Flag flew at half-mast in Dublin and Monaghan town on Wednesday, 22 May). There was no Government initiative to set up a fund for the dependants of those murdered. There was no consultation with the families and no counselling provided. No progress reports on the investigation were provided by the Gardai to the families as happened after the Omagh atrocity.
The cars that contained the deadly cargo for Dublin were hijacked on the morning of 17 May. The olive green metallic Hillman Avenger, registration number DIA 4063 was, according to its owner, hijacked at the owner’s home in Torrens Road in the Oldpark Road area at 10 am by three masked men. He was held by two of the men until 4 pm and made a statement to the RUC at 5 pm. This car exploded in Parnell Street.
The blue Ford Escort, registration number 1385 WZ, was stolen from outside a firm of haulage contractors and belonging to an employee of the firm, in Duncrue Road in the docks area of Belfast between 8 and 10.30 am. This car exploded in Talbot Street and was more difficult to trace because the registration plates were partially destroyed in the explosion.
South Leinster Street
The third Dublin bomb car was a Lagoon blue Austin 1800 taxi, registration number HOI 2487, which was hijacked at Agnes Street, off the Shankill Road, at 9 am. The owner/driver was held until 2 pm when he was released but ordered to go home and to wait until 3 pm to report his vehicle as missing to Tennent Street RUC station. He made his report at 3.20 pm. This car exploded just over two hours later in South Leinster Street.
North Road, Monaghan
The car for Monaghan, a green Hillman Minx, registration number 6583 OZ, was stolen from West Street car park in Portadown while its owner was shopping. The car had been parked at around 3.30 pm and was missing on the owner’s return at approximately 4.20 pm. It was immediately reported missing to Portadown RUC station. This car exploded in Monaghan at 6.58 pm.
THE EARLY CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS
At a press conference on 18 May given by the Head of the Central Detective Unit, Chief Supt. John Joy, Detective Chief Supt. A. McMahon, Chief Supt. John Sheehan and Chief Supt. Edward Doherty, Chief Supt. Joy said that an identikit picture was being prepared of South Leinster St. suspect. However, no identikit picture, of the South Leinster St. suspect or any other suspect, was ever shown on television or in the newspapers. This is despite the fact that it was the customary at that time to show identikit pictures of crime suspects (photofits). (For example, on 10 June 1974, three weeks after the bombings, photofits of two men wanted for the kidnapping of the Earl and Countess of Donoughmore were shown in the Irish Press).
The Garda investigation, which initially seemed to be making good progress, more or less ground to a halt within a few weeks of the atrocity. Despite the fact that they had the names of 20 suspects, some on an evidential basis and others from intelligence sources, none of the suspects was ever questioned, let alone charged, with the crime.
Over the years the bereaved and injured came to question:
* The actions of the Irish state in pursuing those responsible
* The integrity of the RUC investigations.
* The complicity of state forces in Northern Ireland in the bombings.
* The possibility that known suspects were not pursued.
These concerns were given further depth and focus by a television programme entitled Hidden Hand: the Forgotten Massacre broadcast in July 1993 as part of the ‘First Tuesday’ series on Channel 4. The programme claimed that the RUC failed to co-operate with the Garda inquiry. It is a fact that the RUC failed to initiate a murder inquiry despite the fact that the crimes originated in their jurisdiction - planning, procurement of cars, assembly of bombs, delivery of bombs, perpetrators return to Northern Ireland.
Justice for the Forgotten was founded in 1996 to act collectively in pursuing these facts and other relevant evidence with the aim of finally establishing the truth about what happened on 17th May 1974.
In a letter to the British Minister of State for Northern Ireland in 2000, it stated:
“We would remind you that the men who planned and executed this atrocity did so in your jurisdiction, that the no-warning bombs, which caused the deaths of 33 civilians in Dublin and Monaghan on 17 May 1974, were assembled in your jurisdiction, that the cars used to carry the deadly cargo, as well as the getaway cars, were procured in your jurisdiction, and that the perpetrators, when their terrible deed was done, escaped back to safety in your jurisdiction.”
its campaign led to the establishment of two private, non-judicial, inquiries by the Irish Government. These resulted in reports which revealed a significant amount of disturbing information.
The last MacEntee Report of 2007 highlighted the huge amounts of relevant documentation that have gone missing from the Garda files and the fact that it is impossible to determine whether further documentation may also be missing due to massive failures in the Garda document management system of the time.
It is therefore impossible to ascertain with any degree of certainty from Garda records why the Garda investigation into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings was wound down less than three months after the bombings. Serious questions thus remain regarding the investigation.
Most disturbingly however, it was acknowledged by the authors in all the inquiries that they had been significantly restricted in their investigations by the non-cooperation of the British authorities.
Without accessing crucial documents held by these authorities, deeply worrying questions remain unanswered for the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, for victims of other collusion-related incidents and for the citizens of both states.