Cosgrave owes us an explanation

By Tom McGurk
(from the Sunday Business Post)

In years to come when historians begin to search for an explanation for the behaviour of the Cosgrave government to its own mass-murdered citizens in relation to the Dublin and Monaghan bombs, I have no doubt they will still feel as astounded as we all felt on reading last Wednesday's Barron Report.

The criminal disregard of its responsibilities exposed by Barron seems inexplicable. The failure to act on the names of the bombers, personally supplied by the British prime minister to Liam Cosgrave, the failure to pass information to the Garda, the loss of forensic and material evidence, the winding-down of the investigation and finally the missing files from the Department of Justice.

But perhaps to begin to understand just where such a mentality comes from, historians might do worse than study the following paragraph from Thursday's editorial reaction in the Irish Times.

``A British Labour government had just come to power and a loyalist strike was under way because of the Sunningdale Agreement. The leadership of Mr Cosgrave's administration was constantly threatened in a climate of terrorism. In the circumstances prevailing, confirmation that members of the Northern Ireland security forces had colluded in the bombing would have done terrible damage to Anglo-Irish relations, strengthened the IRA and undermined the government.''

So there you go, you have it in one - ``in the circumstances prevailing'' and in its wider political interests, as the Cosgrave government saw them, the largest massmurder of the citizens of this state was to be quietly put on the back burner by their own government.

For the greater good, then, the 33 blown to bits, the hundreds wounded, the years of loss and suffering and official lies were all for the greater cause of what Cosgrave used to call ``the determination of my government to maintain law and order''.

For those old enough to remember, the historical sight now of that administration's clambering on to the moral high ground on violence, and its wider implications, leaves one almost nauseous now.

And in the days, too, since the report was published, why the deafening silence from the major players still alive - Cosgrave, Garret FitzGerald, Paddy Cooney, Conor Cruise O'Brien and others?

At the very least, Justice Barron's work will have caused considerable rewriting of political obituaries. How many political reputations will have now joined the scrapheap of the history of the dead and wounded of the Monaghan and Dublin bombings?

Equally, those who ever expected that Barron might be in a position to shed light on what we politely call ``official collusion'' were, of course, utterly naive.

The British intelligence services long ago created a modus operandi that left neither footprints nor political fallout.

Indeed, how vain was the hope that Barron might spill the beans whenyou consider the testimonies of former intelligence agents such as Colin Wallace and senior MI6 agent Peter Wright, author of Spycatcher.

Both have testified that it was at this time precisely in the 1970s that the secret intelligence services were themselves attempting to destroy British prime minister Harold Wilson, because they were convinced he was compromised by the Soviets.

In fact, the evidence that the Ulster Workers' strike against the Sunningdale Agreement in the same era was clandestinely run by elements in British intelligence grows with the passage of time.

Indeed, in the longer historical perspective,there is increasing suspicion that the situation in the North had effectively become a convenient bonfire for the frying of much bigger fish back in London.

Wilson's alleged Soviet links,the growing and at times crippling power of British trade unionism, even the declining power of the old aristocracy within Edward Heath's Conservative party, all rang alarm bells in the lands of the spooks and their friends. Within a generation they had found their champion in Margaret Thatcher, who seemed to understand the old pecking order, and as a result, very quickly the British secret state and its political executive were supping at the same table again.

Indeed, the fact that, by the late 1980s, they were actively seeking a draw and an end to hostilities with the IRA indicates just how much they were back in charge.

And so it remains under Tony Blair. No wonder, then, that in most recent times the latest ghost knocking on the door was the unfortunate Dr David Kelly. But what are we to do now with our ghosts from Dublin and Monaghan? What now can be done to assuage them and their still grieving relatives?

And is it too much to expect that those in government at the time, and still alive, might grant us all an explanation?

Of course, what Barron does not point out is the reaction in Whitehall to Dublin's reaction to the bombings. That a government could be so insistent on self-interest and value so lightly the lives of its own citizens must have been a seminal lesson in Whitehall.

Is it any wonder that they decided when Sunningdale fell that the North was quintessentially a British problem, and as long as Dublin's political self-interest was catered for, there would be no trouble from that quarter?

Clearly within their Irish stew the British quickly recognised that the most biddable and easily-contained political voice was that from Dail Eireann.

So within months we had `Ulsterisation', Castlereagh, the ending of special status, which led to the hunger strikes, and then 15 more bloody murderous years.

Section 31 here, and its equivalent in Britain, ghettoised republican paramilitarism and enshrined in official political culture the myth that the sole root of the problem in the North was the IRA.

It took the deaths of thousands before Charles Haughey and then Albert Reynolds opened up the avenue of political escape for them that became the peace process.

There will be a fall-out from the Barron Report for some time to come. But how extraordinary that the same political class, which claims to have established the state, decided, when its own citizens were massmurdered on the streets of the capital, that their version of theTricolour was not of sufficient dimensions to enfold them.

Truly Lord Denning's ``appalling vista'' has come visiting.

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