A member of the Miami showband who was injured in an attack which killed three of his bandmates in 1975 yesterday said it is his belief that the checkpoint at which his band’s minibus was stopped was commanded by a British army officer.
Stephen Travers was speaking at a subcommittee of the Dublin parliament’s Justice Committee, which is holding public hearings into unionist paramilitary bombings during the 1970s.
Mr Travers said that, having previously worked as a trainee broker with Lloyds in London, he knew the difference between a mock and a real British accent. He had “no doubt” that the checkpoint was not bogus. He added that “somebody was issuing orders” to the British officer in question, and that this went “all the way to the top”.
The Miami showband were returning from Banbridge, County Down, when their minibus was stopped by the men dressed in British army uniforms on the road to the border town of Newry.
Band members were told to line up in a ditch as the gang loaded the bomb. But this exploded prematurely, killing two of the men involved in the planting of the bomb. After the explosion, the gang opened fire, killing Mr Travers’ bandmates Francis O’Toole, Tony Geraghty and Brian McCoy. Mr Travers and Des Lee survived.
“I heard them [Francis and Tony] being killed. I heard them begging for their lives,” he told the subcommittee yesterday. “I always felt that we were let down by our own State . . . I do feel that recent Irish history is being airbrushed out.”
The subcommittee heard harrowing testimony from relatives of several of those murdered, as well as strong criticism of the actions of the authorities on both sides of the Border before, during and after the attacks.
The committee also heard that efforts to investigate loyalist bombings in the 26 Counties frequently hit a “brick wall” once their inquiries led them north of the Border.
Retired Garda Sgt Owen Corrigan told the sub-committee that in one such instance, the initially helpful attitude of a senior RUC officer “changed completely”.
This happened in February 1979 when Mr Corrigan and his superior officer, retired Chief Supt John Courtney, sought to meet an RUC constable in Belfast.
The constable was understood to have information about the theft of the car used in the bombing of a Dundalk pub in December 1975, but the two gardai were not permitted to meet him.
Mr Courtney agreed with this. Gardai had “no authority” to go to the North to question individuals and were dependent upon RUC co-operation, he said.
However he had passed information regarding the suspected membership of RUC officers in the gang involved in many of the murders on to Garda security and intelligence, known as C3.
Both men agreed, in response to questioning that it was their belief that there was collusion between British forces, the RUC and those involved in the bombing.
The families of two Dundalk men killed in the bomb have demanded a full public inquiry.
Mr Rooney’s daughter Margaret English said: “We were ignored after Daddy was killed. If more had been done maybe we’d have coped better.”