By Patricia McKenna (for Daily Ireland)
Last week’s revelations that the British government knew the identities of the people behind the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings and failed to bring them to justice comes as no surprise. The Northern Ireland Office memo, disclosed last week, confirmed not only that the British government knew the identities of the killers within four months of the attack but that the then secretary of state, Merlyn Rees, actually told Irish representatives at a meeting between the two governments that they had evidence that men they had recently interned were responsible for the bombings.
These secret government papers, marked confidential, relate to a specific meeting between British and Irish government officials in September 1974. The then British prime minister, Harold Wilson, and secretary of state Merlyn Rees were both present at the meeting as well as two Irish ministers Dr Garret FitzGerald and Jim Tully. This is believed to be the first official recognition that the British know the identities of the UVF gang. The memo reads: “The Secretary of State said he was able to inform the Irish ministers, in confidence, that internment orders he had signed during the Ulster Workers’ Council Strike included the persons he believed to be responsible for the Dublin bombings.”
The memo also read: “He was unable to state this in public because of the nature of the evidence.” Although the meeting was referred to in the Barron report, which investigated the handling of the case, neither the document nor its contents were ever made public.
These revelations once again highlight the need for this entire issue to be handed over to a truly independent public inquiry with teeth, where all those called are legally obliged to co-operate fully with the inquiry. This obligation would apply to British and Irish alike. The refusal of former taoiseach Liam Cosgrave to co-operate with enquiries can no longer be tolerated. The fact that the British authorities know who was responsible for the bombings is interesting but the fact that they also directly informed Irish government ministers is even more significant. There can be no dispute about this fact as the meeting was placed on the official record. Why then did the government of the day not pursue this matter and why did Garret FitzGerald who was a minister in that government not focus on this meeting during his evidence to Barron?
Why the British government did not place this document before the Barron inquiry is obvious - they have much to hide and many questions to answer about the whole sordid affair, including why those responsible were never brought to justice.
The last British ambassador to Ireland, Stewart Eldon, claimed his government had failed to co-operate with the Dublin/Monaghan inquiries because of national security issues. But this is not an explanation that should be meekly accepted by our own government. Bertie Ahern and his ministers should remember that their responsibility is to the people of Ireland who elect them. The protection of the lives of Irish citizens must take precedence over the protection of British national security. All the 1970s bombings must be raised with Tony Blair without further delay.
When this information came to light last week, one would have expected Garret FitzGerald to come under at least some criticism for failing to highlight the importance of this meeting and its disclosure during the Barron inquiry and indeed that as a minister in government he and his fellow ministers had failed to do anything about it. But it seems Mr FitzGerald along with other Irish politicians who have been consistently anti-republican in the past, such as Des O’Malley, are put on a pedestal by the political establishment and criticism of them is not the ‘politically correct’ thing to do.
The possibility that theses vicious military attacks on Ireland and its citizens were not the work of loyalist paramilitary organisations alone is becoming more and more evident. Last week’s fiasco regarding the claims that the UVF planted a bomb in the Mansion House in 1981 which failed to explode reaffirms my belief that loyalist paramilitaries had neither the technology nor the know-how to carry out such an expertly planned military attack on Ireland. Imagine, seven years after they are supposed to have carried out the single biggest atrocity in the history of the Northern conflict they cannot even succeed in detonating one bomb in the Mansion House. It was clear the explosive devices used were beyond the known competence of the loyalist paramilitaries at that time. The evidence just doesn’t add up.
Which brings us back to the possibility, confirmed on numerous occasion by former British agents, that British military intelligence was involved in the 1974 bombs. While they may have used loyalist paramilitaries to carry out parts of the operation, the overall planning and technology were controlled by well-trained experienced military personnel.
If this is indeed the case then it comes as little surprise that pursuit of those responsible would not be high on Britain’s agenda. Clearly it would not be in the best interests of the British establishment for the real truth to emerge. If it transpired that just two years after Ireland and Britain joined the Common Market, Britain was responsible for a military attack on its nearest neighbour killing 34 people and injuring over 250 others. Imagine the international outcry this would have evoked not to mention the major blow to Britain’s credibility as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
While it is understandable that British authorities would want to avoid such an embarrassing situation it is not understandable or even acceptable that our own governments - past and present - are protecting Britain instead of using all means available to them to have the truth uncovered.
It’s galling to think that the findings of the Barron inquiry were challenged by a number of former ministers in the Cosgrave government, including Garret Fitzgerald, Conor Cruise O’Brien and Paddy Cooney while these same people failed in their duty to ensure that everything possible was done to bring those responsible for the atrocity to justice.
Relatives of the victims need to know the full truth about why the people who perpetrated this atrocity got away with it and they need to know what links they had to British military intelligence. They also need to know why our own authorities failed us all so miserably.
The only group that seems to be doing anything about this issue is Justice for the Forgotten.
If we do get a real independent inquiry then we need to ensure that the justice minister Michael McDowell’s reform of tribunal legislation does not include provisions to censor or keep secret any of the findings. As it stands the current bill allows the government “acting on the opinion of the responsible minister” to direct that a report or a specified part of it not be published “where such publication would not be in the interest of state security, or the interest of the state’s relations with other states or international organisations”.
This means that even if the involvement of British intelligence is proven it will be kept secret because it may not be in the interests of our relations with Britain.