Gem Bar was collusion target, papers indicate

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It has emerged that the British Army raided the pub which was the original target of the McGurk’s Bar bombers, two nights before the massacre in which collusion is strongly suspected.

The Gem Bar, just around the corner from McGurk’s Bar, was identified by British soldiers as a venue frequented by members of the Official IRA.

Secret British Army archives uncovered by a relative of one of the victims show that its soldiers raided the bar, questioned twenty customers and sent six of them to Girdwood British Army barracks for further interrogation.

The names of the six who were detained are recorded but censored as is other information on them.

But less than 48 hours later, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) targeted the Gem Bar and their clientele for a major bomb attack. They failed to get clear access and chose instead to bomb McGurk’s Bar killing 15 civilians including 2 children, and injuring 17 others.

In a suspected cover-up, British authorities immediately portrayed the attack as an “IRA own goal”.

The only convicted bomber, Robert James Campbell, confessed that the UVF gang drove to the area to attack the Gem Bar. It is believed that they could not plant the bomb there as access to the door was blocked by a group of young men. The bombers then drove around the corner and pulled up beside the side entrance of McGurk’s Bar

One of the bombers got out of the car and was able to place the bomb in the entranceway, lit the fuse and ran back to the car which then sped off down Great George’s Street.

The families have long feared that British military intelligence facilitated the loyalist killers’ targeting and escape that night by clearing the area before the attack, and by telling lies about the victims in its aftermath.

Ciaran Mac Airt is a grandson of two of the victims and he discovered the secret military documents in the National Archives, London.

He said the files also disproved claims of the police and the Office of the Police Ombudsman reported to the families. They show the British Army within an hour had linked the Gem Bar to the bomb attack -- but the British Army’s description of the Gem Bar is still withheld from the families, even after 47 years.

“I believe the redacted information records that the Gem Bar was a ‘Goulding’ bar which in British military parlance denoted its alleged affiliation to the Official IRA whose leader at the time was Cathal Goulding,” he said.

“The reason that it is redacted could be that it shows that the British Army had correctly considered the Gem Bar to have been the target and the bombers [to have been] loyalists. This alone would undermine the botched investigations our families have endured until now.”

Another find also pointed to the presence in the area of a secret British military killer gang. A log entry shows it was involved in an ongoing covert operation in north Belfast at that time.

The Military Reaction Force was a clandestine British military unit deployed on the streets of Belfast by ‘counter-insurgency’ specialist General Frank Kitson when he was a British Army brigadier there.

Relatives of the victims have never been officially told of the killer unit’s presence in north Belfast.

“We now know for a fact that the British Army’s covert death squad, the Military Reaction Force, was operating in the area with 2 RRF [Royal Regiment Fusiliers] who had raided the Gem Bar and we had long suspected that it had facilitated and directed the bombers,” said Mr Mac Airt.

Niall O Murchu, a lawyer representing the McGurk’s Bar families, said it is becoming increasingly clear that the British Army was involved in the planning and targeting of this bomb attack.

“Nevertheless, the British government and its proxies continue to withhold and redact critical evidence relating to the mass-murder of Irish men, women and children in McGurk’s Bar,” he said.

“Through agencies such as the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Office of the Police Ombudsman, the British state continues to cover-up the true circumstances of the McGurk’s Bar massacre.”

“To allay all suspicion, we challenge Chief Constable George Hamilton and Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire to retrieve this file and release the information that the British Ministry of Defence is withholding from the families 47 years later.”

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