16 February 2006 Edition
Remembering the Past
BY SHANE Mac THOMÁIS
On 24 January 1885 Captain William Mackey Lomasney and his Clan na Gael struck at the very heart of Victorian imperialism when they bombed Westminster Hall, the Tower of London and the House of Commons.
Almost to the week 106 years later, the IRA, in February 1991, bombed the British War Cabinet, which was meeting at the centre of British political power - the Prime Minister's residence in Number 10 Downing Street.
Just after 10am on Thursday 7 February, as the most senior war lords of the Tory Cabinet discussed their strategy in the Gulf War, one of three IRA mortars, launched from a white van on the corner of Horseguards Avenue and Whitehall, landed in the British Prime Minister's residence.
Blast windows and their frames protecting the cabinet room shattered as Ministers dived for cover under tables. The IRA mortar heading straight for the cabinet room had hit a tree and exploded 15 yards short of its target. The tree, coupled with special defences in the cabinet room, ensured that injuries were restricted to two civil servants and two policemen attached to the Diplomatic Protection Squad. What was not lost on those inside Number 10 was that, had the device not struck the tree it would have ploughed straight into the cabinet room, almost certainly killing the British Prime Minister and most senior members of the British Government.
Two other mortars launched seconds later slightly overshot their target and crashed into Mountbatten Green, causing damage to numbers 11 and 12 Downing Street, the offices of the Treasury and Foreign Ministry. One British security agent said it was five to ten degrees off.
The fact that the IRA, in the midst of one of the tightest security clampdowns in British history, had reached the centre of government in Britain and came within feet of wiping out its top tier, shocked the British establishment and dominated news headlines across the world.
The IRA, following the 1991 attack said in a statement issued within hours of the attack: "Today an active service unit of the IRA successfully breached the greatly enhanced wartime security surrounding 10 Downing Street by launching a mortar attack in the heart of the British establishment.
'"The operation had been planned over a number of months. Its inception pre-dates both John Major's coming to power and the beginning of British involvement in the Gulf War.
"Whether the Gulf War goes on for weeks or years, let the British Government understand that, while nationalist people in the Six Counties are forced to live under British rule, the British cabinet will be forced to meet in bunkers.
"The British Government has the solution to the conflict of which today's attack is a part. It should initiate the process which will lead to British withdrawal from our country and create the conditions for a true democracy throughout Ireland."
The audacious and international headline grabbing IRA attack, took place on 7 February 1991.
An Phoblacht Magazine
AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:
- The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
- It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
- There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.