2 June 2014 Edition
Families to sue Ministry of Defence, PSNI, NIO and Secretary of State
34 people killed and almost 300 injured when no-warning UVF car-bombs exploded in Dublin and Monaghan town on 17 May 1974
Paddy Askin, whose father was killed in Monaghan, sees the civil action as ‘a last resort’ aimed at getting people ‘from the grunts who did it to the suits at the top’ to admit their role
SURVIVORS and relatives of those killed and injured in the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings have launched civil actions in the Belfast High Court against the British Ministry of Defence, the PSNI, the NIO and the Secretary of State for the Northern Ireland as a last resort over Britain’s refusal to comprehensively co-operate in the investigation even 40 years later.
The lead cases are being taken by Derek Byrne, who was critically injured in one of the bomb attacks in Dublin, and Paddy Askin, whose father (also called Paddy) was killed in the explosion in Monaghan. The pair are acting as lead plaintiffs on behalf of up to 25 people.
Thirty-four people were killed and almost 300 injured when three no-warning car-bombs exploded during the rush-hour in Dublin and a fourth in Monaghan town on 17 May 1974.
The unionist Ulster Volunteer Force eventually claimed responsibility for the well-co-ordinated attacks that were carried out with the assistance of British state forces. It was the greatest loss of life in a single day of the conflict, even bigger than Omagh. No one has been convicted of the attacks.
At a joint press conference by the Dublin/Monaghan bombings families’ campaign group Justice for the Forgotten and the Pat Finucane Centre in Dublin three days before the 40th anniversary of the attacks, Margaret Urwin (Chair, Justice for the Forgotten) announced the dramatic move against the British Government and the PSNI.
• The Pat Finucane Centre and Justice for the Forgotten had discussions with the HET about securing an overarching report into collusion between British forces and unionist paramilitaries, but this report never came to pass
The panel at the press conference included Alan Brecknell of the Pat Finucane Centre and solicitor Kevin Winters as well as Derek Byrne and Paddy Askin.
Derek and Paddy both spoke to An Phoblacht.
Derek Byrne was critically wounded in the Parnell Street bomb in Dublin but was diagnosed only five years ago with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder despite constantly waking at night, screaming, He criticised the Irish Government’s withdrawal of funding for families’ support services and added:
“We know that anyone convicted would get two years under the Good Friday Agreement but we want the truth, who was behind it, who they were working for.
Paddy Askin told An Phoblacht that he sees the civil action as “a last resort” aimed at getting people to admit their role “from the grunts who did it to the suits at the top”.
“Every other avenue has been closed to us. I feel very let down by the authorities and that the British Government can just refuse to co-operate.
“I would ask the British Prime Minister to help us bring some closure to this. If David Cameron could apologise for Bloody Sunday after 40 years, can he not help the families from the Dublin and Monaghan bombings after 40 years?”
Unveiling the new move, Margaret pointed out that when the late Justice Henry Barron published his 2003 Independent Commission of Inquiry report into the bombings on behalf of the Irish Government, he deplored the failure of the British authorities to make original documents available to his inquiry. He also criticised their refusal to supply other information on “national security” grounds, saying they limited the scope of his report.
Two motions were unanimously passed by the Dáil in 2008 and 2011 urging the British Government to make the undisclosed documents available to an independent, international judicial figure for assessment. Westminster ignored the unanimous call from the Irish Parliament.
More recently, Justice for the Forgotten proposed to the current British Ambassador, Dominick Chilcott, that the documents could be assessed in Britain and even in situ so that no question of national security need arise. Margaret Urwin revealed that Justice for the Forgotten had proposed “a highly-respected individual, who was believed would be acceptable to both sides” was suggested as an assessor. “However, an arranged meeting to progress the discussion was cancelled by the British side last November and no new meeting has been offered since then.”
The Pat Finucane Centre, Alan Brecknell said, together with Justice for the Forgotten, have had “long discussions” with the North’s Historical Enquiries Team to secure “an over-arching report” that would have encompassed cases of collusion between British forces (including British Military Intelligence, the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Royal Ulster Constabulary) and unionist paramilitaries. This would have included the infamous ‘Glenanne Gang’ made up of serving and former police officers and soldiers from the UDR as well as unionist sectarian death squads.
Over 120 killings (a third of whom were killed south of the Border) were to be re-examined.
The purpose of the report was to “tie in all the links, whether they be security force or ballistic links”, including attacks south of the Border.
“Unfortunately, this report never came to pass.”
Referencing the recently-published and acclaimed book Lethal Allies: Britain’s Dirty War in Ireland, by former BBC correspondent Ann Cadwallader (now in its sixth print run after more than 14,500 sales), Alan Brecknell said that the Pat Finucane Centre over the past 12 years has been investigating a series of killings “inextricably linked to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings – to the perpetrators, the actual people involved”.
He said a number of whistleblowers “from within the British security forces” have come forward over the years, including former British Army officers Colin Wallace and Fred Holroyd but former RUC Sergeant John Weir was probably the most important one in 1999.
Weir detailed how he and other RUC members colluded with loyalist death squads. Weir also claimed that a number of UDR members had been recruited by British special forces for covert operations.
John Weir, a serving RUC officer of ten years’ standing at the time, was convicted in 1980 of the murder of William Strathearn, a Catholic pharmacist shot dead in Ahoghill, County Antrim. The killing was claimed by the UVF.
According to Weir, an informer working for the RUC had revealed to him that British undercover soldier Robert Nairac was a frequent visitor to his home. Weir claims that Nairac had named those responsible for a series of loyalist attacks at the time, including the names of members of the UDR who were ‘helping’ British army special forces. Weir’s allegations were confirmed by relatives of two UDR soldiers later killed by the IRA.
Alan Brecknell recalled:
“John Weir said in an affidavit that himself and a number of other RUC and UDR personnel were involved with loyalist paramilitaries in a series of attacks north of the Border but also in a series of cross-Border attacks, including the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.”
Solicitor Kevin Winters said the survivors and families of victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings have been “fighting a tortuous battle for 40 years to try and get dome degree of truth recovery and justice”.
They have received “piecemeal” responses from the various authorities, particularly the British Government.
“The Irish Government and the Garda have not covered themselves in glory in terms of accountability and accessibility to information” to allow the families to achieve closure, he added.
He explained that the civil action aims to raise where the killers “emanated from” and “the authorities’ role, in the context of the investigation into the atrocity and what role they did have, directly or indirectly, in terms of prior knowledge, access to intelligence and, ultimately the failed and inept murder investigation”.
• ‘There has been obfuscation of the highest order in relation to the role of the political and military and policing authorities by the British Government in relation to this case’ – Solicitor Kevin Winters
The Police Ombudsman in the North has also been presented with a detailed case history and invited to “investigate allegations of collusion, insofar as the police are concerned, in the atrocity” and in the subsequent investigation.
“The Police Ombudsman in the autumn of last year agreed to commence a formal investigation into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings,” the solicitor said. “That was a huge and significant breakthrough for the families’ campaign.” It gave the families added impetus to pursue the civil litigation.
The experienced legal adviser said the families fully expect “a difficult battle” and obstacles from the authorities, who, he said, have all along “operated a Russian retreat process and there’s no reason they’re likely to depart from that process in the context of this action”.
“There is a failure to front up and address the fact that there is serious evidence and allegations of collusion that permeate the security forces’ activities and, on a wider front, the political activities in terms of knowledge and understanding of what went on both beforehand in terms of prior knowledge and what took place thereafter,” Kevin Winters said.
“There has been obfuscation of the highest order in relation to the role of the political and military and policing authorities by the British Government in relation to this case.
“This action is designed to unpick and probe and pressurise the authorities through conventional civil litigation to get access to information that should have been made available to the families many, many years ago.”
Kevin Winters urged the defendants – the PSNI, Ministry of Defence, NIO and Secretary of State – to respond positively to the families’ quest for closure.
Sinn Féin deputy leader and Dublin Central TD Mary Lou McDonald and Cavan/Monaghan TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin both attended the families’ press conference.
Mary Lou McDonald said:
“It is a poor day when families have to go down this route because of the failure of the Irish Government to uphold the rights of citizens and hold the British Government to account.”
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said in a press release issued later from Government Buildings:
“I renew the call on the British Government, our partner in the Peace Process and the joint guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and its related agreements, to allow access on an agreed basis by an independent international judicial figure to the original documents in their possession relating to the bombings.”