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11 October 2001 Edition

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Remembering the Past

IRA bombs British Cabinet in Brighton



BY ART Mac EOIN


The British Cabinet, the Conservative Party and the entire British political establishment were rocked to their foundations in October 1984 when an IRA bomb ripped through the Grand Hotel in Brighton during the annual Conservative Party Conference.

The Tory Cabinet and other senior party figures were staying in the hotel at the time. Although British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was not killed in the blast, her rooms were damaged and she was badly shaken.

An IRA statement claiming responsibility for the attack stated: "Mrs Thatcher will now realise that Britain cannot occupy our country, torture our prisoners and shoot our people on their own streets and get away with it. Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once- you will have to be lucky always. Give Ireland peace and there will be no war."

The Brighton bomb came just three years after the deaths of ten republican hunger strikers in Long Kesh and several years of severe repression against nationalists in the Six Counties under the Thatcher government. Indeed, on the very day that the IRA bomb exloded, Six County Direct Ruler Douglas Hurd had declared to Tory delegates in Brighton a four-pronged strategy of more repression, an attempt to co-opt the SDLP into an internal Six County settlement, more security collboration with the Dublin authorities and an upholding of the unionist veto.

The ability of the IRA to penetrate the Grand Hotel during the Conservative conference smashed the myth that the British government was impregnable and instilled deep shock, fear and depression among the British political establishment.

The bomb demonstrated that despite the militaristic approach of the Thatcher regime to the conflict in Ireland, the IRA could not be defeated and that it would respond ever more effectively to Thatcher's hardline policies.

The bombing also took place against the backdrop of rising electoral support for Sinn Fein in the Six and 26 Counties and Garret Fitzgerald's Dublin Forum, which was an attempt by so-called constitutional Irish nationalism to throw a political lifeline to the SDLP, and to stabilise the staus quo in Ireland by excluding and isolating republicanism. The IRA bomb tore through, not just the structure of the Grand Hotel, but also British strategy on Ireland.

The IRA planted 160 pounds of gelignite on the sixth floor of the Grand Hotel. When the bomb exploded at 3am in the morning, it blew out the facade of the four top floors in one section of the hotel, while internally the top rooms crashed down more than seven floors into the basement. A number of leading conservatives were killed and another 30 injured, including Tory Minister Norman Tebbit.

The IRA bomb at the Grand Hotel in Brighton exploded in the early hours of Friday, 12 October 1984, 17 years ago this week.


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