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6 December 2001 Edition

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McGurk's bomb relatives call for inquiry

BY LAURA FRIEL


Calls for an inquiry accompanied the 30th anniversary commemoration of the 15 people who died and 16 who were seriously injured in the McGurk's bar bombing of 1971. Relatives of the victims, who held a memorial service in Belfast this week, are calling for an investigation into allegations of crown force collusion in the UVF bomb attack.

Thirty years ago this week, on 4 December 1971, a UVF gang placed a bomb in the hallway of McGurk's bar in North Queens Street. Amongst the dead, which included children and pensioners, were several members of the bar owner, Patrick McGurk's family, who were upstairs in the living area at the time of the explosion. The building collapsed, trapping many of the victims under the rubble.

Alex McLaughlin, whose father was killed in the attack, said there was a massive Crown force presence in the area in the week prior to the bombing in contrast to the night of the atttack.

"Two days earlier, three men had escaped from Crumlin Road jail and the RUC had swamped the area looking for them," said Alex. "It seems strange that loyalists would choose that time to drive from Tigers Bay into a Catholic area to plant a bomb."

Despite an eyewitness account identifying the bombing crew and the fact that the bombing was claimed by loyalists in the immediate aftrermath of the attack, the British authorities blamed the IRA.

Journalists were briefed by senior members of the British Army, who claimed forensic evidence confirmed republicans were responsible for the explosion.

In her study, "Ireland: the Propaganda War," Liz Curtis describes how the British Army and RUC, with the assistance of much of the press, successfully diverted attention from the evidence of loyalist involvement and used the atrocity to discredit their principle enemy, the IRA.

"The McGurk's bar bombing had caused more casualties than any single previous incident," said Curtis, "loyalists were responsible but never stood publicly condemned for it beyond nationalist areas."

In 1978, a self-confessed UVF member, Robert Campbell, was convicted of the bombing together with the 1976 sectarian killing of John Morrow, a workman mistaken for a Catholic.

Pat Arthurs, who was 14 years of age when her mother was killed in the bombing, has described how the 'disinformation' peddled by the RUC and British army left her confused and made it more difficult for her family to come to terms with the loss. Pat's father, who was also in McGurk's, survived the attack.

In her heart, Pat always knew the bombing had been carried out by loyalists but there was always a doubt. And then there was the stigma. "I had to grow up with people saying that maybe my mother or father had something to do with the murder of 15 people," said Pat.

Mary Irvine, whose mother was killed in the bombing, said that while everyone else seemed to have forgotten about what happened, the people of the New Lodge Road and local community have supported relatives and survivors for thirty years.

Mary particularly remembered the late Paddy McManus, a local Sinn Fein Councillor "who had kept the memory of what happened in McGurk's alive."

Almost a thousand people packed St. Patrick's Chapel on Donegall Street for a memorial mass this week. Following the service fifteen wreaths, one for each victim, were carried by relatives leading a silent candlelit procession to a new memorial at Great George's Street.

At the site where so many had died, Fr David White condemned 'careless reporting' which had added to the grief.

"The bombing of Paddy McGurk's was a callous and cowardly sectarian act," said Fr White, "and the enormous pain inflicted by the death of so many was intensified when the army and police personnel, together with the media, rushed to blame republicans."
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