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2 November 2000 Edition

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New in print: ``Only it happened to me''

Don Mullan's account of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings

The Dublin and Monaghan bombings

By Don Mullan

Wolfhound Press

£9.99. (All royalties to go to the Justice for the Forgotten campaign)

``Only it happened to me, I wouldn't believe it.'' These are the words of Tim Grace, whose wife Breda was killed in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 17 May 1974. In his account of the bombings, Don Mullan records Tim Grace's words and recalls that the speaker ``was not referring to the fact that his wife was killed, leaving him alone to raise their one-year-old son. He was referring specifically to the official silence, intrigue and lack of public accountability that have characterised the political and police response to the biggest mass murder case in the history of the Irish State.''

Official silence, intrigue and lack of public accountability have characterised the political and police response to the biggest mass murder case in the history of the Irish State
And this is the nub of the story. The deaths and injuries were brutal, the loss to the families was tragic, but most significantly the reaction of the state was inexplicable. Here is a state whose citizens were attacked by hostile forces (loyalists), aided most probably by a foreign power (British) but from the very beginning it sought not disclosure but suppression of the facts. The victims and the survivors of the bombings were not cherished by the state but sidelined. For almost 30 years their pain and suffering has remained largely unacknowledged and their need for the truth ignored. The story of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings is not simply one of brutality but also of betrayal.

This isn't simply a story of Garda incompetence but of official cover up. Mullan exposes this by a detailed analysis of the state's handling of forensic evidence
In the immediate aftermath, Mullan argues, the Dublin government faced the double challenge of ensuring an adequate security response while minimising public outrage at the government's failure to provide adequate protection for its own citizens. Within two hours of the blasts an emergency meeting of the Cabinet was held and an official line on the bombings agreed.

``This line was often repeated in the days to follow, both in the press and within Dáil Éireann,'' he writes. ``It was a simple message, the ultimate blame lay with republicans and republican violence in Northern Ireland.''

On Saturday 18 May, the Irish Independent reported that the Minister for Justice Patrick Cooney had ``stressed that the danger would remain until the people completely and unequivocally accepted that the cult of violence must be removed, that they must turn in people who perpetrated or condoned violence''.

By Monday, 20 May, Mullan points out, it was known by the authorities in the South that the cars used in the attacks had been stolen and hijacked in loyalist areas. ``However, the first major security offensive in the wake of the attack saw huge army and police resources deployed in a nationwide raid on republican homes and premises. The question is, did these raids play into the hands of the perpetrators of the bombings? Loyalists planted the bombs, republicans were being pursued by the State.''

On 21 May, the then Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave, gave an impassioned speech in the Dáil about the futility of violence, the central thesis of which was that the blood of the innocent victims was ``on the hands of every man who has fired a gun or discharged a bomb in furtherance of the present campaign of violence in these islands, just as plainly as it is on the hands of those who parked that car and set the charges last Friday''.

The nature, extent and adequacy of the Garda investigation into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings is largely unknown, says Mullan, but ``what we do know is that, within weeks of the explosions, the Garda Detective and Special Branch had identified prime suspects, all from the Portadown/Lurgan area of County Armagh. All were known members of the mid-Ulster UVF.''

And, according to Yorkshire Television's First Tuesday documentary, ``Hidden Hand'', broadcast in 1993, two of the suspects were identified in police photographs by three separate eye witnesses as drivers of two of the four bomb cars. According to the filmmakers, the Gardaí extended their list of suspects with an additional 12 names, derived from intelligence sources in the North.

At the time, writes Mullan, ``the urgency and determination of the Minister for Justice in assuring the nation of the RUC's cooperation introduced a false sense of confidence in the public mind that efforts were progressing towards apprehending the culprits. However, in analysing the RUC's handling of information concerning the hijacked and stolen vehicles used in the bombing, it is difficult to be convinced that their cooperation was as the Minister wished the nation to believe.''

The lack of RUC cooperation with the Garda was something on which even the bombers appeared to be assured. Mullan points out that the bombers did not attempt to disguise the vehicles used in the bombings. More significantly, Mullan cites the case of William Henry, a taxi driver from the Shankill, whose vehicle was hijacked for the bombings.

Henry was held by the hijackers until 2pm. He was then told to go straight home and wait until 3pm, after which he was told to report the hijacking at Tennent Street RUC barracks. A statement, taken by RUC officer Kennedy and checked by RUC officer Woods at Tennent Street, is recorded at 3.20pm. The bombing mission still had two and a half hours to run.

``Why was Henry not held until 7.30pm, when the mission had been completed and the bomb drivers were safe? Such questions lead to other questionss. Did the organisers have inside information concerning RUC operational procedures?'' asks Mullan.

``All four vehicles were operational inside the Republic with apparently little concern that their details may have been passed on by the RUC to the Garda. This casts grave doubts on the accuracy of the Minister's assertion that the RUC were co operating closely with the Garda,'' says Mullan.

Within three months, the Garda investigation was wound down. ``At one level, it would appear that the Garda had done all in their power to hunt down the killers, only to have their efforts frustrated by a sectarian police force north of the border,'' says Mullan, ``but such a conclusion is too simplistic. Proper procedures were, in many instances, not followed, and additional avenues of useful pressure appear not to have been explored.''

But this isn't simply a story of Garda incompetence but of official cover up. Mullan exposes this by a detailed analysis of the state's handling of forensic evidence. ``The manner in which the bomb debris from all four bomb sites was handled is disturbing.'' Mullan questions the fact that forensic evidence was allowed to leave the state's jurisdiction.

In 1999, Mullan interviewed a retired Garda who was a senior officer in 1974 and asked why such crucial evidence had been allowed to leave the state's jurisdiction and was sent to Belfast. The former senior officer suggested that the RUC might have had specialist equipment or perhaps a way of confirming findings in the South.

A few fragments had been sent to the Irish State Laboratory and had been examined by Dr. James Donovan, but the vast majority of forensic evidence had been taken to the North's Department of Industrial and Forensic Science for analysis by Dr. R A Hall. Significantly, the debris was not delivered to Dr Hall until 28 May, eleven days after the explosions, a fact of which Dr Hall was critical in his report.

Interviewed by Mullan, Dr Donovan insisted that Dublin's State Laboratory could have carried out a competent analysis in 1974. ``It happened in our jurisdiction,'' said Donovan. ``There was no reason whatsoever for it to go anywhere else. We can do it and we have done it in the past.'' Donovan described the decision to send the debris North as strange. He had not been consulted and even more surprisingly, Donovan had never received a copy of Hall's report.

On the advice of a NYPD bomb squad expert, Mullan attempted to establish a chain of custody for the forensic evidence gathered after the bombings. In January 1999, he wrote to Garda Headquarters asking for conformation that the debris sent to Belfast for analysis was still in the possession of the Irish security services and requested a chain of custody from 1974 to the present day.

``All that I had asked of An Garda Siochana was; `Do you have the debris and can you establish a chain of custody,'' writes Mullan. When the Garda refused to answer, Mullan ``could only conclude that the Garda did not have the debris''. Dr Donovan suggested that the forensic evidence was still in Belfast. In response to a parliamentary question tabled by British Labour MP Kevin McNamara, the North's forensic Science Agency claimed that presumably ``they were returned to the Garda in line with normal practice''.

``A real and serious mystery surrounds the ultimate fate of crucial evidence relating to the biggest mass murder case in the history of the Republic of Ireland, a case still unsolved,'' writes Mullan. `` Where is the forensic evidence? If it is nowhere to be found, who got rid of it and why?''

Mullan cites an article by Frank Doherty which appeared in the Sunday Business Post in July 1993. Doherty reported that former Garda Commissioner Edmund Garvey had instructed that the forensic evidence be handed over to ``British officers who are now suspected of planning the bombs''. The article cited a retired senior ``Irish Military Intelligence Officer'' and a serving Garda detective superintendent as sources for the information.

Doherty claimed that the evidence had been given in good faith to a British Intelligence officer who masterminded the plot. ``The officer, who is still serving in the British Army at a very high rank, is known to the Gardaí and to Irish army intelligence,'' said Doherty. The article also claimed that the officer had been decorated and had visited the 26 Counties ``in plain clothes but bearing arms and attempted to recruit at least one member of the Irish security forces to work for British intelligence''.

The sudden downgrading of the Garda investigation less than three months after the bombings is disturbing, according to Mullan, who finds the `new Garda investigation' into the First Tuesday documentary ``intriguing''.

``For over 25 years, the bereaved and wounded have had to battle for official recognition. Their struggle reached new heights in 1997 and 1998 when the Garda Commissioner fought them in the High Court and Supreme Court, in a determined and successful effort to prevent the European Court of Human Rights from seeing Garda files,'' writes Mullan.

The Good Friday Agreement has ``offered an added dimension of hope to the bereaved and wounded of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and to many other victims of `unexplained happenings' in the Republic during the 30-year conflict,'' he writes. ``The Agreement held out the prospect of a `true memorial' ...the memorial of peace and justice. In the case of the Dublin Monaghan bombings, such a memorial necessarily requires transparency, openness and accountability, founded on truth.''


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