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Justice at last for the forgotten victims of sectarian murder in Dundalk


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Magill, September 2002:

The Truth Trickles Out

Mystery has always surrounded the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings. An independent inquiry has been set up to look at the events surrounding the attacks, and the bombing of Dundalk the following year. Donall O Maolfabhail reports on its likely findings.

Earlier this summer, a BBC Panorama programme produced new evidence suggesting that British military intelligence colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in murdering a significant number of people in Northern Ireland. Over the last three years, an independent inquiry established by the Irish government has been investigating whether British military intelligence colluded in the murder of citizens of this state also. This inquiry - headed by Judge Barron - is expected to publish its report later this autumn. The findings of Barron's report are likely to put the government under intense pressure to set up a full judicial inquiry, similar to the Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday, to ascertain the whole truth about these matters.

There has long been a suspicion that British military intelligence, as part of its war against the IRA, either directly engaged in carrying out a number of bombings and assassinations in the Republic of Ireland, or at least colluded with loyalists in so doing. According to this analysis, the assassinations were aimed at eliminating key republican figures, while the bombings were psychological operations aimed at putting pressure on the southern establishment to adopt more repressive measures.

The Barron inquiry, formerly known as the Hamilton inquiry, was set up in 1999 at the behest of Justice for the Forgotten - the organisation which represents the families of the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. On the day of the bombings in 1974, 33 people lost their lives and many more were injured. The bombing of Dundalk, which took place in December 1975, and in which two people were killed, was also added to Barron's terms of reference.

The powers of the Barron inquiry are quite limited, however. It does not have the power to subpoena and so is entirely dependent on voluntary co-operation. It appears that the judge has received co-operation from the Garda and the PSNI, with the exception of Special Branch. But on 24 April last, the Taoiseach stated that "the material [that] came from the British files, in actual fact, that was limited enough."

This situation has since improved to some degree, but the judge is still thought to be dissatisfied with the level of co-operation from the British security services. For all that, Magill understands that the inquiry has obtained strong new evidence that would indicate at least a willingness on the part of certain sections of the British military to engage in grave undercover actions.

A security memo for the British government in 1971 - now in the hands of the Barron inquiry - points out that the IRA is operating at a very high level of intensity and that the border is practically open. It states that in order for Britain to gain full control of the border, an additional 18 to 29 battalions would be required. This would mean withdrawing troops from other parts of the world, which would be embarrassing for Britain within NATO. The memo therefore outlines three other options as to how the British Army should proceed. The best of these is felt to be the final one - that existing restraints on the operations of British forces should be removed. This, the memo states, would include an intensification of border operations. Any cross-border actions would have come under the heading of border operations. The first car bomb south of the border that was attributed to loyalists exploded on 13 May 1972, six months later. There was one fatality. In fact, almost half of the fatal loyalist car bombs that occurred in the 70s happened between May 1972 and January 1973. It is worth noting that during the same period Chief of Staff Major General Thomas O'Carroll of the Irish Army sent a memo to the then Minister for Defence, Gerry Cronin, stating that dealing with the possibility of "incursions into the Republic by organised security forces or partisan (i.e. loyalist) elements from Northern Ireland.... would require an increase in military strength and more border patrols."

The bombs that went off in Dublin and Monaghan in 1974 were among the worst atrocities of the Troubles. Yet confusion has always reigned over who was responsible for them. David Ervine, one-time UVF member and now leader of the PUP, stated to BBC journalist Peter Taylor some years ago that the UVF was responsible for the bombings. Submissions made to the Barron inquiry by well-placed sources and seen by Magill would seem to confirm that both UVF and UDA members were involved.

However, Magill has also learned that a former senior member of the British Army, who was serving in Northern Ireland at the time, has told Judge Barron that he believes loyalists could not have carried out the Dublin and Monaghan bombings on their own. Rather, he believes it was a sophisticated effort by the British military.

The circumstances of the 1974 attack, and the bomb technology used, meant that allegations of collusion were made long before the Barron inquiry began its work. It is understood that a British soldier, who was on duty not far from the border on the night of the bombings, has told the Barron inquiry that his unit got no instructions to take any action that night. The normal course of action after such an incident would be that NI Army Command HQ would instruct all brigade headquarters to seal the border.

As far as technology goes, Captain Fred Holroyd, who was stationed in Portadown in 1974, has stated that "loyalists mainly used Double Diamond kegs, beer kegs filled with explosives with a black powder fuse. They were pretty primitive" Lieutenant Colonel George Styles, formerly head of the British Army's bomb disposal network worldwide, and who served in Northern Ireland from 1969-72, concurs with this view.

"I don't think they were at a level that would equate to the sort of techniques that were used here in Dublin." This view has also been supported by Commandant Patrick Trears, who in 1974 was the Irish Army's main bomb disposal expert, and by former Garda Commissioner Eamon Doherty.

Allegations of collusion have long hung over other incidents being investigated by Barron. In December 1972, two bombs exploded in Dublin. Two months later, it emerged that Garda Special Branch had information that connected two men who stayed in the Belgravia Hotel in Belfast with the bombings. Both men used false passports and are still wanted in the Republic in connection with the bombings.

There were other incidents where British military collusion was suspected.

On 1 May 1976, a Co Louth man, Seamus Ludlow, was found shot dead at Culmore, near Dundalk. Ludlow is understood to have resembled a senior republican living in the town. James Sharkey, a relative of Ludlow's, now claims he has been told by the RUC that two of his killers were UDR men, but since the crime happened in the Republic, it is up to the Garda to pursue them.

John Francis Greene, a top IRA commander from North Armagh, was killed on a farm outside Castleblaney in Co Monaghan on 10 January 1975. At the time the IRA was on ceasefire. Ruairi Ó Brádaigh, then leader of Sinn Fein, claims that this assassination had a huge bearing on the breakdown of that ceasefire six days later. Raymond Murray, author of The SAS in Ireland believes "that MI5 did not like this truce, as it thought the IRA was using it as a shield to regroup, and they arranged to kill Greene." It wasn't until two months later, on 18 March, that the UVF claimed responsibility for the murder. But in 1999, John Weir, a former RUC officer, named a member of the UDR along with loyalist paramilitaries including Robin 'The Jackal' Jackson as being behind the murder.

Speaking to the Dail on 24 April last, the Taoiseach stated that the Barron Report would, when completed, be submitted to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. It will be for the members of that committee to then determine whether a more comprehensive inquiry should be set up - the terms of reference of the Barron inquiry do not allow Judge Barron to recommend a public inquiry. Magill understands that the finished report will at least allude to the identities of the various loyalists suspected of involvement in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. It is also expected to be fairly critical of both the Garda and the RUC. As for the final issue of a British military role in the bombings, Barron is unlikely to be conclusive.

However, according to the Taoiseach, the judge will "assess and comment in his report on the co-operation he has received from the various authorities with which he has been in contact." In the case of the so far limited co-operation received from the British, Judge Barron is expected not to shy away from drawing adverse inferences. Magill understands that his comments in this regard alone might well be enough to persuade the committee to support the setting-up of a full judicial inquiry.

If British military intelligence did collude in the murder of citizens of this state, one can rest assured that there are a significant number of people who will be anxious for the truth never to see the light of day. They may yet be disappointed.



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