Thirty-three people were killed in the Dublin and Monaghan bomb attacks in 1974, the single most bloody event in the entire period of the “Troubles” in Ireland, and the lives of hundreds more were marred by injuries to themselves, friends and family members.
Irish Supreme Court judge Henry Barron was tasked with investigating what role was played by various British security and intelligence services in the bombings and the extent to which subsequent Irish governments have covered this over. His report gives considerable insight into the attacks and the failed investigation by the Irish police but in the end did not draw the conclusions which the factual and circumstantial evidence supports.
On May 17, 1974, two car bombs exploded in Parnell Street, South Leinster Street, and Talbot Street in the centre of Dublin. They detonated simultaneously, at 5.28 p.m., and were timed and placed to cause the maximum level of casualties and disruption, while leaving escape roads free for the attackers. Some hours later a fourth bomb, apparently intended to divert police and security forces from individuals trying to cross back from the Irish Republic into Northern Ireland, exploded in the border town of Monaghan. Twenty-seven people were killed in Dublin and six in Monaghan. It was assumed that both attacks had been carried out by pro-British loyalists paramilitaries, operating out of Northern Ireland.
The attack took place at a time of unprecedented tension in the North, during a loyalist revolt against a power sharing agreement being implemented by the British government with support from Ulster Unionist Party leader Brian Faulkner and the Irish government. The agreement was opposed by an organisation called the Ulster Workers Council (UWC), which drew together the main unionist parties including the UUP and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Ian Paisley, the loyalist paramilitary groups and sections of Protestant workers who elicited threats and demanding that “alternatives to democracy.” to be considered.
Following the election of a minority Labour government in February and their decision to remove Sinn Fein from the list of banned organisations, the UWC drew up plans for civil disobedience and a general strike to bring down the new executive and the Sunningdale Agreement. Within a fortnight of the strike commencing, on May 15, 1974, with power supplies and essential services collapsing, Faulkner and the executive resigned.
Barron’s report also points out that elements within the British security forces in Northern Ireland were intent on destabilising the executive in preference for their favoured option of a purely military solution against the IRA.
The report states that given the degree to which loyalist paramilitary groups were closely affiliated with the Protestant-dominated Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Ulster Defence Regiment, and the fact that they were riddled with British agents, the central question hanging over the Dublin and Monaghan atrocities is, did the British government or sections of its intelligence services carry out, plan, or provide other support for bombings in the capital city of another nation intended to destabilise its government and wreck the already beleaguered Sunningdale Agreement?
The Barron Inquiry made the following reports on the investigation by the Garda Siochana:
- Key forensic evidence was simply washed away by the Dublin fire department
- The Garda were in a poor position to investigate forensically and did not even have a dedicated forensic science department until 1975
- Beyond eyewitness accounts, and a cog wheel thought to come from a timer, little information was collected from the scene and the inquiry team stumbled across some of the forensic material in an unmarked cupboard.
More seriously though, some of the most pertinent debris was sent to Belfast for analysis and simply disappeared.
At a glance, you would think this was incompetence of astronomical proportions, but apparently not.
The report also suggests that despite meticulous record keeping in other areas, astonishingly the Department of Justice files on the Dublin bombings are “missing in their entirety” and no records were provided to Barron by the department.
So most certainly not down to incompetence on the part of the Gardaí then.
The Barron Inquiry’s final assessment was that —“there was no single reason why the investigation ended”—.
However, the exact same report also suggests that this may have been due to fears held by the Irish government of reciprocal demands being made by the RUC to question suspected IRA supporters in the Republic. Allowing these would have further exposed an Irish government already under internal criticism for its prostration before the British military occupation and its inability to alleviate the sufferings of the minority Catholic population in the North. None of the members of the Irish cabinet of the day mentioned any efforts to assist the Garda to Barron’s Inquiry, nor are there any references to the bombings in contemporary cabinet minutes.
We can therefore confidently conclude that the investigation failed primarily because it was politically suppressed by leading figures in the Irish government of Liam Cosgrave.
From the eyewitness reports at the time, a list of potential suspects was gathered and David Alexander Mulholland was identified as the driver of the Parnell Street car bomb by three separate eyewitnesses which was confirmed by the RUC but who also apparently informed the Garda that Mulholland was unlikely to say anything.
The Barron report found that the Garda never even made a request to interview him and other important leads were given even less attention.
At least now we know why.
On September 11, 1974, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson informed Irish Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave that internment orders had been signed and “the perpetrators of the Dublin bomb outrages had been picked up and were now detained, but it was impossible to get evidence to try them in ordinary courts.”
No information on these individuals was ever passed to Dublin, nor, Barron suggests, did the Dublin government, or the Garda or Irish Intelligence ever request it and Harold Wilson had unknowingly brought upon himself the ire of the British army.
So we have a British head of state who was prepared to get to the bottom of it, and did so later to his cost, but a Dublin government who didn’t want to know and ignored this offer.
Once again, a decision that led all the way back to the Irish government, but why?
Thanks to Mr Wilson and others including Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Special Patrol Group officer and Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) member John Oliver Weir who in January 1999 made an affidavit outlining in detail the instances of collusion between his RUC and SPG colleagues, members of the UDR, and loyalist paramilitaries such as Robin Jackson and Billy Hanna we now have a fairly accurate picture of what happened.
Former British soldier and psychological warfare operative Colin Wallace added to Weirs affidavit suggesting that Hanna had been the principal organiser of the Dublin attacks.
Colin Wallace was framed for manslaughter in 1981 by the British judicial system in reprisal for his exposure of black propaganda used against non-military and political opponents of army policy and a plot from within the MI5 intelligence services to bring down the Wilson Labour government. He also exposed child abuse at the Kincora Boys’ Home, demanded it be stopped, and protested when he realised that the intelligence services were blackmailing a leading loyalist involved in the abuse to ensure his assistance in their efforts at manipulating the loyalist gangs. His conviction was not quashed until 1996.
The bombs were constructed and collected from a farm owned by Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) reservist James Mitchell.
Robin ‘The Jackal’ Jackson who operated under the direction of British military intelligence and RUC Special Branch and was the mentor of Billy Wright who would later continue that relationship, collected the bombs in his poultry lorry and drove them down to a car park in the northern suburbs of Dublin.
He was accompanied by William Henry Wilson “Billy” Hanna MM who had been awarded the Military Medal for gallantry while serving with the British Army’s Royal Ulster Rifles in the Korean War and who also served in the Territorial Army, the Ulster Special Constabulary and the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) before founding and leading the Mid-Ulster Brigade of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).
The two men met up with the rest of the bomb team and the vehicles which were to be used in the attacks. After the bombs had been activated by Hanna, he and Jackson loaded the devices into the boots of the three designated cars that had been hijacked and stolen that morning in Belfast by a UVF gang known as “Freddie and the Dreamers”, led by William “Frenchie” Marchant.
Mulholland was ordered by Hanna to drive a metallic green 1970 model Hillman Avenger registration number DIA 4063 collected in Portadown where it was driven by the hijacker, to Parnell Street, located on the north side of Dublin’s city centre. Teresa O’Loughlin picked out three different photographs of him from two albums, maintaining that he was the driver of the green car that had taken their car’s parking space in Parnell Street at 17:12, 16 minutes before detonation. A second witness claimed to have seen Mulholland driving the Avenger at Sheephouse, County Louth at about 13:00. The third eyewitness, Nora O’Mahoney, picked out two separate photos of Mulholland and alleged that she had spoken to him at about 16:20 in D’Olier Street having asked him directions, which he had given to her before getting inside a green car with the registration letters DIA. She later saw him driving the same green car onto O’Connell Street from North Earl Street against the direction of traffic. She suggested he had spoken with an English accent, which confused the police.
The Avenger, along with the second of the three bomb cars, was preceded by a lead “scout” car. Meanwhile, Hanna and Jackson headed back to Northern Ireland in the latter’s poultry lorry.
While there is documented evidence that Jackson was working with British military intelligence at the time, coupled with the fact that the loyalists suddenly stopped using bombs when the IRA followed their lead and assimilated the technology it is my belief that assistance was given by the British army in the manufacture of the bombs and which led to political repercussions which rocked the British establishment.
Billy Hanna, Robin Jackson and David Alexander Mulholland made little effort to disguise their identities or that of their vehicles, and where always confident that they would never be called to account.
The Barron Inquiry also noted that it confronted similar obstruction from the British security forces as that by metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens into collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and the British state, although while the Stevens Inquiry report ran to 3,500 words Barron has included considerable detail in his assessment of the collusion allegations.
It found that numerous intelligence agencies were at work in Northern Ireland by 1974—the RUC Special Branch, Army Intelligence, the Special Air Service (SAS) in the guise of the 14th Intelligence Unit, along with both MI6 and MI5. These often competing agencies attempted to share some of their intelligence through a Director and Co-ordinator of Intelligence, while all the agencies reported to their own British based headquarters—all of whom ultimately reported to various British government ministers. All were running agents.
At the same time, the boundaries between the loyalist paramilitary groups and state forces such as the RUC and the UDR were very porous, with numerous individuals holding dual membership. Much of the military and police hierarchy considered the loyalist paramilitaries as valuable allies.
More substantial information of collusion by the armed forces centres around leading loyalist Billy Hanna. He was regularly visited by soldiers, who even took him fishing as well as being regularly visited by plainclothes officers. Hanna in the preparation of an operation made sure to clear his unit’s action with his army contacts. By implication, an operation as huge as the Dublin one could only have been carried out with approval from above.
While the Barron report concluded that it would not be possible to get evidence to try them in ordinary courts, or to suggest the British state had any part in the act, it did find the following:
- That finding that members of the security forces had been involved in the bombings is “neither fanciful or absurd.”
- Although the loyalist groups were capable of the bombing on their own, “this does not rule out the involvement of individual RUC, UDR or British Army members.
- A high level cover-up cannot be ruled out, but “it is unlikely that any such decision would ever have been committed to writing.”
- Neither would any written records have been made of advance warnings.
- The security forces in the North knew quickly who carried out the attack on the basis of good intelligence.
- Some of those suspected had relationships with British intelligence and/or RUC Special Branch, and therefore information supplied to the Garda was compromised.
Only a full public inquiry as long demanded by the bombs’ victims would be capable of establishing the full truth and only with sufficient cooperation of the British and Irish states.
But the fact that we cannot even rely on an Irish state to look after its own peoples interests, the same state politicians who will commemorate the proclamation next year, perhaps we should ask of them how they feel they have delivered on the promise of “cherishing all the children of the nation equally” in advance?