Dublin/Monaghan bombings, 1974

Published in Issue 4 (July/August 2014), Letters, Volume 22

Sir,—Dr Brian Hanley’s ‘“The forgotten massacre”: responses to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings’ (HI 22.3, May/June 2014) provides a very full account of both the political and media responses in the aftermath of the bombings. For those reading these responses for the first time, they will have found some of the reactions quite unexpected in the circumstances of such a dreadful atrocity. John Healy’s (the Irish Times ‘Backbencher’) comments are particularly offensive and almost triumphalist in tone. The insensitivity of his remark that ‘we’d soon see how many indulgent supporters there’d be for the Provos if the sons and daughters of Mayo or Kerry or Sligo parents were at risk in Dublin city’ beggars belief, considering that daughters of Kerry and Sligo had actually been killed in the bombings.

Many commentators seemed to regard the 34 lives lost as the IRA getting their comeuppance, ignoring the fact that not a single one of the victims had the slightest connection to any paramilitary organisation. The most notable feature of the responses is the complete lack of compassion for the bereaved families and the wounded survivors. Both politicians and journalists were vocal in their claims that the attacks were in retaliation for IRA violence. This claim does not stand up to scrutiny.

Dr Hanley concludes that, if the British security forces had colluded in the bombings, it would have been ‘a risky strategy’. He states that, by 1974, the Irish government was cooperating with the British on security and points to the antipathy to the IRA by Ministers Cooney, Donegan and Cruise O’Brien. He suggests that ‘carnage in Dublin could have provoked a ferocious anti-British backlash’.

However, the fact is that the British government was dissatisfied with the level of security cooperation it was getting from the Irish government. From at least the beginning of 1974, it was seeking to place cooperation on a formal footing. Enormous energies and resources were being devoted to this policy by the prime minister, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, the British ambassador in Dublin, officials of various government departments, as well as top-ranking police and army officers. In an effort to advance their interests, they were seeking a high-level meeting with the Irish government in order to establish formal structures and channels of communication, not only between the Gardaí and the RUC but also between the Gardaí and the British Army.

A document was drawn up in March 1974 by British officials, which suggested, rather imperiously, that pressure should be put on the Irish government ‘to improve their performance, to give effect to their undertakings in the Sunningdale Agreement and to act more responsibly than they have in the past’.

There was a target date of 16 May (the day prior to the bomb explosions) set by the British for the holding of the proposed high-level meeting. However, the target wasn’t met because the Irish government was resisting the direct involvement of the Irish Army with the British Army. The reason for this was that the Irish Army, unlike the British, had no direct role in policing and played a supporting role to the Garda Síochána—an aid to the civil power. This caused the British great displeasure, as expressed at a meeting in the NIO on 3 May. It was remarked that the problems needed to be ‘forcibly brought home to the Irish to move them from their ivory tower and to bring home to them the importance of proper representation on both sides’.

On 13 May a meeting was held in Dublin between the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Merlyn Rees, the British ambassador and the minister for foreign affairs, Dr Garrett FitzGerald. The proposed security meeting was discussed and it was stressed that effective cooperation was needed on the control of detonators and explosives, communications and ballistic fingerprinting.
On the same day an NIO official prepared a paper in which he cited one reason for the less than desirable cooperation from the Irish side as they saw it. He said it was ‘because almost all the violence takes place in the North, the demands for assistance are usually one way and it is seldom that the RUC gets an opportunity to reciprocate assistance given by the Gardaí’. How ironic is that statement four days before the Dublin and Monaghan attacks.

The high-level security meeting, so long sought by the British, eventually took place at Baldonnel aerodrome on 18 September 1974. It was attended by the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, the minister for justice, the British ambassador, the Garda commissioner, the chief constable of the RUC and senior officials from both sides. Formal structures, known as panels, were set up very quickly after this meeting, which formed the basis for border security throughout the Troubles.

Just a couple of small points in relation to the article: 34 people, including a full-term unborn baby, were killed: eleven in Parnell Street; fourteen in Talbot Street; two in South Leinster Street; and seven in Monaghan. Also, Justice for the Forgotten is still pursuing truth and justice for the victims. We announced, on 14 May, that we are taking a civil case against the British government.—Yours etc.,

MARGARET URWIN
Justice for the Forgotten

Owing to an overflowing mail sack arising from the last issue, we did not have room for all letters submitted, in particular in response to reviews. These can be viewed at www.historyireland.com/category/letters-extra/

Barry Keane and Meda Ryan respond to Eve Morrison’s review of Barry Keane’s Massacre in West Cork: the Dunmanway and Ballygorman killings, while Jeffrey Dudgeon responds to Martin Mansergh’s review of Angus Mitchell’s 16 Lives—Roger Casement. In addition, Robert Delaney sheds additional light on the role of Inspector Mallon in the flight of Land Leaguer Patrick Egan, mentioned in Felix Larkin’s ‘Lord Cavendish and the Phoenix Park murders of 1882’.

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