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Anniversary of Dublin-Monaghan Bombings and Windsor’s Parade of Shame


Parnell Street, Dublin, 17 May 1974On May 17, the Dublin government will parade the commander-in-chief of the British army through the streets of Dublin.

Thirty-seven years earlier, at 5.30pm on Friday, May 17 1974, three no-warning car bombs ripped through the centre of Dublin, killing 26 people and injuring 100 in Parnell Street, Talbot Street and South Leinster Street. Ninety minutes later in Monaghan town, seven people were killed when a car bomb exploded outside Greacen’s Bar in Church Square.

In all, 33 people were killed that day. No one has ever been charged with these murders. To this day, the British state has refused to admit its role in the bombings and has consistently frustrated attempts to establish the truth behind the role its military intelligence agents played.

The Dublin and Monaghan bombings resulted in the single largest loss of life on any day during the conflict. As a young reporter, Robert Fisk, who was working for the London Times, described the harrowing scene in Talbot Street, where a bomb had exploded opposite Guiney’s department store, killing 14 people.

“Hundreds of people, deprived of transport during a bus strike, were walking to Connolly station for their trains home when the bombs exploded,” Fisk wrote.

“Five of the people who died instantly were women but the ambulance men and civic guards who ran into the street could not distinguish the living from the dead. Dozens of people lay on the pavements and in the road and in the front of broken shops, dead, dying or screaming with pain and shock. One newspaper photographer was sick when he saw a gutter literally running with blood. A few feet away was a human leg and next to it a head.”

Within an hour of the explosion, it was reported that the cars used to ferry the bombs had been hijacked in the unionist Shankill Road area of Belfast. The following day’s Irish Times reported that the RUC had confirmed this fact.

Despite this, the Dublin government attempted to lay the blame for the explosions at the door of republicans. Fine Gael taoiseach Liam Cosgrave made a public address on RTÉ television and claimed: “The government are as yet unaware of the identity of those responsible for these crimes but everyone who has practised violence, or preached violence, must bear a share of the responsibility for the outrages.”

During an interview on RTÉ radio’s This Week programme two days after the bomb attack, the Twenty-Six County attorney general Declan Costello attempted to muddy the waters about who was responsible, claiming that it was “impossible to reach any definite conclusion as to who might have been responsible for the explosions”, and suggested that the IRA “bears a very heavy burden of responsibility”.

The car bomb attacks occurred at the height of the Ulster Workers Council strike, orchestrated by unionist politicians and paramilitaries in opposition to the Sunningdale Agreement. Following the signing of Agreement, British-backed unionist militias issued threats to bomb Dublin.

Notwithstanding the origin of these threats and the fact that it had been swiftly established the cars used in the bombings had been hijacked in unionist districts of Belfast, within days the state deployed massive resources in carrying out raids on the homes and premises of republicans across the Twenty-Six Counties. The Free State army and Gardaí carried out hundreds of joint raids, including one on the home of then Sinn Féin president Ruairí Ó Brádaigh.

Despite the massive loss of life involved, the Dublin government refused to hold an official day of mourning for the victims and failed to establish a fund to assist their families. The victims’ families were effectively abandoned as the Dublin and London governments colluded in covering up the truth behind the bombings.

Justice for the ForgottenThe four men who planned and carried out the Dublin and Monaghan bombings – Billy Hanna, Harris Boyle, Robin Jackson and Robert McConnell – were all members of the British army’s Ulster Defence Regiment. The three car bombs in Dublin were detonated within 90 seconds of each other using sophisticated timing devices in a city that was entirely unfamiliar to the Portadown-based unionist squad that carried out the attacks.

According to British military intelligence officer Fred Holroyd, prior to the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings, unionist bombs had been “pretty primitive”. Holroyd was based in Portadown in 1974 and he admitted to a Yorkshire Television investigative team in 1993 that British military intelligence ran the unionist paramilitary gangs there, “If you really want the truth, we were running the organisations, hands off, because the leaders belonged to us.”

Holroyd further admitted that unionists were permitted to carry out attacks, yet, despite being an intelligence officer in Portadown where the bombing team was based, he was never ordered to investigate the link between them and the bomb attacks in Dublin and Monaghan.

In fact, three of the key people involved in the bomb attacks – Boyle, Jackson and McConnell – were British agents run by British army captain Robert Nairac. At that time, a key element of British military intelligence strategy was to organise actions in the Twenty-Six Counties that could be blamed on republicans in order to provoke the Dublin government to introduce ever-more draconian measures.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of who was behind the 1974 bombings, no one ever faced charges. In 1996, the families of the victims established a campaign group, Justice for the Forgotten, to lobby for a full inquiry into the bombings.

Following over two decades of official silence, the Dublin government eventually established a commission of inquiry in 2001 under Justice Henry Barron. The Barron Report was published in 2004. However, the British state’s refusal to fully cooperate with the inquiry team and to hand over crucial intelligence documents seriously undermined its ability to conduct a thorough inquiry into the role of British military intelligence.

Despite the refusal of the British to cooperate, the report indicated there was a high level of collusion between British military intelligence and unionist paramilitaries. It quoted from a letter written by Colin Wallace, a former British military intelligence officer, on August 14 1975: “There is good evidence that the Dublin Monaghan bombings were a reprisal for the Irish Government’s role in bringing about the Executive. According to one of Craig’s people, some of those involved, the Youngs, the Jacksons, Mulholland, Hanna, Kerr and McConnell, were working closely with Special Branch and Int. at that time.”

A joint Oireachtas sub-committee assessed the report’s findings, which concluded it was “in no doubt that collusion between the British security forces and terrorists was behind many, if not all, of the atrocities considered in this report”.

It described the bomb attacks of May 17 1974 as “acts of international terrorism that were colluded in by the British security forces”.

The visit of Elizabeth Windsor to the Twenty-Six Counties falls on the anniversary of that tragic day, during which she will visit both the Garden of Remembrance and Trinity College. Both sites lie just yards from where bombs, planted by unionist paramilitaries who were run by British military intelligence, ripped through Parnell Street, Talbot Street and South Leinster Street killing 26 people. The British state colluded in these murders and has added to the trauma of the victims’ families by refusing to reveal the truth behind the role of its military agents.

This visit is being described as a sign of the ‘normalisation’ of relations between Ireland and Britain. What is normal about welcoming the head of a state that orchestrated the slaughter of 33 people in four no-warning car bombs in Dublin and Monaghan and which has since consistently frustrated attempts to reveal the truth?

éirígí is calling on the people of Dublin to take to the streets in opposition to this parade of shame, which is an insult to the victims of British state terror.


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