Dublin and Monaghan bombings: Cover-up and incompetence

he Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 17 May 1974 were conducted by the UVF and orchestrated by members of the British security forces. The cover-up of the worst atrocity of the Northern conflict was aided by Garda and Southern official incompetence and indifference and by British mendacity. By Joe Tiernan


So Patrick McEntee SC has come and gone and once again hope and great expectations have turned to bitterness, disappointment and despair.


Four enquires in 33 years and still no answers. For the families of those killed and many of those injured, the 1974 Dublin/Monaghan bombings have become a never-ending nightmare. And there is every sign that the Irish government, not to mention the British, are growing weary – there are no votes in investigations into 33-year-old atrocities.


Bertie Ahern has told the relatives he “will not” set up a public-sworn enquiry, having looked at the “disaster” of the Bloody Sunday tribunal. Eight years on and still no report.


Margaret Urwin, the campaign secretary for the victims group ‘Justice for the Forgotten', peers across her desk in her cramped little office in Gardiner Street, a stone's throw away from where the Talbot Street bomb killed 14 people, with a forlorn stare on her face. “We do not know what our next move will be until the committee meets, but I can assure you the campaign will go on.”


A steely little woman, Urwin has steered the campaign for over 10 years now. She is not about to give up without a fight. She says the search for the truth will go on and claims a dark hand was behind the bombings.


Last month, Patrick McEntee produced his long-awaited report into the Garda handling of the 1974 investigation. McEntee's enquiry was set up in 2005 in response to the publication three years earlier of a 300-page damning report by retired Supreme Court Judge Henry Barron into the bombings, and particularly the Garda investigation.


In it, Barron lambasted the Garda for ending their investigation too soon, for failing to keep proper records, for allowing crucial files and photographs of suspects to go missing and failing to follow up leads. He also criticised the Department of Justice and the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition government, led by Liam Cosgrave (1973-1977), for failing to intervene in the enquiry, which led to confusion and a lack of communication between both sides. “The result was that the investigation was doomed from the start,” Barron says.


Harsh words, but of little comfort to Margaret Urwin. But if she and her victims group were hoping for better from Patrick McEntee, then they were disappointed.


Limited by his remit, Patrick McEntee's investigation meant that the most important aspects of the bombings were not addressed and the Garda investigation was examined in isolation from the wider security and political picture. In particular, the continuing and disturbing allegations that the bombings were the work of a dirty tricks brigade operating within the Northern security forces.


What Patrick McEntee did uncover, however, was further shocking new evidence of Garda bungling and incompetence during the months following the attacks. Shortly after the investigation ended, almost 600 exhibits, including statements and photographs from the bombings enquiry, were piled on a bonfire outside the headquarters of the Garda Technical Bureau in Kingsbridge, and disappeared into the sky. Whilst both reports have thrown light on a wealth of new information previously unseen by the public, the question at the heart of the problem remains unanswered – did the Northern security forces organise the biggest massacre of innocent civilian in this country since the Troubles began?


So where did the investigations all go wrong, and how could a national police force, with almost 9,000 members at its disposal [in 1974], fail so miserably?


In 1974, the late Patrick Malone, a decent if uninspiring policeman, was Garda commissioner. His deputy was the late and controversial Edmund Garvey. Garvey was a dynamic, impulsive, hands-on individual who took centre stage in almost every major investigation during the life of the 1973-77 coalition, during which time he also replaced Malone as commissioner.


It was Garvey who took charge of the infamous siege of Monasterevin in 1975 in which two maverick Provos, Eddie Gallagher and Rose Dugdale, held the Dutch businessman, Tiede Herrema, hostage in a house in the Kildare village after stealing the Beit paintings from Rossborough House in Blessington.


Years later, Gallagher accused Garvey from his Portlaoise cell of reneging on a deal allegedly made during his surrender that Garvey would secure him an early release. Garvey was later abruptly sacked by Fianna Fáil after it returned to power in 1977 and then went on to sue the government for unfair dismissal.


Today, Garvey is the man the Dublin and Monaghan families have in their sights. There are rumours, going back years, but no proof whatever, that Garvey was “a bit too close” to the British intelligence establishment. During the investigation, Garvey took charge of operations. (Malone, before his death, told journalists that “Garvey was the man, I really didn't have much to do with it.”) As well as Garvey, a number of other high-profile officers, most of them now dead, took part in the investigation.


John Joy, an experienced detective chief superintendent in charge of the serious crime squad in Dublin Castle took overall charge of the criminal side of the inquiry. (The Dublin Castle HQ has since moved to Harcourt Square.)


Alongside Joy, detective chief superintendent Tony McMahon took charge of the Technical Bureau (which included mapping, fingerprinting, photography and ballistics) whilst the long-serving and at times controversial detective chief superintendent John Fleming – who played a key role in preventing the importation of arms in 1970 – was in charge of Special Branch intelligence gathering.


Also amongst this elite corps was chief superintendent Eamonn Doherty who was in operational charge of Dublin South Central where the Leinster Street bomb exploded and who later became commissioner, and chief superintendent John Sheehan, who was operationally in charge of the area covering Talbot Street and Parnell Street, where the two biggest bombs exploded.


On the ground, a team of detectives which formed a unit known as the “Murder Squad” did most of the spade work. This was a robust squad of about 12 men, hand-picked from various branches of the force and known for their skills in crime investigation. (The squad was later ignominiously disbanded following the Kerry babies fiasco of the early-1980s.) Among the squad's team on the bombings were detectives Mike Canavan, Christy Godkin, and Thomas Dunne. On the technical side, with a specialised knowledge of ballistics, were Tom O'Connor, Eamonn O'Fiachan, Michael Niland, Colm Dardis, Pat Ennis and Ted Jones. They were led by a fearless and at times arrogant detective superintendent called Dan Murphy, who is long since dead.


This was the team that took the front line in the investigation. On the border, a separate team of detectives led by chief superintendent John Paul McMahon and which included detective sergeant Colm Brown and detective Garda John McCoy took on the Monaghan enquiry. During his long years as a detective, Colm Brown was hailed as the “best in the business”. It was Brown who apparently, single-handedly broke the Monaghan inquiry, did most of the interviews and continuously crossed the border to liaise with the RUC, as they then were. And yet despite all this, not a single individual has been charged, let alone convicted with these ghastly crimes.

So who were the bombers? And why did they get away?


The background to a tragedy

The story begins in late-1973 as negotiations for what became known as the Sunningdale Agreement got under way. The agreement, which involved powersharing between John Hume's SDLP and Brian Faulkner's Official Unionists, but excluded Ian Paisley as well as Sinn Féin, came into force on 1 January 1974. The agreement also provided for a Council of Ireland which gave Dublin a limited role in the running of the North.


But bringing Catholics into government for the first time since partition was always going to be risky. The Catholic community, much less the Dublin government, was not trusted by hard-line unionists represented by the likes of Paisley and the former home affairs minister William Craig. Sections of the right wing of the British establishment represented by the back benches of the Tory party, serving and retired members of the armed forces and the security service M15, supported those unionists who claimed sharing power with Catholics would undermine the union and lead eventually to a united Ireland.


On 14 May, 19 weeks into the life of the new powersharing executive, the economy was brought to a stand-still by the start of a “workers' strike” organised by a previously unheard of organisation, the Ulster Workers Council (UWC).


This was, in essence, a congeries of loyalist paramilitaries, extremist loyalist politicians and a smattering of loyalist trade-union muscle men from the Harland and Wolfe shipyard. It was in reality an organised coup to bring down the executive, which it succeeded in doing


For two weeks the economy was virtually paralysed by electricity blackouts, factory stoppages, road blockades and fuel shortages. And lurking in the wings, waiting for the green light, were the men with the bombs.


But first let's step forward a pace to the aftermath of the onslaught. Within hours, the two main loyalist paramilitary groups, the UVF and the UDA, issued statements in Belfast denying involvement. But despite this, the attacks were immediately (and erroneously) blamed on the UDA, the largest of the two groups and the organisation mainly involved in the “workers' strike”. But as we now know, the bombings were carried out by the UVF.


The reason for this was simple. When the conflict started, the UVF was the only credible loyalist paramilitary organisation in the North, having been reactivated in 1966 by Gusty Spence, who was sentenced to life in that year for the murder of a Catholic barman, Peter Ward.


Then in 1969 the UVF commenced a clandestine bombing campaign designed to destabilise Terence O'Neill's Stormont government. Between October of that year and January 1973, the group was blamed with 15 minor bombings in the Republic including bombings in Sackville Place and Liberty Hall, which killed three busmen and injured 133 others.


The men leading the campaign and who planted the Liberty Hall and Sackville Place bombs in 1972/73 were Jim Hanna from Lisburn, the head of the UVF in Northern Ireland, his deputy Billy Mitchell from Carrickfergus and Ken Gibson, a senior UVF figure from East Belfast who stood in, and lost, a Stormont election in the mid-1970s. All three are now dead. And during all of this time, the tiny group was controlled and directed by officers from the British intelligence community based at army HQ in Lisburn.


In several interviews with Billy Mitchell throughout the 1990s following his release from prison for murdering a protestant, Mitchell outlined to me in great detail the UVF's involvement with the British army. He said Jim Hanna (his boss) was “run as an agent” by four officers from army intelligence based at Lisburn, and he named all four – two captains, a lieutenant and an SAS officer. The men were visiting Hanna's home in Lisburn on a regular basis and taking him to Lisburn army HQ for briefings on how to run his campaign. The officers cannot be named here for legal reasons.


Mitchell also described how Jim Hanna's wife tried in vain several times to get Jim to emigrate to America, to get him away from the violence, but particularly away from the army.


A deadlier turn

By 1974, the campaign entered a new phase. This time things were more serious and republican violence seemed to be paying off. with Catholics in government and Dublin having a say in the North. This time there would be no holding back, no more mickey-mouse bombs killing the odd civilian here and there. There would be massive loss of civilian life in the South rocking the state to its foundations and sending a message round the world that the Prods meant business.


And this time the personnel – or most of it – would change too. This time, the bombings would be a joint operation between Belfast and Armagh with Armagh (the Border Brigade) taking the lead role. Billy Hanna, a 42-year-old part-time UDR man from Lurgan, who had earlier set up a deadly unit of the UVF in Mid-Ulster, would lead the operation. He would be allowed to pick his own team of experienced UVF men from both Mid-Ulster and Belfast. A married father of five and a veteran of the Korean War, Hanna had worked as a plumber in the early years. Awarded a medal for gallantry in Korea, Hanna was regarded as an able leader and a brilliant strategist, earning him a seat at the top table of the UVF's ruling council, the Brigade staff, on the Shankill Road in Belfast.


During his time as Mid-Ulster Brigadier, Hanna gathered round him a coterie of young men from the Lurgan/Portadown area who were prepared to defend Ulster at any cost. Among these were a well-known Loyalist assassin who is still alive, Harris Boyle and Wesley Summerville (who first came to public attention following the massacre of the Miami show-band in 1975), a hamburger salesman called Billy Fulton, a part-time UDR man called David Alexander Mulholland, who worked as a butcher in Portadown, a UVF commander from Portadown (still alive) and another UDA man also from Portadown (these were named in the Barron report).


Trained and led by Hanna, this unit became the cutting edge of Loyalist terror across Mid-Ulster. Between 1972 and 1980, it's estimated that up to 100 Catholics, and some Protestants died at the hands of this unit. And these were the men that would form the backbone of the team that would hit Dublin and Monaghan in 1974.


From Belfast, they were joined by a raft of senior experienced UVF men who had been involved in terrorism from the late-1960s. Among them were such names as David Payne, William “Frenchie” Marchant, Billy Mitchell and John Bingham.


Like 1972/73, the 1974 attacks were planned and organised by senior officers in the army and RUC special branch. In Lurgan, Co Armagh, two officers from the local brigade based in Kitchen Hill, helped Billy Hanna prepare the onslaught. One was an army driver and the second an intelligence officer known as a Field Intelligence Non-Commissioned Officer or FINCO. These two men were of a reasonably low rank and their role was to carry out the preparatory donkey-work, ie provide Hanna with transport, fuel, weapons, some cash and some low-grade intelligence.


But the real planning for the Dublin operation was conducted by a group of army officers from army HQ in Lisburn who visited Hanna's home in the Mourneview housing estate in Lurgan on a regular basis. These officers visited Hanna in twos, usually in a white van, at least once and sometimes twice a week. They visited him at his home, met him in darkened car parks and on numerous occasions took him to Tarbot Lake outside Banbridge on so-called “Fishing Trips”. Hanna was a keen fisherman and the lake provided an ideal cover where the full details were worked out by Hanna and his handlers, disguised as fisherman. It also meant that their discussions could not possibly be taped or overheard by a third party. And like his namesake Jim Hanna the officers also took Billy on regular trips to army HQ in Lisburn.


During research throughout the early-1990s, I visited several members of Billy Hanna's family. (He was shot dead in 1975 by his own comrades on the eve of the Miami ambush.) His widow Ann told me in a taped interview that army officers dressed in civilian clothes visited her home regularly for almost three years. “They always took Billy into the sitting room and closed the door. I just brought them trays of tea but I didn't know what they discussed.” Separately I visited Gordon Hanna, Billy's brother who served as a full-time UDR man. He was aware that Billy was a senior UVF man and that the army officers visited him regularly and provided him with guns and free petrol and were taking him on fishing trips to Banbridge, but he didn't know what they were up to.


Separately again, I visited Billy's widowed sister whose name I wish to withhold for the present but who also confirmed the soldiers visits. “I was aware that British soldiers visited Billy regularly at his home and that they went fishing to Tarbot Lake but that is all I know about it. I don't really wish to talk about those things,” she said.


It should be pointed out that no other member of Hanna's family ever became involved in terrorism. Aside from the Hanna family, I have interviewed numerous UVF men around Lurgan and Portadown as well as north and west Belfast who were involved in the operation in Dublin and Monaghan that day. Every single individual, interviewed confirmed that the operation was led by Hanna and that army officers were involved in the operation.


Amongst the UVF itself, much of the overall planning and decision-making for the southern onslaught took place in West Belfast, mostly in the Shankill and Wheatfield areas, where the UVF was headquartered. But further planning did take place at a large farmhouse in a loyalist village in South Armagh which was owned by an RUC Reservist. On the morning of the bombings, the bombs for Dublin were collected form this farmhouse by one of the operatives in a chicken lorry driven across the Boyne River at Sheephouse near Drogheda to the car park of the Coachman's Inn pub on the Swords Road near Dublin airport. There they were distributed by Billy Hanna to each car driver before being driven to their destinations in the city centre where they killed 26 people and injured almost 300 others.


Separate from the Dublin operation, a third army unit based in Lurgan got involved in the Monaghan bombing. Their role was overseen by an RUC special-branch detective whom I met on a number of occasions and who confirmed the army's involvement. This was a three-man team of undercover army officers whose main role was the dismantling of IRA bombs.


They were experts in handling explosives and were specially trained in the making and dismantling of bombs. According to the RUC Special Branch man, the Monaghan bomb was assembled by the unit in a vacant house in the Corcraine housing estate in Portadown, which is on the western side of the town near Gurvahy Road. The bomb was then transported to a farmer's hayshed on the border near Ward's Cross a number of days before the bombing. On the evening of the bombing it was collected from the hayshed by two loyalists [names withheld for legal reasons] and transported into Monaghan where it killed seven people and injured 15 others.


Cover-up, scandal and incompetence

It was a dark day indeed for the citizens of that beautiful town. The tragedy of the Dublin – Monaghan bombings is a scandal of seismic proportions. They have been investigated four times in 33 years by the authorities in Dublin and yet the truth, and closure for the families, is further away now than ever.


The cover-up which has taken place, I believe, on both sides of the border – not by Bertie Ahern or the present Garda Síochána, but long long ago when Ireland was a different place – is unlikely to be ever unlocked now. The allegations of collusion by elements within the Northern security forces, which have been around for years, are not just some type of Provo propaganda or the wild and exaggerated imaginings of over-zealous journalists. They are real and terrible facts. I have interviewed not just nasty UVF terrorists and their families but members of the RUC [as they then were] Special Branch who were involved and who told me they were involved and who told me the British army was involved.


The names of seven of these people are in my possession but for obvious legal reasons cannot be published in this magazine. However their names will be made public by this journalist in the not-too-distant future. And when that happens, what difference will it make? They will not be prosecuted as there is not enough proof to stand up in a court of law. If they are still alive, they are old men now – possibly in their late-60s or even 70s. But there is no doubt that the families of Dublin and Monaghan – just like the victims of terrorist violence everywhere – deserve better. Joe Tiernan is author and publisher of The Dublin and Monaghan Bombings and the Murder Triangle