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British intelligence helped paramilitaries bomb N. Ireland

London Guardian
12/11/03


The British government today faces tough questions about the controversial role of its intelligence services in Northern Ireland after an Irish report found "grounds for suspecting" that British security forces helped loyalist paramilitaries to bomb the Irish Republic.

Four car bombs ripped through Dublin and Monaghan on May 17 1974, killing 33 people in the worst atrocity of the Irish troubles.

Last night an independent report by the retired supreme court judge Henry Barron found it was "neither fanciful nor absurd" to suggest members of the security forces in Northern Ireland could have aided and abetted loyalist paramilitaries in bombing the Irish Republic.

But he said Britain's lack of cooperation in handing over documents was disappointing and had limited "the scope of the report". Irish politicians were quick to criticise Britain's lack of transparency.

Mr Justice Barron said the material he assessed did not suggest senior members of British intelligence were involved in the bombings.

But there was a possibility of involvement by individual members of the British army, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, or the locally recruited militia, the Ulster Defence Regiment. Members of the RUC and the UDR were likely to have participated in, or been aware of, plans for the attacks. The bombing operation was prepared on a farm owned by a RUC reserve officer.

But the judge found that the loyalist paramilitaries, which included members of the Ulster Volunteer Force, were capable of acting alone.

There was no hard evidence that the bombings were officially or unofficially sanctioned by the British authorities in Northern Ireland.

Mr Justice Barron added: "Unless further information comes to hand, such involvement must remain a suspicion. It is not proven."

He found that British intelligence and Special Branch may have hampered the Irish police investigation in order to protect their own relationship with loyalist paramilitaries.

Mark Durkan, leader of the SDLP, said the British government had to face up to its responsibilities and fully cooperate with further inquiries. "The British government has treated the judge's efforts with a silence that betrays contempt. We need better from Britain than this."

Greg O'Neill, solicitor for Justice for the Forgotten, a group of survivors and families of victims, said Britain had a "moral obligation to come clean" to the relatives.

"Britain must decide whether it wants to be eternally suspected of being involved in sponsoring terrorism."

The families were distraught at the report and hoped it would spark a public inquiry.

The report was also critical of the Irish government of the day for showing "little interest" in the bombings. The Irish police investigation was flawed and vital Irish department of justice files were found to be missing, it said.

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