17th July 2008 North Belfast News, Editorial

Security Minister Paul Goggins has apologised in the House of Commons to families of the McGurk’s Bar victims for false claims made by the British in the wake of the 1971 atrocity (see the weak apology here).

It is tempting to speculate on whether or when this development would have occurred were it not for the intervention of a Scottish MP whose great-uncle died in the blast. No matter – the families have welcomed the apology while at the same time repeating their calls for hidden files on the bombing to be made public, and we share their view that the apology is a significant development.

The murder of 15 innocents in December 1971 was an appalling massacre, even by the brutal standards of early-70s Belfast. But what made it all the more remarkable was the callous disregard that the British government showed to the injured and to the families of the dead.

The absence of sympathy or support was utterly chilling – the only thing that mattered to the British government was that the incident be used as a propaganda tool to blacken the name of republicans. The carefully considered decision to dub the bomb an IRA ‘own goal’ – when British officials knew full well that it was their proxy agents within the UVF who planted the device – was effectively the starting gun for an all-out campaign of black propaganda and cynical spin that was to continue for decades to come.

Were it just the case that the British government was coldly calculating and utterly lacking in humanity, then that would be bad enough – but those are features that have been typical of many governments all over the globe down through the years. What made the behaviour of the British in the McGurk’s case all the more reprehensible was that it was in effect a rejection of the very concept of law and order.

Effectively, no investigation was carried out. That set the tone for a sad and sorry litany of loyalist murders which were all carried out by men who operated in the knowledge that, at worst, they would not be pursued with any energy or vigour, or, at best, in the knowledge that they were acting with the active backing of the British state. Today we are only starting to deal with the agonising legacy of the British government’s abrogation of the rule of law.

It’s now well over 30 years since that awful night, so there’s no technical reason for the British to continue to withhold the files of the government of the day, the British army and the Stormont Joint Security Committee relating to McGurk’s. No technical reason, but clearly there are other compelling reasons why faceless bureaucrats don’t want the files to see the light of day and we have our own thoughts on what those reasons are.

There are many holes in the dyke of secrecy that the British have built between us and the truth. The McGurk families will not rest until the files are opened, that much is clear. So get the finger out, Mr Goggins.

Minister’s “sorry” for false claims about the bombing of McGurk’s Bar (Sam Lister, Belfast Telegraph, 15.7.08)

Northern Ireland’s Security Minister last night apologised for government claims made almost 40 years ago over one of the most notorious bombings of the Troubles.

Paul Goggins’ words on the 1971 McGurk’s Bar bombing followed demands for an apology from the Government for the Army’s role in covering up the incident. At the time, the security forces said it had been an IRA “own goal”.

Speaking in the House of Commons last night, Mr Goggins said officials had allowed “perceptions and pre-conceived ideas to cloud the evidence”. “We are deeply sorry, not just for the appalling suffering and loss of life that occurred at McGurk’s Bar, but also for the extraordinary additional pain caused to both the immediate families and the wider community by the erroneous suggestions made in the immediate aftermath of the explosion as to who was responsible,” he said.

The IRA was accused of being behind the attack on McGurk’s bar in north Belfast that killed 15 people in 1971 when it had actually been carried out by a member of the UVF. Michael Connarty raised the attack in the Commons last night after the Historical Enquiries Team found military officials at the time had falsely blamed the IRA, despite evidence pointing to loyalist involvement.

The Labour MP, whose great uncle Phillip Garry was killed in the attack, has received a letter of apology from Secretary of State Shaun Woodward but wanted the Government to make the gesture formally to the families of the victims. He said: “I am not sectarian and I take no sides in this. The families of the victims deserve an apology from the British government for the propaganda that was put about by the Army.”

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