New documents relating to the McGurk’s bar bombing in 1971 show how the false claim that it was an ‘IRA own goal’ was being circulated within hours of the atrocity.
Campaigners for victims of the loyalist attack, which claimed the lives of 15 innocent civilians including two schoolchildren, have unearthed the RUC duty officers’ report from the day. The massacre on December 4 1971 at the public house in North Queen Street, Belfast, was one of the worst single acts of violence during the Troubles.
The police report, written within hours of the explosion, ignores information provided by British army technical experts who had examined the scene and determined that the bomb had been placed outside the building. Instead it states that just before the explosion:
“a man entered the licenced premises and left down a suitcase presumably to be picked up by a known member of the Provisional IRA. The bomb was intended for use on other premises. Before the ‘pick-up’ was made the bomb exploded.”
Earlier this year The Irish News revealed that a confidential briefing note was presented to Harry Tuzo – the British army’s general officer commanding in Northern Ireland at the time – within hours of the blast stating that the 50lb bomb had been planted outside the building.
The latest document was obtained by Caroline Parkes of British Irish Rights Watch. The claim made by security forces at the time that the bomb had been part of an IRA operation gone wrong caused untold hurt to the families of those who died. Last year security minister Paul Goggins issued an apology. “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.
This followed a Historical Enquiries Team (HET) investigation into the atrocity. The HET had dismissed as “irresponsible and inaccurate” the authorities’ IRA claim, saying it “could not be based on facts but instead reflected a desired outcome”. A UVF loyalist received 15 life sentences in 1978.
Ciarán MacAirt, whose grandmother Kathleen Irvine (53) was among the victims of the massacre, said the latest documents raised questions about who benefited most from the circulation of the false information.
“There are some very serious questions that need to be answered here. A good start would be for the HET to question the four duty officers named as authors of this police report. This police report was obviously written minutes after as 11 named victims are recorded in the same order, along with required corrections, and four victims, including my own grandmother, are still to be identified.
Nevertheless, the police report’s recording of the bomb’s placement is diametrically opposed to the truth within the original military brief and also with each and every one of the dozens of witness statements the RUC were already beginning to gather.”
Mr MacAirt added: “It leaves us with two unanswered questions – who benefited from the disinformation and who, therefore, created these lies?”