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WEDNESDAY 10/12/2003 12:39:12 UTV
The Troubles' blackest day

On Friday May 17, 1974, 34 people were killed in terrorist bombings in Dublin and the borderside town of Monaghan. By:Press Association

They ranged in age from 80-year-old John Dargle, of Dublin, to the unborn baby of Colette Doherty, 20, also from Dublin. The baby was due two days later.

It was the greatest loss of life in a single day of the Troubles.

The nightmare began at 5.30pm, rush hour, on the busiest day of the week in the Republic`s heaving capital.

Three car bombs ripped through the heart of Dublin without warning, killing 27 people including an entire family.

Parnell Street, Talbot Street and South Leinster Street were devastated and within 90 seconds the city resembled a battle field.

Ninety minutes later a fourth car bomb exploded on North Road in the borderside town of Monaghan where a further seven people died.

Around 250 people were injured in the attacks.

That evening Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave said in a television and radio broadcast that he wanted to express ``the revulsion and condemnation felt by every decent person in this island at these unforgivable acts``.

He said it would help to bring home to the Republic what the people of Northern Ireland had been suffering for five long years.

``Everyone who has practised violence, or preached violence or condoned violence must bear a share of responsibility for (the) outrage,`` he added.

In Belfast, the UDA and the UVF denied responsibility for the explosions and in Dublin a statement issued by the Provisional IRA called the attacks ``vile murder``.

The then UDA press officer, Samuel Smyth, said: ``I am very happy about the bombings in Dublin. There is a war with the Free State and now we are laughing at them.``

Almost 20 years later, in 1993, the UVF admitted that it carried out the attacks, ``aided by no outside bodies``.

The bombings came at a time of acute instability in Northern Ireland and coincided with the loyalist Ulster Workers` Council strike, which brought down the power-sharing executive at Stormont established by the Sunningdale Agreement.

The arrangement collapsed 11 days after the bombings.

Relatives of the bereaved have campaigned tirelessly for the answers to endless questions about what exactly happened that day.

They believe an attitude of resignation was adopted by the Government that the bombings were inevitable because of the actions of the IRA.

The Justice for the Forgotten group, which represents the families of those killed and injured in the attacks, claims that only in a few instances did politicians visit the families or wounded.

There was no national day of mourning as there had been for Bloody Sunday.

There was no Government initiative to set up a fund for the dependants of those murdered.

There was no consultation with the families and no counselling was provided.

No progress reports on the investigation were given to the families. A memorial was built 17 years later.

The Justice for the Forgotten group says that, while the garda investigation appeared to be making good progress, it ground to a halt within a few weeks of the bombings.

Although gardai had the names of 20 suspects, some on an evidential basis and others from intelligence sources, not one was ever questioned. No-one was charged.

While the inquests in Monaghan were convened and concluded, the inquests into the 27 deaths from the Dublin bombings were adjourned less than two weeks after the tragedy.

All inquests have since been reopened but will not proceed until well into 2004.

Year upon year the relatives have campaigned for all appropriate information surrounding the events of that day to be made available.

They have brought claims before the European Commission of Human Rights, fought for radical reassessments of compensation packages, launched the Britain`s Zero Response campaign, written hundreds of letters, met foreign diplomats and displayed adverts in the British and Irish press.

In August 1999, John Wilson, of the Victim`s Commission, published a report recommending a private inquiry.

And four months later Taoiseach Bertie Ahern announced the launch of an official investigation to be headed by Chief Justice Liam Hamilton. It was warmly welcomed by campaigners who agreed to co-operate.

The inquiry was established to examine a range of issues, including claims of collusion between members of the British security forces and the UVF loyalist paramilitary bombers responsible for the attacks.

In October 2000 Justice Hamilton resigned on grounds of ill health and died a month later. The inquiry was taken over by Justice Henry Barron.

The four-year investigation has relied on witnesses to come forward voluntarily.

Justice Barron did not have the powers of a judge conducting a public inquiry. His remit was to draw conclusions rather than make recommendations.

The sophisticated nature of the devices used in the three Dublin bombings have fuelled suspicions that the British military was involved - accusations which have been hotly denied.

But campaigners believe the co-operation of the British Government in a public inquiry is essential if the truth is to be established.

The Barron report was due to have been published more than a year ago.

Its preparation was frustrated by an alleged lack of co-operation on the part of the British authorities.

It was eventually presented to the Taoiseach in October and handed to a joint Dublin parliamentary justice committee today.

Justice Barron is also expected to deliver a separate report on the Dublin bombings of December 1972 and January 1973 in coming weeks.

Relatives and victims continue to seek a public judicial tribunal of inquiry from the Irish government into the atrocities and is still fighting, almost 30 years on, for truth, justice and closure.

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