Daily Ireland

Warning was issued before massacres

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It’s exactly 17 years since a handful of civil rights and community activists from the North travelled to Dublin for a private meeting with Dr Martin Mansergh, Special Advisor to then Taoiseach Charles Haughey.
As revealed by Daily Ireland yesterday, a previously undisclosed document now provides a fascinating archive of the Northern delegation’s concerns at the meeting on March 1 1988.
The three-page record of the meeting - which involved members of the Community for Justice, the Civil Rights Congress, Springhill Community House and the Fair Employment Trust - provides an insight into a string of serious issues which were raised directly with the Irish government by informed grassroots Northern nationalists.
Although it provides details of the issues raised by the Northern delegation, the document does not recount the response of Dr Mansergh on behalf of the Taoiseach.
Marked ‘Private and Confidential’, the document provides chilling evidence that the Irish government was warned “a Bloody Sunday-type incident was imminent” just days before the Gibraltar and Milltown massacres.
“The Northern community groups expressed the deep conviction that a ‘Bloody Sunday’ - type incident was imminent, and formally requested that the Irish government appoint Official Observers to attend all nationalist and republican commemorations and demonstrations during the coming months,” the document states.
“It was stressed that the community groups had not had any discussions with either of the main nationalist political parties in the six counties before submitting this request and were motivated only by the desire to avoid loss of life.
“Nevertheless, deep foreboding existed about the motivation and intentions of the RUC and other British forces in the coming weeks”.
Five days after those comments were written, three unarmed IRA volunteers, Dan McCann, Mairéad Farrell and Seán Savage, were assassinated by the SAS in Gibraltar.
Ten days later, on March 16, during their funeral at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast, loyalist killer Michael Stone used the unprecedented withdrawal of British forces to mount a murderous gun and grenade attack - prompting widespread suspicions of collusion.
On March 19, at the funeral of Caoimhghín Mac Bradaigh who was killed while pursuing Michael Stone, two armed undercover British soldiers drove directly at the funeral procession.
They were obstructed by black taxis protecting the front of the funeral.
After discharging a single shot, both men were captured by the IRA, before being stripped, beaten and shot on nearby waste ground. Dozens of republicans were subsequently arrested and charged with “common purpose” involvement in the killings.
The document explains the context in which the Northern delegation was fearful of the impending actions “of the RUC and other British forces”.
These included the “disquiet of the nationalist community at large at the killing of Aidan McAnespie in Aughnacloy” and the “policing of a legal commemoration service in Dunloy on the same date - 21 February 1988”.
This latter incident was compared by the delegation with the RUC presence preceding the 1984 killing of Belfastman Seán Downes by a plastic bullet at a republican rally in west Belfast.
The document also details a range of other concerns which were raised by the delegation.
With the MacBride Principles campaign waging an international battle across North America against job discrimination in the North, the delegation highlighted that the British government had harnessed a range of prominent individuals - including Bob Cooper, then Chairman of the Fair Employment Agency - to attack the Principles.
The document also recalls: “Irish Consular staff continue to remain aloof ... It would be valuable if they were to attend Legislative Hearings in a passive supportive role”.
Noting the impending British government proposals on new fair employment legislation, the document records that these “cannot be fully effective without effective independent monitoring related to defined goals and timetables”.
It is significant that such robust measures have never been put in place by the British government.
The document also reports on the case of two senior public servants in the North who were, at that stage, being threatened with redundancy for privately supporting the MacBride Principles.
That case was being pursued - without any apparent success - through the Anglo-Irish Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
On the issue of political vetting against community organisations, the document recounts the “continuing exercise of Economic Sanctions against community groups in West Belfast by the Department of Economic Development”.
“This involved the witholding of government ACE Grants available through the EEC Social Fund from Conway Enterprises, Springhill Community, MacAirt pre-School Playgroup and Twinbrook Community Centre.
“The Northern Community Groups considered that the exercise of Economic Sanctions was designed to prevent the survival of independent groups which did not earn express governmental approval, and as a general punishment to the west Belfast community at large for electing representatives unacceptable to government agencies,” the document states.
As well as voicing deep concern about the specific harrassment by British forces experienced by relatives of shoot-to-kill victims, the delegation also raised the treatment of prisoners in Long Kesh and Maghaberry.
These included the physical and psychological damage being inflicted on political prisoners, for example through strip-searching.
The Northern delegation agreed that they would provide more detailed information to the Irish government on specific concerns.
Dr Mansergh - now a Senator in the Oireachtas - has confirmed to Daily Ireland that he would have passed all the concerns “directly to the Taoiseach and a number of other senior officials”.

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