27 January 2006

McGurk’s: O’Loan in North Belfast to meet the families


*Ombudsman goes to New Lodge to hear latest from the relatives
*Bomb was intended for Official IRA bar
*Scottish Labour MP is relative of McGurk’s victim and he has vowed to find out names of other bombers

Relatives of the McGurk’s bombing outrage have demanded “transparency, accountability and full public disclosure” into the events that led to the atrocity after a groundbreaking meeting with Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan in the New Lodge.
And Nuala O’Loan heard at the gathering of relatives in the Reccy Centre that the security forces, in collusion with loyalist paramilitaries, intended to bomb an Official IRA bar close to McGurk’s pub to create a rift between republican factions in 1971.
However, the bomb gang targeted McGurk’s Bar after the killers failed to get near their original target – the Gem Bar on North Queen Street.
Nuala O’Loan travelled to the New Lodge this week to meet with relatives of the 15 people killed in the McGurk’s Bar bombing – a move welcomed by the families.
The meeting was described as “very positive” by the families and is the latest development in an ongoing investigation by officers from the Police Ombudsman’s office into the conduct of the RUC in the aftermath of the bomb.
Pat Irvine, whose mother Kathleen (53) was murdered in McGurk’s, said relatives demanded “transparency and full and public accountability into the investigation at the time.”
She went on: “We believe no proper investigation was carried out after the bombing. When the Ombudsman’s investigation is completed we want the truth to be made public and that’s what Nuala O’Loan promised us at the meeting.
“We also want a full retraction of the statements of misinformation that were fed to the media in 1971 and in subsequent years after.”
Pat Irvine said the relatives are confident that the official branding of the victims as bombers would be dismissed outright in the Ombudsman’s high-level probe.
“I believe that the original target was the Gem Bar that was known in the area to be frequented by the Official IRA. It was at the top of Henry Street and it was the bar before you came to McGurk’s along North Queen Street. In the British propaganda war, a bomb at the Gem was to be blamed on the Provisional IRA in a divide-and-conquer strategy to undermine republicans and create a feud. But the bombers couldn’t get the bomb planted there because men were standing outside it so they went on and planted it outside McGurk’s, which was the closest pub to the Gem Bar.”
The families say that is why no serious investigation was carried out into the atrocity. They have long questioned the disappearance of security force patrols from the area during the time the bomb was planted and went off.
“The British army searched the homes of victims in an effort to implicate them in their claims that the bombing was an IRA own goal and that the bomb was being made inside the bar,” said Pat.
“But with the accusation directed at the victims and the 12 injured survivors that they were making a bomb in the bar, why then was there no interrogation of the survivors if the RUC believed the bomb was being made inside the bar?”
An eight-year-old boy witnessed the bombers planting the device in the doorway of McGurk’s, contradicting the official line that it had exploded when bomb-makers inside the bar detonated it by accident.
The December 1971 atrocity was the largest loss of life before the Omagh bomb and the families hope the Ombudsman can uncover why no investigation took place into the outrage. Relatives say it was one of the earliest cases of security force collusion in the Troubles.
Only one man, who confessed seven years later to his part in the atrocity, has ever served a sentence for the mass murder.
Developments have gathered pace rapidly in recent months and the Ombudsman’s office has had officers investigating the RUC’s handling of the events after the explosion that ripped through the McGurk’s family bar on Little George’s Street killing 15, among the victims two children.
The probe began in September, as first reported by the North Belfast News.
However, the meeting on Tuesday night in the Reccy, attended by most of the families, was the first time relatives have spoken directly to Nuala O’Loan.
In another dramatic twist we can reveal that a Scottish MP – whose 73-year-old relative, Philip Garry, was killed in the explosion – has also taken up the case of McGurk’s and has directly quizzed Secretary of State in the Commons about the names of the accomplices in the bombing (see panel, above right).
The families widely believe that collusion between loyalists and the security forces created the conditions and opportunity for the bombers to plant their deadly device.
Michael Connarty MP said he would be writing to Peter Hain and passing on to him all the evidence in his possession gathered and passed on to him by the families. Earlier this month he tabled a question on the bombing.
“My grandmother’s brother, who we knew as uncle Philly, was a merchant seaman and was always visiting us in Scotland.
“I was about 14 at the time he was killed and I know from my grandmother that they [the security forces] tried to say the bomb was inside the bar when it went off. It was always said in the family folklore that it was a cover up by the security forces,” he said.
In a statement yesterday Nuala O’Loan described her meeting with the families as “very useful” to her investigation.
“The Police Ombudsman welcomed the opportunity to listen to the families concerned and found the meeting very constructive and useful. The issues raised were noted and will be considered as part of the Police Ombudsman’s investigation into this case.”

Journalist:: Andrea McKernon

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