10 February 2006

IRA Docklands Bomb: IRA smash ceasefire

Guardian

**Archive article

· Bomb injures more than 100
· Major attacks 'appalling outrage'

John Mullin, Duncan Campbell, Patrick Wintour, David Sharrock,
Vivek Chauchary, David Pallister and Helen Nowicka
Saturday February 10, 1996
The Guardian



The 17-month IRA ceasefire came to a bloody end at 7.01pm last night with a blast that rocked east London, injured more than 100 people, one critically, and thrust Northern Ireland back into political ferment.

After one hour of shock and hectic checking with the security forces who, like the Government, were taken 'completely by surprise', Prime Minister John Major attacked the bombing as 'an appalling outrage'. He called upon Sinn Fein and the IRA to condemn unequivocally those who planted the bomb near South Quay railway station on the Isle of Dogs.

The Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, said he was saddened and appeared to accept that the IRA ceasefire had ended, saying he regretted that 'an unprecedented opportunity for peace has foundered on the refusal of the British government and Unionist leaders to enter into dialogue and substantive negotiations.'



Mr Adams appealed for calm, and also hinted at a split by saying Sinn Fein's peace strategy remains the main function of the party and his personal priority.

In Washington, adminstration officials revealed that the Sinn Fein leader had warned President Bill Clinton's national security adviser, Anthony Lake, less than an hour before the explosion that an IRA return to violence was imminent.

'He had indications that there was going to be a bomb blast and he felt it was legitimate enough that he wanted to give a heads-up to Anthony Lake,' an official said. He gave no indication of how long the two men had spoken, nor of the exact time of the telephone call.

The belatedness of Mr Adams' call suggested that the Sinn Fein leader had not known about the definite end of the ceasefire for long. It is possible he only learned about it around the time of the first warning given to the Irish television station, RTE, one hour before the blast.

This led to strong speculation that a large part of the Sinn Fein leadership were unaware of the planned IRA action or, alternatively, unable to prevent it - something that might yet help the Irish and British governments keep the peace process on track.

The Irish prime minister, John Bruton - who phoned both Mr Major and Mr Adams late last night - was caught totally unaware.

In his conversation with Mr Major, Mr Bruton accepted the IRA had made 'a conscious decision' to end the ceasefire and pressed Mr Major to stick with the peace process.

Mr Bruton admitted his ignorance of IRA tactics: 'Whether it represents a permanent return to violence or a short-term measure is not possible to discern at this stage.'

Six people were seriously injured in the blast - one critically - and there were reported to be 100 walking wounded, including a five-year-old girl with facial injuries. Three of the injured were police officers. Thirty seven people were taken to hospital. People seeking information on the injured were asked to call 0171 834 7777.

The bomb was believed to have been planted, at ground level, in an underground garage in a six-storey office block between South Quay station and an unfinished and empty building known as South Quays One. Nearby buildings, where workers were still at their desks when the explosion blasted the Isle of Dogs, were protected from worse damage by the empty building.

No one within Sinn Fein immediately supported the bombing. Earlier in the day, Mr Adams had taken calls on BBC Radio in Belfast. His message was that talks were the way ahead.

David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionists, said: 'If there has been a resumption of violence then it has clearly been done in order to try and prevent elections in Northern Ireland. It is incredible that people who, for the last 18 months, have been telling us they want to move into the democratic process should be resorting to violence.'

Mr Clinton voiced his 'deep concern', and Washington said it would urgently be contacting all the parties in order to continue the peace process. Aides said the president would not automatically break off contact with Sinn Fein. Later he made a ten-minute phone call to Mr Major.

The first hint that the ceasefire was about to end came when Scotland Yard received warnings from news agencies and Sky Television at 5.41pm that a coded statement had been received.

Commander John Grieve, head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch, said after visiting the scene: 'Shortly before 6pm this evening there were a series of warnings, coded, of a recognised nature, that brought the police and emergency services here. Whilst they were clearing the scene an explosion occurred at 7pm.'

The message warned that the IRA had 'with great reluctance' decided that the 'complete cessation of violence' would end at 6pm.

Within an hour, the threat had been realised. Moments after 7pm the blast was heard throughout east and north-east London.

The Northern Ireland Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew, spoke of his sense of outrage. 'Here were the republicans, offered a path through to the talks which they claim they have wanted to join for a very long time. That path was by way of elections. Rather than face elections they appear to have gone back to the bomb,' he told BBC television news.

In his statement, Mr Major said: 'This is an appalling outrage. My first thoughts are with the casualties, their families and the emergency services. We will pursue relentlessly those responsible for this disgraceful attack.

'Sinn Fein had given assurances time and time again that they were committed to peaceful progress. I now call on the leadership of Sinn Fein and the IRA to condemn immediately and unequivocally those who planted this bomb and any suggestion that the ceasefire is now over.

'It would be a tragedy if the hopes of the people of Britain and Northern Ireland for lasting peace were dashed again by the men of violence. This atrocity confirms again the urgent need to remove illegal arms from the equation.'

Mr Major was joined by the Labour leader, Tony Blair, who condemned the bombing as a sickening outrage.

Many of the injured were taken to the Royal London Hospital.

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