26 May 2006

Irish authorities actively covered up loyalist death squad actions

Daily Ireland

Brother of Martin Doherty, who was killed in a 1994 gun and bomb attack on the Widow Scallan’s pub in Dublin, calls for full disclosure
Jarlath Kearney


Irish government authorities have actively covered up the actions of loyalist death squads that operated in the 26 Counties during the 1990s, a Daily Ireland probe today reveals.
The objective of the persistent, top-level cover-ups has been to protect well-placed RUC/PSNI and British intelligence agents operating in both the Ulster Defence Association and Ulster Volunteer Force.
The conduct of the Irish authorities raises serious legal, constitutional and human-rights questions for Irish citizens affected by the attacks.
Among the incidents that involved British agents were high-profile attacks such as the UDA’s May 1991 murder of Co Donegal Sinn Féin councillor Eddie Fullerton at his Buncrana home and the UVF’s March 1997 bomb attack on the Sinn Féin office in Monaghan town.
Daily Ireland can also reveal that a UVF attack on Sinn Féin’s Dublin headquarters was aborted in early 1997 after a death squad conducting a so-called “dry run” encountered an abnormally high Garda presence saturating the vicinity of the target.
It has been established that the aborted 1997 attack in Dublin involved at least one RUC Special Branch agent connected with the UVF’s notorious Mount Vernon unit from north Belfast.
Nuala O’Loan, the North’s Police Ombudsman, was informed about that aborted UVF attack as part of her major investigation into collusion between the RUC and UVF.
That investigation is to be published soon.
Although senior RUC/PSNI members — both serving and former — have been implicated to varying degrees by the investigation, there are profound ramifications for the Irish authorities who acquiesced in loyalist attacks by British agents in the South.
Daily Ireland has also uncovered serious unanswered questions about the May 1994 gun and bomb attack on the Widow Scallan’s pub in Dublin, during which the doorman Martin Doherty was shot dead.
Notably, strong similarities have been established between that UVF bombing and the organisation’s Monaghan bombing three years later, as well as startling “coincidences” in the explanations of the Irish authorities after both events. Martin Doherty’s brother Ben yesterday called for full disclosure from the Irish government about the circumstances and the investigation relating to his brother’s murder.
Sinn Féin justice spokesman Aengus Ó Snodaigh yesterday announced that he would be demanding detailed answers from the Department of Justice about the affair.
It is understood that the 1997 aborted UVF attack against Sinn Féin’s offices in Dublin took place at around the same time as the failed bomb attack on the party’s Monaghan constitutency office.
It was first reported last year that the Monaghan incident involved a bomb that had been treated to ensure it would not detonate. The bomb was found on the morning of March 3, 1997.
That claim was verified by former RUC Criminal Investigation Department detective Trevor McIlwrath on the BBC’s Spotlight programme this week.
Mr McIlwrath confirmed the attack was connected with the UVF Mount Vernon unit, which had been infiltrated by Special Branch agents.
However, as well as confirming the RUC’s foreknowledge, the Monaghan attack also clearly implicates the Irish authorities.
The Monaghan bomb — which RUC Special Branch had already tampered with — consisted of around 25 pounds (11.3 kilograms) of Powergel commercial explosives and was contained in a holdall.
Initially the Garda claimed in media briefings that the bomb had failed to fully explode because bystanders — who allegedly moved the holdall — had dislodged the detonator. The detonator’s explosion indicated that, while the main explosive charge had been “treated”, the bomb was technically viable.
Despite Special Branch’s foreknowledge, the then RUC chief constable Ronnie Flanagan told The Irish Times on March 18, 1997: “Nobody should be under any illusion that this [attack] is part of a phoney war.”
Whether the Irish authorities were notified beforehand that RUC Special Branch knew of an imminent attack in Monaghan cannot be established.
At very least, forensic tests after the incident would clearly have revealed that the main explosive element had been “treated” so as not to explode.
In that circumstance, the failure of the Irish authorities to actively pursue the issue of direct British collusion with loyalist death squads raises very profound questions.
Not least, it means that the Irish authorities acquiesced in covering up an attack (“phoney” or otherwise) that was mounted — with the assistance of a foreign government — against a legal political party in Irish territorial jurisdiction.
A Daily Ireland probe into pre-1997 loyalist attacks in the South has uncovered striking similarities between the Monaghan bomb and the 1994 Widow Scallan’s bomb.
A litany of unanswered questions also persists in relation to the Garda handling of the attack that resulted in Martin Doherty’s murder.
Mr Doherty was shot several times by a UVF gunman as he confronted the death squad outside the Widow Scallan’s pub on May 21, 1994 — 12 years ago this week.
Another doorman, Patrick Burke, was shot and wounded.
The UVF gang left a holdall containing a bomb outside the pub after Mr Doherty had prevented them gaining entry.
Hundreds of republicans were gathered in the pub for a republican function. The actions of Martin Doherty undoubtedly saved lives.
Three days after the Widow Scallan’s attack, on May 24, 1994, Albert Reynolds, the then taoiseach, told The Irish Times: “We were aware of the possibility of such an attack.”
The following month, June 1994, the then justice minister Máire Geoghan Quinn told the Dáil that the Irish government would seek the extradition of anyone thought to be involved in the attack. She said the RUC had set up a “special unit” to investigate the bomb attack.
Despite the high-profile nature of Mr Doherty’s 1994 killing, an inquest was not held in Dublin until November 2004, a decade later.
However, the comparisons between the Widow Scallan’s bombing and the Monaghan bombing are striking.
Just like the bomb in Monaghan, the Widow Scallan’s bomb consisted of 25 to 30 pounds (11.3 to 13.6 kilograms) of Powergel explosives in a holdall. As in Monaghan, only the detonator exploded, while the main device failed to go off. Just like in Monaghan, the explosion of the detonator indicated that the bomb was technically viable but that, for unexplained reasons, the main explosives had malfunctioned. Just like the Monaghan case, the Garda subsequently claimed in media briefings that a bystander — who apparently had moved the holdall — must have caused the bomb to malfunction by dislodging the detonator.
And just like the case of the Monaghan bombing, the Garda have never released details about the forensic examination of the Widow Scallan’s bomb.
If, as with the Monaghan bomb, the UVF’s main charge of Powergel explosives had been “treated” beforehand, that would explain the failure to explode.
Daily Ireland also understands that, despite some reports linking the mid-Ulster UVF with the actual attack on the Widow Scallan’s, both the 1994 and 1997 bombs were prepared by the UVF in Belfast.
Other aspects of the Garda actions on the night Martin Doherty was killed in 1994 have never been adequately accounted for.
For instance, the Northern-registered gold-coloured Triumph Acclaim car used by the bombers was checked by gardaí in Gardiner Street in the hour before the attack but was allowed to proceed because it had not been reported stolen.
Moreover, two Garda Special Branch cars that were sitting outside the Widow Scallan’s disappeared at about 10pm, some 50 minutes before the loyalists struck.
Questioned about this aspect of events during Mr Doherty’s inquest in November 2004, a Garda superintendent refused to comment on the operations of the Special Detective Unit. The superintendent failed to provide any details about the UVF bomb, except to repeat that it had failed to fully explode.
He also refused to comment on the identity of those responsible for the attack on the grounds that the investigation was ongoing.
“We still have an unsolved murder and the file remains open. To date, no one has been made amenable,” he said.
Even ten years after the event, the Garda refuse to disclose basic details about their investigation.
Martin Doherty’s family are convinced that the Irish authorities are withholding key information about the case.
Photofits were issued of the UVF gang in the immediate aftermath of the attack but, although the RUC arranged an identification parade in April 1995, only two teenage eyewitnesses were taken from Dublin to Belfast. One source has described the witnesses as “vulnerable”. Both witnesses failed to identify any of the loyalists involved.
It was also reported subsequently that the weapon used to shoot Martin Doherty was the same gun that killed the UDA boss Jim Craig in an internal loyalist assassination. This led to speculation that the UDA — also inflitrated at the highest level with British agents — had assisted the UVF gang in the atttack.
No one has ever been apprehended by the RUC/PSNI for involvement in either the Widow Scallan’s or the Monaghan bomb attacks.
No warrants have ever been issued within the 26 Counties for the arrest of any loyalist or Special Branch handler in relation to either incident.
The Irish authorities have never instigated any kind of extradition proceedings to apprehend suspects in either case, despite new European Union legal measures to make the apprehension of serious crime suspects from another EU member state virtually routine.
Ben Doherty told Daily Ireland last night that his family were demanding answers from the Irish government about his brother’s murder.
“There are serious unanswered questions about this entire affair,” he said.
“Our mother died the year before the inquest and it remains a deep hurt for all of us that she was unable to get closure on the circumstances in which Martin was killed.
“Other than going through the motions at the time, the Garda have never kept us informed of any developments up until the inquest in 2004. Even then, they didn’t tell us anything new. It would be nice if we could now get answers.
“If Irish authorities had prior knowledge or subsequent indications that there was even a hint of collusion, then that is a very serious issue,” Mr Doherty said.
Supporting the Doherty family’s demands for truth, Sinn Féin justice spokesman Aengus Ó Snodaigh pledged to pursue the Irish government.
“Clearly the Irish government has very serious questions to answer about the ability of unionist death squads, led frequently by British agents, to attack and target Irish citizens with apparent impunity in this jurisdiction.
“The Doherty family have been forced to come through the last 12 years with virtually no support from the state and no answers about Martin’s murder. Sinn Féin will be raising this affair directly with the minister for justice in the time ahead,” Mr Ó Snodaigh said.
While much focus will rightly fall on collusion north of the border after the publication of Nuala O’Loan’s report in the coming months, the approach of successive Irish authorities to the assassination of Irish citizens in the 26 Counties remains the big untold scandal of the peace process.
If anyone thought the collusion scandal behind the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in 1974 was ancient history, they need only look at loyalist attacks in the same locations during the mid-1990s to know the spectre of state collusion still haunts the senior ranks of the British and Irish security establishments on this island.

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