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Explosive links to a past Ellis cannot escape

IT was the discovery of a huge cache of IRA explosives in a forest outside the Berkshire town of Pangbourne almost 30 years ago which led to Sinn Fein TD Dessie Ellis being named in British government papers released last week


The Pangbourne cache included 112lbs of explosive, equipment ready to assemble radio-controlled bombs, command wire-operated detonators, anti-disturbance devices, short-time delay and long-time delay devices.

During a later court case, British police claimed that 24 of Mr Ellis's fingerprints were found on items in the cache buried in a forest.

It was one of three IRA explosives caches discovered in 1983 by London Metropolitan and MI5 officers tailing an IRA unit which was responsible for a wave of bombings in England.

These IRA attacks included the Hyde and Regent's Park bombings in July 1982 in which 11 military bandsmen and guardsmen were killed and the no-warning car bombing beside Harrods department store in 1983 in which a 25-year-old woman, a 22-year-old journalism student, an American business consultant and three police officers were killed.

Dessie Ellis was never publicly linked to these attacks but to earlier attacks which took place while he was serving a sentence in Portlaoise Prison. However, the Hyde Park and Harrods bombings were carried out by the same IRA unit linked to the Pangbourne explosives and detonating mechanisms on which Mr Ellis's fingerprints were found.

Mr Ellis was arrested by gardai at his Finglas home in July 1981. Explosives and bomb-making equipment were found under his bed. He was granted bail but absconded to the US, where he was arrested in 1983 and returned to Ireland to serve a 10-year sentence. He was released in 1989 having served eight years, but was re-arrested and returned to Portlaoise Prison on foot of extradition warrants from UK police who connected him with the Pangbourne explosives cache.

A Scotland Yard detective sergeant told the high court that Mr Ellis's fingerprints were found on a cache of delayed action incendiary bombs, commercial explosives and other devices found buried at Pangbourne. He said there was a link between the Pangbourne cache and a bombing at Ebury Bridge Road in Chelsea on October 10, 1981, which killed two civilians and injured 10 other civilians and 24 soldiers from the Irish and Scottish Guards Regiment who were passing.

The two bombs in a parked van contained between 20lbs and 30lbs of explosive surrounded by some 1,100 five-inch nails. The woman who died was 59-year-old widow, Nora Field, who was shopping for her 92-year-old mother.

The other civilian who died was John Patrick Breslin, 18, whose father, Patrick, came from Roscommon. He sustained massive head injuries.

Speaking after his son's death, Mr Breslin said: "It's their own people they are killing. They are Irish. I am Irish and they killed my son."

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The Metropolitan Police also cited a link between the Pangbourne cache and the bomb which exploded on October 17 the same year under the car of Sir Stuart Pringle, Commandant General of the Royal Marines, at his home in London. His right leg was later amputated.

Also linked was an explosion at a Wimpy bar at Debenhams on Oxford Street on October 26, 1981. A police bomb disposal officer was killed when he tripped its anti-handling device.

Mr Ellis, through his fingerprints in the Pangbourne arms cache, was also connected to a bomb in November 1981 which damaged the Wimbledon home of then UK attorney general Sir Michael Havers. He was also linked to a bomb found in Debenhams in Oxford Street in October 1981 which was defused.

Mr Ellis was never part of the bombing team which was led by Belfast man Paul Kavanagh, who later married another IRA bomber, Martina Anderson, who is now Sinn Fein's MEP for Northern Ireland. The two married in prison in Britain. Both were serving life sentences but were released under the Good Friday Agreement.

At his appeal against extradition to the UK, Mr Ellis's defence counsel cited the cases of the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six as evidence of the unfair treatment he might face before UK courts. Counsel also sought his release on grounds that the alleged offences were "political". The High Court ruled in favour of his extradition and he appealed to the Supreme Court, which copperfastened his extradition in November 1990.

The Crown Prosecution case was that although there was no evidence that Mr Ellis was ever in Britain there was clear fingerprint evidence "which indicates that he must have been concerned in the manufacture of some of the equipment found in that cache" and this was evidence that he was involved in the conspiracy to cause explosions.

However, the jury found there was insufficient evidence to convict him of conspiracy to cause the explosions in London and acquitted him in November 1991. He was deported to Ireland and later became a Sinn Fein councillor for Finglas and since 2011 a TD for Dublin North-West.

The British government papers released this month refer to the period when his extradition was being sought by the Irish authorities from the US in 1982 and refer to him as a "leading PIRA member and claimed he was linked to bombings in Northern Ireland and Britain in which officials linked him "to some 50 murders in Northern Ireland and the Republic".

Mr Ellis, 60, has previously said he was involved in the IRA's "armed struggle".

On Friday, Fine Gael chairman Charlie Flanagan called on Mr Ellis to "come clean" in relation to the released documents.

"The publication of new British state papers outlines forensic links between Sinn Fein TD Dessie Ellis, and as many as 50 deaths in the Republic and Northern Ireland during the time of the Troubles," he said. "That a member of the Irish, or any, national parliament should respond to such serious allegations in such a way is utterly disgraceful and shows a clear disregard not only for the position Deputy Ellis holds but also for the victims of our troubled past and the families they left behind.

"These matters can no longer be treated by Sinn Fein in a routine way. We cannot simply forget the past and sweep the issues which strike at the very heart of the democratic process under the carpet to suit Sinn Fein.

"Deputy Adams has suggested the establishment of an independent truth commission as a means of resolving our past conflict. If this is to be the case, let Dessie Ellis be the first person brought before it, so that questions can be answered in respect of the 50 people murdered, to which the British government suggests he is in some way linked," Mr Flanagan said.

But a defiant Mr Ellis said in a statement: "It is interesting that Fine Gael's Charlie Flanagan places such importance on the unsubstantiated claims of British intelligence – the same shadowy forces who murdered so many Irish citizens over the years.

"I'm sure that it hasn't escaped Deputy Flanagan's attention that I was cleared by a British court of these trumped up allegations which begs the question as to where he is coming from. Mr Flanagan mentions without any hint of irony the need for an independent truth and reconciliation commission – despite the fact that it is Sinn Fein who have led such calls and despite the fact that Mr Flanagan's government has done nothing at all to support the establishment of such a process."

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