Sunday 26 May 2019

Sunningdale pushed hardliners into fatal outrages in 1974


THE decision by loyalists and their undercover allies in the security forces to bomb the Republic in May 1974 was taken shortly after the signing of the Sunningdale Agreement the previous December.

THE decision by loyalists and their undercover allies in the security forces to bomb the Republic in May 1974 was taken shortly after the signing of the Sunningdale Agreement the previous December.

The objective of the attacks which killed 33 people and injured up to 300 others in four no-warning car bombings, in Dublin and Monaghan, 25 years ago tomorrow was twofold: to destroy the Agreement and force the Dublin Government into cracking down on the activities of the IRA.

Taken together the two attacks constitute the worst atrocity perpetrated anywhere in Ireland or Britain - including the Omagh massacre since the conflict began. To this day no one has been charged with the outrage despite continuing campaigning by the victims' relatives. It is highly unlikely now that that those responsible will be found and put on trial.

The Sunningdale Agreement, which for the first time from partition, had brought together Unionists and Nationalists in a power-sharing Executive (on similar lines to the Good Friday Agreement, but with the paramilitaries excluded) was seen by hard-line unionists as well as the right-wing of the British establishment as a betrayal and a first step on the road to a United Ireland.

The 1974 bombings were largely a continuation (and indeed an escalation) of earlier attacks which took place in December 1972 and January 1973 when bombs exploded in Sackville Place, and at Liberty Hall in Dublin killing two bus men and injuring a number of others. All attacks were carried out by the UVF with by and large the same personnel involved, but with one exception the 1972/'73 attacks were led by a Lisburn loyalist called Jim Hanna (later shot dead by his own side), the 1974 attacks were led by an Armagh loyalist called Billy Hanna (also later shot dead by his own side) no relation to Jim.

In 1974, Billy Hanna was a 44-year-old unemployed plumber and part-time member of the UDR a regiment of the British Army set up in 1970 to replace the B-Specials.

Two years earlier he had set up the first branch of the UVF in his home town of Lurgan under the auspices of the then imprisoned UVF leader Gusty Spence. Hanna immediately appointed himself commanding officer and set about flexing his muscles as a hard man, robbing banks and post offices and intimidating local business people into paying money to the UVF.

Over the following two years he gathered round him a coterie of young men from the Lurgan/Portadown area most notable of whom were Robin ``Jackal'' Jackson from Lurgan, Harris Boyle from Portadown, and Wesley Sommerville from Moygashel in Co Tyrone. All three terrorists were later to form the core of Hanna's team which carried out the 1974 operation. Boyle and Sommerville were later killed during an attack on the Miami showband, Jackson died of cancer last year.

Around 1972 Hanna became friendly with a number of British army officers based at 3 Brigade HQ in Kitchen Hill, near his home on the Mourneview Estate in Lurgan, whom he had met socially in the local army Legion Club. Over the following two years these officers visited Hanna's home on a regular basis giving advice on the running of his terrorist campaign. They also provided him with guns and petrol for his car from the Kitchen Hill depot. Later they introduced Hanna to more senior members of the intelligence corps based at Army HQ in Lisburn. These officers also visited Hanna's home in Lurgan and took him on ``fishing'' trips to Tarbot lake in Banbridge (Hanna was a keen fisherman) where they planned the Dublin and Monaghan bombings throughout the early months of 1974.

In taped interviews with this reporter a number of former associates of Billy Hanna gave details and names of the army officers involved.

The Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974 and the Dublin bombings of 1972/73 were organised exclusively by army intelligence officers based at Lisburn. The Sunday Independent has in its possession the names of four army officers as well as one RUC special branch officer involved.

On the day of the 1974 bombings Billy Hanna used as a base for his bombing team a rarely used car park next door to a Catholic Church in Whitehall, adjacent to Collins Avenue East, on the north side of Dublin.

The bombs, which were earlier stored at the home of a Protestant farmer near Markethill in Co Armagh, were transported across the border to Whitehall by Robin Jackson in a chicken lorry. Jackson drove a chicken lorry around Ireland for a living for a number of years in the 1970s.

Throughout the afternoon Hanna based himself in the car park handing out bombs as if they were hamburgers to each bomb driver as he arrived.

The Sunday Independent has also in its possession the names of the four bomb drivers who planted the bombs in Dublin and Monaghan on May 17, 1974.

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