Picture shows all that was left of car containing bomb. The chassis of car can be seen embedded in front of second car.

Opinion: Bomb victims must never be forgotten

During Monday night’s RTÉ Investigates documentary ‘Belturbet: A bomb that time forgot’ there was an exchange between the presenter Frank Shouldice and Margaret Urwin of Relatives for Justice. Within the same hour of the bomb being detonated in Belturbet, claiming the lives of teenagers Geraldine O’Reilly and Patrick Stanley, there were co-ordinated loyalist bombs in Pettigo and Clones.

The exchange between Shouldice and Urwin is in reference to the Clones bomb: “We know very little about Clones in fact because unfortunately the garda investigation file into Clones is missing,” begins Urwin. “There’s just a little bit about the explosive and that’s about it.”

She adds: “That is the story with all of the attacks, especially Dublin and Monaghan where so many files are missing, photograph albums missing.”

Shouldice asks: What was the explanation given for the Clones file going missing?

“No explanation, just couldn’t be found,” she replies, expressionless.

Later on, Urwin and Shouldice move on to discuss a suspect for the Belturbet bomb, Robert Bridge, whose name, as Shouldice puts it, “one month before Belturbet his name cropped up in a Cavan Monaghan Garda file: UDA activities in Fermanagh”.

Robert Bridge denies involvement.

“Robbie Bridge was named, but unfortunately that file is now missing.”

“It’s another missing document,” echoes Shouldice.

“Mmm,” says Urwin.

The exchange is conducted with impressive restraint. In living rooms across County Cavan and Ireland, there may have been less restraint as people watched on with growing anger and frustration.

What happened to the Garda files? How can these files go missing? We can only conclude that the files went missing through either a deliberate act of illegality or incompetence. Either way an explanation must be demanded.

If the authorities were to seek the files on land sales from Belturbet, Clones or Pettigo in 1972, without doubt they would be easily retrieved in a timely fashion. Could the Revenue retrieve accounts from Belturbet, Clones or Pettigo from 1972? This reflects poorly on the priorities of the State. It has placed more importance on protecting documents detailing land transactions or money than the murder of children.

However, not every report has been lost by the Gardaí. The documentary outlines that six reports have been compiled by Gardaí on Belturbet, which the Department of Justice have refused to release to the families saying that it could interfere with the investigation.

The Department’s response stonewalls those who most need answers with the lamest of catch-all excuses:“Release of these six garda reports could reasonably be expected to adversely affect the security of the State, matters relating to Northern Ireland and the international relations of the State.”

This State claims to be a Republic – i.e. a public affair, not the plaything of rulers.

A cynic may suspect that the real reason is that the release of these six garda reports could reasonably be expected to adversely affect the reputation of some prominent people within the State.

Meanwhile the British authorities continue to play their own callous game of hide and seek with potentially relevant documents too. Two days after the Belturbet bomb senior figures within the British Army, RUC and UDR met to review border security. However minutes from that meeting have been sealed for 84 years due to “health and safety”. A historian in the documentary further explained that minutes of the security meetings for the whole month of December 1972 are not available.

These States - Ireland and Britain – each claim that they are keeping us, their subjects and citizens safe by keeping the truth hidden. Almost five decades on, at best this is an erroneous position, at worst it is self serving and an obstruction to justice.

There were 50 murders in the Republic through cross border attacks with, as Margaret Urwin observes, “zero” convictions. That is pathetic and cruel.

While the documentary ‘Belturbet: A bomb that time forgot’ was made with a national audience in mind, for the families of Geraldine and Patrick, it is a bomb that time has not forgotten, can never be forgotten, and must never be forgotten.