Minister for Northern Ireland Steve Baker at the British Irish Assembly which convened in the Farnham Hotel last week.

NI Minister sidesteps collusion question and looks to the future

COLLUSION Taoisech to press British over Belturbet bombing files

With the 50th anniversary of the Belturbet bombing approaching, An Taoiseach Micheál Martin has again committed to lobbying his British counterparts to hand over any files that pertain to collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and the security forces operating in the North.

Successive UK governments have failed to assist investigations into the Belturbet car bomb attack that claimed the lives to two teenagers - Geraldine O'Reilly (15), Staghall, and Paddy Stanley (16), Clara, Co Offaly.

Last week An Garda Síochána revealed that an incident room had been established at Ballyconnell Garda Station and that a specialist team had been assigned to examine a “number of lines of inquiry” into the now decades old case.

At the time of his murder Paddy Stanley was temporarily employed by local businessman, Pat Jennings as a helper on a Calor Gas delivery lorry. When the bomb exploded he was in the public kiosk trying to telephone his parents to tell them he would not be home.

Geraldine O’Reilly, the youngest of seven siblings, meanwhile had come into town with her brother Anthony to get food from a local restaurant. She was across the road in Slowey’s chip shop when the car bomb exploded.

Following a review of the investigation, which began following discussions with family members last year, a spokesperson for An Garda Síochána said that “a number of lines of inquiry” had been identified, and that these would be the focus of the newly established probe.

“We continue to press that issue,” the Taoiseach assured when asked about the developments after he addressed the 62nd Plenary Session of the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly taking place in Cavan at the Farnham Estate.

“There’s a range of issues in relation to legacy, and in relation to collusion that we continue to pursue. I’ve met with almost all of the victims organisations, and suffice to say, right across the board, there has to be genuine attempts, not just on behalf of the British Government but by others as well to give closure to victims. There are many atrocities that the families of victims have not got closure on. Belturbet is certainly one, and we’ll be pressing that with the British Government.”

Steve Baker MP, and Minister for Northern Ireland meanwhile said it would be “unwise” for him to discuss the need for the British security forces to release files, only to say in relation to allegations of collusion that they “exist in multiple directions”.

“I think it would be unwise for me to get into discussing collusion today, but of course allegations of collusion exist in multiple directions. I am very clear that what we need is peace and justice in all direction. To me violence is a terrible thing whoever is perpetrating it, collusion is a terrible thing whoever is perpetrating it. Justice applies equally to all.”

Responding to a question from the assembly floor however, Minister Baker went on to say there was a “very narrow path forward to success” and when it came to the subject of so-called “legacy” issues, and there needed to be a realistic view with regards to outcomes.

“It involves all of us adjusting ourselves to not only hear everybody else’s legitimate interests but to accommodate them. I hope people won’t mind me saying but there are decades and centuries of people not doing that on this island. I want all of us to come together and really listen to each other, and really respect one another, and try move forward as friends.”

He said that “legacy” is an issue that remains “extremely sensitive”.

“We are all absolutely committed to listening to people. We would far rather proceed with measures that enjoy widespread consent. I cannot know what it is like to lose someone during the Troubles, because I haven’t. But just looking at the prospects of prosecutions, they’re so small. So small, on both sides, and I think we have to just go forward in a spirit that can actually work.”

Justice for the Forgotten, the organisation involved in supporting families of bomb victims in their campaign for truth and justice have “whole-heartedly” welcomed the decision by An Garda Síochána to initiate a new investigation into the Belturbet bombing almost 50 years ago.

“We have supported the two families for almost 20 years and, at last, we have this very significant and positive development in the case,” said the organisation.

The garda appeal in relation to the Belturbet Bombing on 28th December, 1972 have asked anyone with information to contact the incident room at Ballyconnell Garda Station 049 9525580, the Garda confidential line Free-phone 1800 666 111 or Crimestoppers 1800 250025.