Assistant Commissioner, North West Region, Michael (centre) McElgunn attends the 50th memorial of the Belturbet bombing. Left is Supt Pat O’Connell and right is Insp Graham Tolan.

Documentary maker says questions still need answering

Filmmaker, Frank Shouldice, who edited the documentary for RTÉ Investigates - ‘Belturbet: a Bomb that time Forgot’ - believes victims of the atrocity will remain trapped in “historical limbo” until the perpetrators are brought to justice.

He therefore used his speech at the 50th anniversary of the atrocity to call on the British Government and security services to release records sealed from public scrutiny for the next 84 years, and for gardaí engaged in a review of all evidence to finally reach a conclusion.

Mr Shouldice’s documentary, broadcast just over two years ago shed new light on the attack and became a catalyst for Garda action, leading them to take a more holistic approach to explosions in Belturbet, as well as those in Clones (10.01pm) seriously injuring two men, and at Pettigo (10:50pm) outside Britton’s Bar, also on December 28, 1972.

“I don’t know what goes through the mind of someone who plants a no-warning bomb,” opined Mr Shouldice at a podium erected feet from the bronze sculpture of the late Patrick Stanley (16) from Clara, Co Offaly, and local girl Geraldine O'Reilly (15) from Drumacon, Belturbet.

“Geraldine and Paddy never knew each other. All they shared, apart from their youth, their innocence, their potential and their promise, was the obscene misfortune that now binds them together.”

Unveiled in 2007 and depicting the hobbies of the two teenagers – dancing shoes for Geraldine and the football for Patrick- it was the roadside monument, which piqued Mr Shouldice’s interest and caused him to then deep-dive into the available evidence and the research carried out by Dr Edward Burke of the University of Nottingham.

Together, they found British Ministry of Defence files showing just four months after Belturbet, security forces operating in Fermanagh and Tyrone were aware of a “UDA commando type gang from Belfast who were believed to have been responsible for various explosions in Eire.”

“None of this knowledge was ever shared with gardaí. Nor was the fact that the RUC and British Army knew all about the car used to bomb Clones that same night. After it was stolen in Enniskillen - same as the car used here - the RUC notified the British Army that the driver was missing fingers on his left hand. They even named him.”

Mr Shouldice went on to say that the leader of this UDA gang, William McMurray, who died age 83 only in recent years having moved to England, was “directly linked” to the unsolved killing of butcher Louis Leonard in Derrylin.

An alleged accomplice also died, age 79.

“We should make no mistakes: official silence protected him,” said Mr Shouldice.

The Stanley and O’Reilly families meanwhile were also “met with silence” in their search for answers. Mr Shouldice is certain relevant evidence still exists.

“It’s in the conscience of those who took part and in the selective memory of fellow travellers. It is also hidden in the redacted detail of State records; lying undigested in documents quietly removed from public sight. Material deemed so sensitive to British national security that it’s sealed from scrutiny for 84 years, till long after we are all gone. Why such a nice and tidy arrangement?”

The documentary threw up worrying questions about the investigation south of the Border too.

“Key lines of enquiry were not pursued and important garda documents routinely, and inexplicably, went missing.”

Of the recently released photofits of the man suspected of driving the bomb carrying red Ford Escort across Aghalane bridge and into Belturbet town that night, and of a similar looking person seen in the driver’s seat of a stolen blue Ford Cortina getaway car, later found in Antrim where it was destroyed. He asked “why?” was this information only being made available now.

“The thoroughness of the garda investigation this time round does not reflect well on previous investigations. However, it gives hope to both families that this time it’s for real.”

Will there be “meaningful co-operation” from the Ministry of Defence in London and army intelligence?

“Time will tell.”