Two teenagers died and many more were wounded when a bomb concealed in a parked red Ford Escort exploded in Belturbet at 10:28pm on December 28, 1972.

EXCLUSIVE: Belturbet bomb break through

The Director of Public Prosecutions will be asked to consider if there is enough evidence to charge an individual or individuals in relation to the Belturbet bombing over 50 years ago.

The Anglo-Celt can exclusively reveal that, following an extensive cold case review, a file is now being prepared for the DPP. The break-through marks the closest point to which a prosecution could arise in the devastating 51-year wake of the attack.

Two teenagers - Geraldine O’Reilly (15) from Staghall and Patrick Stanley (16) from Clara, Co Offaly, a gas delivery assistant - were killed when the 100lb bomb exploded at 10:28pm on December 28, 1972. The explosive device was concealed within a parked red Ford Escort.

More than a dozen others were seriously injured in the blast, one of three suspected UDA attacks to occur 30 minutes apart - the others at Clones (10:01pm) and Pettigo, Donegal (10:50pm).

News that a prosecution file is being readied for the DPP comes after an appeal for new information was launched by gardaí some 14 months ago, around the time of the 50th anniversary of the atrocity. Since then, there has been fresh engagement with both Interpol and the Police Service of Northern Ireland on the investigation.

Chief Superintendent of the Cavan Louth Monaghan Division, Alan McGovern, confirmed that the garda investigation is now nearing a “critical stage”.

“The investigation is progressing. We are liaising with our colleagues in the PSNI and other jurisdictions through Interpol as well,” he told the Celt at the 2024 Cross Border Police Conference on Organised & Serious Crime at Cavan’s Farnham Estate last week.

With “momentum gathering”, the chief super added that the investigating team is in the process of “preparing a file at the moment for the DPP”.

He added: “It’s at a critical stage so I can’t say too much more.”

The renewal of the investigation and public appeal in December 2022 saw, for the first time, new information published. It included a description of a man believed to have driven the bomb-laden red Ford Escort, stolen from outside a house in Enniskillen, into Belturbet town.

A photofit, taken from information supplied by personnel manning Aghalane Bridge Customs Post that fateful night, was also shared as part of a fresh appeal.

Information was also sought in relation to the identities of the driver and occupants of another vehicle, a lagoon coloured Ford Cortina (BIA 477), stolen from Belturbet’s Main Street, the original registration plates of which have never been recovered. The car was found days after the explosion (December 31) by the RUC in Crumlin, Antrim, but bearing false plates. Sparking a security alert, the British Army carried out a controlled explosion on the vehicle.

Separately, information was also sought to identity a man seen driving a stolen Morris 1100, registration 431 LZ, that contained the Clones bomb. This vehicle was stolen from a carpark in Enniskillen sometime between 6:30pm and 7:35pm on December 28, 1972.

In late 2022, when the latest appeal was broadcast, gardaí confirmed receipt of information about a man missing fingers observed driving the stolen blue Morris 1100 in Northern Ireland in the hours before the attack took place.

Last April saw a joint operation between the Garda Water Unit and PSNI divers at the Woodford River close to the old Aghalane Bridge on the border between Cavan and Fermanagh. The search was led from the specialist Belturbet bombing incident room set up at Ballyconnell Garda Station.

At the cross border policing conference last week, the Celt also called upon Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to provide an update on the current status of the Belturbet bombing investigation.

Joined by Chief Constable of the PSNI Jon Boutcher, Comm Harris: “That’s an An Garda Síochána investigation, which is active, which carries on, and we then, as part of that investigation, have received information from the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I am fully informed of that investigation and I know we have received that information.”

Last year a solicitor acting for the families of Geraldine O’Reilly and Patrick Stanley called on the Irish government to take an interstate case against their British counterparts over controversial legislation aimed at dealing with legacy issues arising from the conflict in the Northern Ireland.

Last week, on the same date as the policing conference took place in Cavan, the High Court in Belfast ruled that part of the British government’s Northern Ireland Troubles Legacy Act was indeed in breach of European human rights legislation.

The judge accepted there was “no evidence” to suggest that granting immunity under the Act would in any way contribute to reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

PSNI Chief Mr Boutcher acknowledged the criticisms levelled at the Legacy Act by groups on all sides, and that there has been a “failure” to include victims to date.

“Whatever we do in legacy, we’ve got to do it with the support of and the co-operation of those victims’ groups and those victims and that isn’t happening,” acknowledged Mr Boutcher.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee was also in attendance at the policing conference. She was asked by the Celt what more the Irish government could do to urge Westminster to hand over any evidence or secret files on the 1972 bombings.

She remarked that there remains an “open flow” of engagement between both governments.

“We have always co-operated and will continue to co-operate when it comes to providing evidence.” However, the minister stated: “Where there have been challenges in the past, where there has been legislation needed, we’ve put in place legislation to ensure any information information required can be provided.”