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September 2010 - McGurk’s Bar

I never cease to admire the strength and endurance of family ties in our society. The bonds of family have a formidable strength and power which gives many a noble cause its driving force. Good examples of what I mean are the families of McGurk’s Bar, Bloody Sunday, Omagh, Robert McCartney, Charlie Armstrong, Andrew Kearney and Thomas Devlin.

All of these families, or groups of families, have mounted extraordinary campaigns on behalf of their loved ones, who have died as a result of the abuse of power by the state or violence. They were all cruel victims of some form of injustice or violence and their families have steadfastly campaigned for justice for their loved ones, when many others would have given up and walked away.

Most of these restless campaigners have been women, determined to achieve what many regarded as either being futile, or impossible. Women such as Penny Holloway, the mother of Thomas Devlin, aged fifteen when he was murdered on the Somerton Road. Kathleen Armstrong, the widow of Charlie Armstrong, murdered and ‘disappeared’ by the Provisional IRA. Catherine McCartney and her sisters, who campaigned defiantly for justice for their brother, murdered outside Magennis’s Bar in Belfast City Centre. Her book ‘Walls of Silence’ is a brilliantly written account of their energetic campaign and is well worth reading for its searing criticisms of contemporary Sinn Fein and their cover up of the IRA’s operation.

Another valiant campaigner is Pat Irvine, who along with other families bereaved thorough the bombing of McGurk’s Bar, has campaigned to get justice for the fifteen victims of that unprovoked, sectarian attack on a Catholic owned and frequented public house, just off North Queen Street. Apart from the Omagh bombing on 15th August 1998, the McGurk’s Bar bombing had the highest loss of life of any event in the Troubles. Pat Irvine’s mother died in that murderous attack on 4th December 1971. She and her associates in other bereaved families have worked tirelessly and assiduously to remove the slur, shamelessly put on the bombing by the British Army, that it was the result of an IRA bomb going off prematurely in the premises. The British Army untruthfully claimed that the bomb was waiting to be transported to another target and was cruelly and despicably described in British Army parlance as an ‘own goal’.

At the very heart of the ongoing Police Ombudsman’s investigation into this bombing was the outrage and lingering hurt of this libel endured by the families for so many years. Equally important for the families is the discovery of the truth surrounding the Army and the RUC and their relationship with the UVF bombers that carried out the attack. Many suspect that there was collusion between the security forces and the Loyalist paramilitaries. Was there collusion between the RUC and the loyalist bombers? Or was there collusion between the Army and the loyalists? Or were both the RUC and the Army involved in collusion?

The families are entitled to know the truth almost forty years after the atrocity. During the summer the Police Ombudsman produced a report that was so flawed that he had to withdraw it to rethink and hopefully rewrite it. Meanwhile the families are still working hard to gather further evidence and information to uncover the truth of the events surrounding that fateful night. I wish them every success and I hope that the Ombudsman’s report can decisively determine the truth about collusion.

In addition we can all wish the families well in their simple but touching bid to have one of the new streets in the St. Patrick’s primary school housing development named in memory of McGurk’s Bar. The idea is to call St. Kevin’s Walk, McGurk’s Walk, a very simple and dignified idea, which has up until now been rejected by Habinteg Housing Association. They believe that calling it McGurk’s Walk is too political. My view is that it is political in the general sense, but it is not sectarian, or party political, by a proper recognition of the terrible sacrifice of fifteen innocent people murdered in 1971 simply because they were Catholics. If you feel the same way I urge you to contact Habinteg and express your support for the naming of the street McGurk’s Walk. I think it is the least we can do to publicly acknowledge this tragedy.

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