Empey on 45th anniversary: ‘Bloody Friday was text book terrorism’

The scenes of panic at Oxford Street bus station on Bloody Friday, July 21, 1972.
The scenes of panic at Oxford Street bus station on Bloody Friday, July 21, 1972.

Leading unionists have reflected on the impact of the IRA’s Bloody Friday attacks on Belfast – 45 years after the mass bombing of civilian targets that claimed nine lives.

Sir Reg Empey was working a short distance away from where one of the 22 explosive devices detonated on July 21, 1972 and can remember the sheer terror inflicted on innocent shoppers.

“It was textbook terrorism,” the Ulster Unionist peer said on the anniversary of the carnage.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds described the series of co-ordinated attacks across the city as “indiscriminate terror”.

The greatest loss of life occurred at the Oxford Street bus station where a car bomb killed two soldiers and four civilians – the youngest just 15-years-old. A total of 130 were injured.

Lord Empey the a manager at Newell’s department store in Royal Avenue at the time of the attacks.

He said: “It was really very frightening and you could hear the explosions. Although we had many, many bombs prior to that, we didn’t have so many all happening at once. Of course the police in those days didn’t have the numbers that they had subsequently therefore it was very difficult. People were running in to one another. Most people today just can’t imagine what it was like.”

Lord Empey said the co-ordinated attacks were designed to create more security alerts – whether real or hoax – than the security forces could deal with.

“It was designed around terror. You wouldn’t do that for any other reason so it was textbook terrorism,” he added.

DUP MP Nigel Dodds said the IRA targeted “ordinary citizens”.

He said: “It could never have been possible to evacuate the sites that they were placed and hoax calls were also placed solely with the intention of hindering evacuations. For those caught up in this horrific act of terrorism the memories are still raw. It is a reminder of the constant need to ensure that Northern Ireland does not slip back to the kind of terrorism which blighted our Province in the past, but we must never forget what happened on that terrible day.”

Mr Dodds added: “There still are those who have information...and could help ensure justice for those murdered and injured. Some truth from those who were involved in planning and carrying out this attack would be a fitting way to demonstrate the sincerity of the half-hearted, heavily qualified and inadequate apology that was issued to those caught up in this act of indiscriminate terror.”