FORTY years after Belfast was systematically bombed by the IRA on Bloody Friday, nine Ulster MPs have called on the leadership of Sinn Fein to come forward with any information they have about the atrocity.
A House of Commons motion tabled by DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, which says that they should “even now come forward to provide truth and closure for the victims”, has been signed by eight DUP MPs and the SDLP’s former leader, Mark Durkan.
The motion comes ahead of the broadcast of a powerful BBC documentary, to be screened tonight, which gives voice to some of those who suffered most on July 21, 1972, when – within the space of 80 minutes – bombs across Belfast killed nine and injured 130 others, including 77 women and children.
In a sign of republican embarrassment about the atrocity, the programme makers said that “no republican was prepared to appear on the programme”.
A decade ago the IRA released a statement of apology to the “non-combatants” it had killed but in recent weeks Martin McGuinness has played down rumours of a more fulsome IRA apology on the 40th anniversary of the bombings.
Tonight’s programme plays a clip of Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams being asked last year what role he played on that day.
“None,” he replied.
Earlier in 1972 an IRA delegation which flew to London for secret talks with the Government included Mr Adams, who now denies ever having been in the IRA but at that point was considered so important by the British Government that he was released from internment to take part in the talks.
The now Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, was second in command of the IRA in Londonderry at the time.
The House of Commons Early Day Motion, which allows MPs to express an opinion on an issue but is not debated on the floor of the Commons, says: “That this House notes with sadness that July 21, 2012, marks the 40th anniversary of the Bloody Friday bombings in Belfast; further notes that the events of the day were some of the most horrific acts of terrorism ever carried out by the IRA, which set off 22 bombs in the city centre in an 80-minute period, killing nine people and injuring 130 others including 77 women and children; and recognises that many of the victims and their families still bear the mental and physical scars to this day, that we should never forget to honour the memory of those killed and that justice demands that those in the republican movement and Sinn Fein leadership with information should even now come forward to provide truth and closure for the victims.”
Mr Dodds said: “It is appropriate that on the 40th anniversary of this event that we remember this attack which was aimed not at any military or security target, but at the ordinary people of Belfast.
“There has been a great deal of talk about reconciliation amongst some republicans, but an important first step must be that those who were involved in this terrible atrocity might come clean and admit their role.
“It is well known that Gerry Adams was a senior figure in the Belfast IRA at the time of Bloody Friday yet he will not even admit to having been a member of that organisation.
“Not only should those who were involved step forward and bring forward information about what happened that day, but they should also explain exactly why bombs were placed outside railway stations, bus stations and shops.”
Tonight’s BBC documentary contains horrific footage of body parts being collected in plastic bags in the aftermath of the bombs, two of which failed to detonate and two of which were defused.
George Magill, working with the ambulance service that day, told the programme: “It was just devastation, complete devastation. Buses were burning and people were running about.”
Andy Jenkins, who was also working with the ambulance service, said: “They actually had a tarapaulan out and most of the chaps who were there were over and were looking at it and it was absolutely horrendous. I don’t know whether there were mangled bodies and bits and pieces...”
John Knox, a part-time fireman, recalled how people going in and out of buildings seemed to be “going in and out of clouds” such was the billowing smoke, and that “it wasn’t always easy to see the bodies clearly”.
He added: “I saw one of the ambulance crews bringing one of the bodies out of the bus station. There wasn’t a stitch on him. His body was just like a raw piece of meat.
“We knew what we were handling and we knew that it was somebody’s loved one.”
But amidst the horror, former RUC officer Jack Dale recalled how the republican Markets area of Belfast cheered the barbarity: “There was a large group of people standing down at the Markets area and every time a bomb went off they jeered and shouted and yelled as if they thought it was a good thing.”
Schoolboy Stephen Parker saw one of the bombs, abandoned in the back of a car outside the Cavehill shops in north Belfast, and ran from door to door shouting: “Bomb! Bomb!”
The 14-year-old was killed instantly by the blast. The documentary plays a film interview with his father, the Rev Joseph Parker, from November 1972, in which he recalls identifying his son’s body: “My wife waited outside. The body was very badly... his face, head was very badly, you know, well, disfigured.
“But it wasn’t possible to recognise him as my son.
“I felt sorry for the man in the mortuary. He came up and said: I don’t think that’s your son.
“I said, ‘look in the pockets’.
“Of course, he pulled out a box of safety matches and I looked and Stephen had fooled me two nights before. He was always buying these trick games and so on – joke matches.”
Hugh O’Hare, an accountant, lost his 37-year-old wife and the mother of his seven children, Margaret, that day.
“We buried her on our 12th wedding anniversary,” he said, adding that those responsible for her murder were “mindless morons”.
Brenda Donnelly, who was also at the Cavehill shops, recalled being in a sweet shop engulfed by flames.
“As nine-year-olds, we thought we were going to die in the shop,” she said, remembering how she clung to Jackie Finnerty.
Jackie said: “I thought we were going to be burnt alive.”
Eventually, they got out but they had to step over the badly injured shop owner, Vera Bowden, who ended up requiring constant care for the rest of her life.
Philip Gault, then aged nine, was shopping with his mother on the Limestone Road. He lent against a car which, unknown to him, contained a 50lb no-warning bomb – the first of that day.
Recalling the “sheer panic” of the moment, he said: “It was in such close proximity that when the bomb went off, I went off with it, basically.”
Today he has a foot which – because of the bombing – has not grown since he was nine.
Now a health and safety officer, he is in constant pain but because he has a job he has to pay for his treatment himself: “It’s one thing being told you have pain, it’s another being told you have to pay to have the pain.
“You’re talking an average of maybe £60,000-£80,000 spent over 40 years.
“I’m actually financially paying for somebody else’s criminal activity.” See Morning View, page 20
n Bloody Friday will be broadcast tonight at 9pm on BBC1