Interviewed in 2020 by John Greene of C103FM
John O’Brien from Ballinhassig in Cork joined the Gardaí in 1968. On retiring almost 40 years later in 2006, he had reached the rank of Detective Chief Superintendent. He had also been Head of the National Office for Interpol and Europol. In this segment, John, also a well known historian and commentator, reflects on the Dublin and Monaghan Bombings of May 1974, their impact on the city and the political complexities behind the action and also the Irish government response.
John O’Brien (Interviewee): The Dublin and Monaghan bombings of the 17th May ’74 were the single highest casualty of The Troubles. 34 people were killed, most in Dublin, and the remainder in Monaghan. Now the dynamics of those bomb explosions, three big car bombs went off in Dublin within minutes of each other. Now there was nothing in the Loyalist’s technology or the Loyalist’s methodology indicated that they had that ability to do that, and they certainly didn’t exhibit it subsequently, and indeed explosives experts, British, as well as Irish, said that they didn’t have that technology. At that time the Sunningdale Power Sharing Agreement had been introduced in Belfast. There was a province wide strike in the North by the Ulster workers and Loyalists. The North was brought to its knees by that strike and, of course, after the Dublin and Monaghan bombings then the Sunningdale Agreement was shelved in the North and we went back to doing things in the North like we did in the past …
PRESENTER INTRODUCTION: Well before the break we were discussing the Dublin and Monaghan car bombs of May 17th, 1974. While most point the finger of responsibility towards the Loyalists, security forces on either side of the Irish Sea believe that Loyalists did not have the capacity to carry out such an extensive and horrific crime. Neither had they shown afterwards on any occasion that they were capable of carrying out a similar crime to such an extent. So who was responsible? Well, the Irish Government of the time were given the opportunity to prosecute those who were responsible, but John O’Brien says, chose not to do so.
MR. O’BRIEN: At the British Prime Minister/Taoiseach meetings on two occasions, the 11th September 1974, 21st November 1974, the British told the Irish that they knew the identity of the people who had committed the bombings. They knew the identity of the people who had committed the bombings and they had interned them. There is no sign of what any Irish Government did with that information for about 20 years, and even now on the anniversary of the 17th May, you will hear a Government Minister saying “we are going to appeal to the British to give us the names, provide us with the information”. It rings very hollow in the light of the 11th September ’74, 21st November ’74, and all of that information is in the Barron Report which was commissioned in the 2000s. So that’s a huge question that remains unanswered. By the way, last point, on the 21st November 1974, it was also the day that the Provisional IRA exploded bombs, three bombs in pubs in the centre of Birmingham in the UK and 21 people were killed as a result of that. So, terrorism was not the exclusive preserve of any one side, but clearly in relation to the Dublin and Monaghan of 17th May and December 1st, 1972, major questions arise as to the perpetrators and essentially what the Irish did about it, or the Irish Government more particularly did about it. So, they’re hugely important events.
MR. GREENE (Presenter) : And do you believe that when the British Government told the Irish Government “we know the names of the people involved, we have interned them”, do you believe they were willing to reveal those names at the time or did they?
MR. O’BRIEN: I certainly believe that they were, and in any event, regardless of their willingness to do it, the onus would have been on us to pursue that very specific information, and that’s contained in the government minutes of those particular meetings. So, there is not kind of fanciful thinking. Now it may well be that somewhere along the line was a philosophy,” the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. In other words, that the Provisional IRA were seen as the enemy and that all of the other questions that needed to be asked in relation to the involvement of collusion, the involvement of any other British elements in either of those bombings, was not the priority but do you know what, they’re questions that the people involved should long have answered. It is not answered by saying now many years later,” we’re asking the British to give us all the information you had”, Because the British, on two occasions, at prime ministerial level, told the Irish “we know, and we have interned them”. So, anything that follows after that is on our plate, government wise, in terms of what we did to pursue it.