On December 4, 1971 the UVF bombed McGurk’s Bar in North Queen Street killing 15 Catholics including women and children and wounding 17 more. The bombing was set against the backdrop of one of the most violent and destructive periods of the Troubles.
The week before McGurk’s was bombed, the IRA had conducted a major bombing offensive across the North and on December 2 three republican prisoners escaped from Crumlin Road gaol. The security force presence was high in the city.
On the evening of December 4, without warning, a UVF bomb exploded in the popular, family-run bar in the New Lodge.
Less than a day after the bombing the recently formed Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) section of the British army began circulating the lie that the bomb was an IRA own-goal and the victims were IRA bomb makers. Many people, particularly the families, have long suspected that there was collusion between the bombers and the security forces.
The families have been campaigning since the bombing to get to the bottom of how far that collusion went but it has only been in recent years that a significant breakthrough has been made. Through research by the families, the Pat Finucane Centre and British-Irish Right Watch documents have been uncovered which, say the families, prove the British government were working with the UVF.
In July 2009 they uncovered a Director of Operations Brief which showed that the Army Technical Officer on the scene minutes after the explosion believed the bomb “to have been planted outside the pub”. “This is diametrically opposed to the lies that Palace Barracks and the RUC promulgated thenceforth and lays bare collusion and cover-up,” says Ciarán MacAirt, who lost his grandmother Kitty Irvine in the bombing and who has been central to the families’ campaign for the truth.
He also points to documents uncovered by the Pat Finucane Centre at the National Archives at Kew which show notes of the North’s Prime Minister at the time, Brian Faulkner, meeting with the British Home Secretary in the days after the bombing. Ciaran says these notes justify the families’ assertion that the McGurk’s Bar cover-up went straight to the top of the political establishment. “However, they also raise serious questions regarding the professionalism of the investigations by the Historical Enquiries Team and the Office of the Police Ombudsman,” he said.
“Those investigations, and particularly the Police Ombudsman’s report released in the summer of 2010 — which had to be withdrawn because of a string of embarrassing errors — have only served to strengthen the families’ resolve to let the world know that truth of what happened.”
In February 2011 another Ombudsman report said the original RUC investigation was biased in favour of the view that the IRA were responsible. However, it didn’t go as far as to say the RUC had colluded with the UVF bombers — a further disappointment to the families.
Ciarán MacAirt says the research by the families and groups like the Pat Finucane Centre, most of which is available on the website www.themcgurksbarmassacre.com, will continue until the world knows the truth of what happened on that horrific night 40 years ago.