Who bombed Dublin? The 50 year cover up must end

British authorities must finally come clean over whether they helped terrorists bomb Ireland’s capital city back in 1974.

17 May 2024
Roseanna Grace, whose grandmother Breda was killed in the attack, attends a memorial service. (Photo: Niall Carson via Alamy)

Roseanna Grace, whose grandmother Breda was killed in the attack, attends a memorial service. (Photo: Niall Carson via Alamy)

Fifty years ago today, four car bombs exploded in Dublin and the Irish border town of Monaghan.

They took 34 lives, including an unborn baby. It was the greatest loss of life in any single day of the Troubles.

No one has ever been charged, although the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) claimed responsibility.

A retired Irish police officer, John O’Brien, has now published a book about the bombings.

In The Great Deception, he claims British security agencies and politicians are misleading the bereaved relatives – as well as the people of both Ireland and Britain.

Justice for the Forgotten, the main group campaigning for the truth, has welcomed O’Brien’s contribution. They say it adds to the voices calling for London to come clean.

An inquiry by Irish supreme court judge Henry Barron found it was “neither fanciful nor absurd” to claim that UK security forces had assisted the UVF (a pro-British militia) in conducting the bombings.

A huge question therefore hangs over London’s relationship with the bombers, and this week for a fourth time the Dáil Éireann (Ireland’s parliament) unanimously called on Britain to release all its files on the bombings.

Even if the atrocity has largely been forgotten in the UK, it is a live issue in Dublin where bereaved families will hold their 50th annual commemoration today. 

They are to be joined by the president of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins.

Leading representatives of every political party in Ireland and the chief constable of Northern Ireland’s police force, Jon Boutcher, are also expected to attend.

A new documentary film on the bombings, May-17-74: Anatomy of a Massacre, has sold out its first showings at The Lighthouse Cinema in Dublin with more dates added.


Explainer: British collusion in Northern Ireland’s dirty war


‘Just so wrong’

In addition to those killed, more than 250 people were injured in the bombings. 

A 14-year-old, Derek Byrne, woke up in the Dublin morgue with horrific injuries – but survived and only died last November.

Bernie McNally, a former shoe shop worker, lost an eye in the blasts.

She said this week: “To deny people the truth is just so wrong. And it will never go away until it is righted. It will always be there, it will always be hanging over us all”.

The attacks took place on the third day of the Ulster Workers’ Council strike, which saw loyalists violently picket factories and power plants throughout Northern Ireland.

They were protesting against a power-sharing government at Stormont between unionists and nationalists, alongside a proposed cross-border Council of Ireland. 

The power-sharing government collapsed eleven days later.

Loyalists had never managed to stage such powerful, synchronised bombings before. 

Nor would they again; despite their fierce opposition to later political developments like the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 and the re-routing of Orange parades.

The explosives used to bomb Dublin were, in the opinion of Lieutenant Colonel Nigel Wylde, made from home-made recrystallised ammonium nitrate – a substance typically used by the Provisional IRA.

This underscored the possibility that London supplied them, as Lieutenant Colonel George Styles said that it was common for the British Army to “set off bangs” using IRA explosives they had captured and not logged.


O’Brien, a retired Gardai detective chief superintendent, joins these security veterans in voicing concerns. 

His book highlights minutes from two high-level joint British/Irish government meetings.

These took place four and six months after the bombings in London and Dublin respectively.

The first critical meeting has been known about for some time. 

It occurred in September 1974 and included Britain’s then prime minister Harold Wilson, Northern Ireland secretary Merlyn Rees and senior civil servants. 

On the Irish side, there was the Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and foreign minister Dr Garret FitzGerald.

Minutes prepared by the Irish side record Harold Wilson as saying the perpetrators of the Dublin/Monaghan bombings had been interned but were not charged as “it was impossible to get evidence to try them in open court”.

Wilson said: “In recent months, some very nasty men had been lifted on the Unionist side”. 

He added: “The perpetrators of the Dublin bomb outrages had been picked up and were now detained but it was impossible to get the evidence to try them in ordinary courts”.

This establishes that the British side knew who was to blame for the bombings soon afterwards but would be making no effort to charge them. 

Although the Garda investigation had already been closed, no attempt was made to re-open it following Wilson’s revelation.

At the next meeting in November 1974, Irish officials noted how Wilson “emphasised again that the people who had bombed Dublin were now interned and that this was the only way which they could be dealt with because the sort of evidence against them would not stand up in court. 

“They were certain they had the right people, but they could not bring them to trial”.

There is no record of this information being passed to the Garda or then justice minister Patrick Cooney. 

Nor is there any evidence that the Irish side sought, or were provided with, the names of the alleged perpetrators.

Some of them would not be named publicly until 1993, when Yorkshire Television broadcast the documentary Hidden Hand.


Why I took the police to court over a 48-year-old...



The issue of who was responsible for the bombings is critical, not only for the relatives of the dead.

Initially, many felt the IRA was somehow to blame, regardless of who actually planted the bombs. 

Irish foreign minister Fitzgerald commented privately “it’s their bloody fault for starting it all”.

Britain’s ambassador in Dublin, Sir Arthur Galsworthy, felt the reaction in Ireland was “healthy and helpful” to UK interests. 

He informed London: “It was the Provisionals . . . who were attracting most of the opprobrium on account of their own long-standing association with violence”.

And in the five decades since the bombings, London has successfully avoided opening its files to give the bereaved families the truth of its involvement, or otherwise.

This prompts the bereaved to ask: What are they hiding?

Barron’s inquiry concluded:  “A number of those suspected for the bombings were reliably said to have had relationships with British Intelligence and/or Royal Ulster Constabulary special branch officers.”

A former director of MI5, Jack Morton, was brought out of retirement a year before the Dublin bombings to advise special branch on how to better fight the IRA.

Morton, a veteran of colonial dirty wars from India to Malaya, wrote a report which is still sealed, despite attempts by Declassified and others to make it public. 

And so it remains to be seen whether Operation Denton, the current Northern Irish police investigation into the bombings, will provide any justice.