This morning in the Northerb Ireland Assembly, Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly raised the issue of the Police Ombudsman's report on the McGurk's Bar bombing. I responded on behalf of the DUP and the following post is based on the points I made in the chamber.
Almost forty years ago, on 4 December 1971, 15 people were murdered when a bomb was placed in McGurk's Bar in North Queen Street. The attack was claimed by the 'Empire Loyalists' but some years later a member of the UVF was convicted for the bombing.
The report will bring some sense of closure for the families of the victims and remove any doubt, if there was any, that this was a loyalist attack on the bar.
The Police Ombudsman's report is also important because it confirms that there is no evidence of collusion between the UVF and the police. Down through the years there have been allegations of collusion but the report states clearly that there is no evidence for this.
The report is critical of the police investigation and says that there was a bias or presumption that the explosion had been the result of an IRA bomb that had gone off prematurely, while in transit.
However it also points to the context of the time. The year 1971 was a dark year in Ulster history with 180 people killed in the Troubles. In the previous weeks there had been a number of murders in North Belfast, all of them carried out by the IRA. They had murdered two RUC men on the Oldpark Road on 17 November and one of them was the first Roman Catholic police officer to be killed in the Troubles. Then on 1 December a young Protestant girl was murdered in a gun attack at Cliftonville Circus.
There are also several questions to be asked about the Ombudsman's report itself. An earlier version was produced about seven months ago and then withdrawn. What new evidence has emerged to lead to the revised report and has this evidence been presented to the PSNI?
This report may bring some closure for the McGurk families but there are thousands of other people in Ulster who are still waiting for justice. Their relatives and friends were murdered and still no one has been brought to justice. In a case such as this it is possible to look back at police and military records but paramilitary organisations do not keep records of their actions and atrocities. Their information is locked away in their heads, not in filing cabinets.
There is then a certain irony, indeed hypocrisy, in that this matter was raised today by Gerry Kelly on behalf of Sinn Fein. There are many in the republican movement who hold information about past crimes and atrocities and yet, while they call for disclosure by others, they themselves remain silent and withhold information about the atrocities carried out by members of the IRA.