Since the debate over McGurks Bar has continued, I’ve put together a timeline for relevant events on 4th and 5th December 1971. What I have omitted are the (factual) news reports that carried the eye witness evidence stating a man was seen leaving a bomb at the door of the bar and the claims of responsibility by the ‘Empire Loyalists’ (a UVF cover-name). I’ve concentrated on those items that refer to the forensic reports or promote the deception that emerged blaming those inside the Bar for the blast and claiming involvement by the Provisional wing of the IRA.
At 8.45 pm the bomb explodes in McGurks Bar.
That night an RUC spokesman was “…quite categorical in blaming the Provisional IRA.” (reported by The Irish Times, 6th December)
Forensic examination of the Bar began.
At 10.50 am an undisclosed multi-line statement was sent to the British Army’s 39th Brigade for public release from RUC Musgrave Street. It is not clear what the content was and whether it related to the bombing as the text is redacted.
At 11.10 am an immediate response came back from 39th Brigade stating: “ATO is convinced bomb was placed in entrance way on ground floor. The area is cratered and clearly was the seat of the explosion. Size of bomb is likely to be 40/50 lbs. This was marked ‘not for public release.”
At lunch time on BBC Radio 4 (according to OPONI report) “…A few minutes ago, police said that forensic scientists investigating the blast are convinced that the bomb exploded within the building, and not at the door as early reports had suggested.” This appears to reference what was sent for release from Musgrave Street at 10.50 am (and provoked the ATOs response trying to correct the error at 11.10 am).
The evening edition of The Times (in London) follows the same line and reported: “Police and Army intelligence officers believe that Ulster’s worst outrage: the killing of 15 people, including two children and three women, in an explosion in a Belfast bar last night was caused by an IRA plan that went wrong. Forensic scientists, explosive experts, and Army and police officers with an intimate knowledge of the area pieced together the theory this afternoon.”
Two official reports on the day are contradictory, the British Army Director of Operations Brief (4/5th December 1971) records that bomb was ‘planted outside the pub’. The RUC Duty Officer’s Report for the 24 hours to 8 am on Sunday 5th Dec 1971 states that the bomb was inside and carried into the bar by an IRA member. The actual time and date at which either report was compiled is unknown and could have been at any time during 5th December, or later.
On the evening of 5th December, Paddy Kennedy gave a news interview to Radio Eireann where he said that “..people it’s the beginning of a Protestant backlash.” A statement by John Taylor, reported by the Irish Independent the following day (6th December), responds to Kennedy’s comments quoting the same phrase about a Protestant backlash, instead Taylor specifically blamed the IRA for the bombing.
Taylor is the first public figure on record to blame the IRA, rather than the loyalists who the press had already reported to be claiming it, who had been observed planting the bomb at the door of the bar, and the details then correctly identified and reported within hours by the ATO. Taylor currently insists the facts were not established and that it was believed it was an IRA bomb inside the Bar. Although, at least once on Twitter, he has said (of those killed by the bomb): “At time of bomb there was no advice to suggest they were innocent.” Which even now, is an extraordinary statement to make.
The first to blame the IRA were the RUC on the night of the bomb itself (according to The Irish Times). This was publicised despite being contradicted by the forensic evidence at the latest on Sunday morning, of not earlier (once enough debris had been moved for the ATO to establish the location of the crater showing where the bomb had detonated).
Whatever about blaming that on any initial confusion. The deception was also the version given by Taylor as a statement to Stormont on the 7th December, days later when the truth was known to the authorities. The RUC are clearly culpable here. The unanswered question is the extent of Taylor’s knowledge or command of what was happening (given the central role he played in the deception). The longer he avoids giving a meaningful answer, the less likely it seems that he didn’t know.