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Bloody Sunday, election, Irish, Ireland, British, Ulster, Unionist, Sinn Féin, SDLP, Ahern, Blair, Irish America

Attempt to airbrush Enniskillen from history

(by Suzanne Breen, Sunday Tribune)

Twenty years on, no-one has been charged or convicted with the Enniskillen bomb reports Suzanne Breen, Northern Editor

The 40lb IRA bomb was left in a sports bag in the Reading Rooms, a building owned by the Catholic Church, beside the war memorial. A bingo session, held in the hall on the eve of the bombing, ended at 10.30pm.

Jim Dunlop, the building's caretaker, and three other men stayed on playing cards in the basement. Around midnight, they heard noises upstairs and stopped. But they put it down to an old building creaking on a windy night.

It's now believed the noise came from those planting the bomb. From interviewing security and republican contacts, Denzil McDaniel – editor of Fermanagh's Impartial Reporter and author of Enniskillen, the Remembrance Sunday bombing – has pieced together an account of the bombers' movements.

"The bombers were shown around Enniskillen by two local IRA men," he says. "The device was made in Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, by the South Fermanagh Brigade. The West Fermanagh Brigade – based in the Ballyshannon/Bundoran area – helped bring it across the Border.

"The bombers moved cautiously in relay teams to evade security patrols. It took over 24 hours to transport the device. Up to 30 IRA people were involved." A parade of UDR soldiers was on its way to the war memorial for the service when the bomb exploded. The IRA said that was its intended target.

"I don't believe the IRA set out to specifically kill civilians," McDaniel says. "I think they made mistakes, probably with their intelligence on the time-table for the service, but the IRA was reckless about civilian life. Even if the UDR men had been there, they couldn't have been killed without killing civilians too.

"The IRA probably thought if security forces members were killed, a few civilian deaths would be 'acceptable', especially since those attending the service would be seen by republicans as pro-British military and establishment. It had been a bad year for the IRA, six months earlier eight members were killed by the SAS at Loughgall. When all the Enniskillen casualties were civilians, republicans took a hit politically – particularly in the Irish Republic."

Initially, the IRA said the bomb had been prematurely set off by British Army radio equipment. It was lies. A remote control device had not been used. An electronic timer was found in the rubble, set for the time the bomb exploded.

Unlike McDaniel, many of the injured and bereaved believe the bomb was deliberately aimed at civilians in the hope of driving Protestants from the Border area. That day, the IRA also placed a bomb near the Remembrance service in Tullyhommon, 15 miles from Enniskillen, but it failed to explode.

Unlike Enniskillen, there was a limited security force presence at that parade. Those taking part were overwhelmingly young people – around 200 members of the local boys' and girls' brigades.

Compared to the Real IRA's 1998 Omagh bombing, McDaniel says there's been an attempt to airbrush Enniskillen from history. The Provisional movement embraced the peace process and embarrassing it over Enniskillen serves no political purpose, whereas dissidents remain pariahs to the authorities.

McDaniel also believes the victims' profiles has resulted in Omagh's elevation: "In Omagh, Catholic and Protestants were killed and there was an international element with the Spanish deaths. In Enniskillen, it was just local Protestants. Enniskillen took place when the Troubles were raging. Omagh happened when they were meant to be over."

No-one was ever convicted of Enniskillen. While rumours have circulated, there's no certainty in the town about the identity of those involved, McDaniel says. "At the time, Mrs Thatcher came over and said no stone would be left unturned in finding the bombers. It was rubbish. The police investigation was utterly incompetent."

Aileen Quinton says: "As someone very pro-police, I presumed they'd do a good job. I was horrified to find they didn't interview witnesses who had given detailed accounts in newspapers, and they hadn't ascertained victims' final movements. Simple, basic things weren't done."

The Historical Enquiries Team is now investigating Enniskillen but Aileen has little faith it will lead to prosecutions and the truth, "not to protect the bombers but because the IRA leaders who sanctioned the attack are perhaps not too far away from Stormont".

October 28, 2007

This article appeared in the October 28, 2007 edition of the Sunday Tribune.