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Enniskillen bomb aimed at civilians, report finds

(Liam Clarke, Belfast Telegraph)

IRA planted second Poppy Day device 20 miles away which would have killed children, but it failed to go off

A major report into the Enniskillen Poppy Day massacre has found that the IRA deliberately targeted civilians with a no-warning bomb.

The report by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) has also concluded that the terror group had planned another and possibly more serious atrocity, just 20 miles away on the same day.

If this second bomb had detonated it would have killed a number of children.

Survivors of the November 1987 bombing expect the damning report to be published early in the new year and have been given some clues to its contents.

"It will not bring total closure but it will help us deal with the past. I believe we will get some answers as to what the mindset was that day. The IRA tried to say it was the Army they were blowing up that day; everyone knows It was innocent civilians," said survivor Stephen Gault.

Mr Gault, who was 18 at the time, was injured and his father Samuel was killed in what is regarded as one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles.

An IRA statement claimed the bomb – placed in a building overlooking the cenotaph on Remembrance Day – was a remote control device intended to catch a passing military patrol.

They denied that civilians were the intended targets.

However, the report found that civilians and British Legion veterans were generally gathered on the side of the war memorial where the bomb was placed.

The report says this could have been observed at previous events.

It also found the bomb was detonated by means of a timer, not a radio signal as the IRA had previously claimed.

The explosion killed 11 people – none of them members of the security forces – and injured 63 as they stood around the town's cenotaph. A 12th victim, local headmaster Ronnie Hill, died in 2000 after lying for 13 years in a coma.

The atrocity caused widespread revulsion. Feelings hardened against the bombers after survivor Gordon Wilson's daughter Marie died in hospital from her injuries.

Mr Wilson appealed for communal reconciliation and no "dirty talk of revenge", saying that he would pray for the bombers.

The IRA apologised the next day. Later its Fermanagh unit was formally stood down.

There were then attempts to distance the IRA leadership from what had happened by blaming it on rogue members acting without proper clearance.

But the bombing was a sanctioned IRA operation involving several units and a high degree of co-ordination. The bomb itself was made across the border. It has been estimated that up to 30 people were involved in the terrorist operation.

"The soldiers never formed up on that side of the cenotaph. The British Legion would have been their closest target. That was where civilians stood.

"If they had done their homework they would have known they were unlikely to get soldiers there," Mr Gault said.

The HET has also found that the IRA had planned a second attack at Tullyhomin, a village 20 miles away. This larger bomb, which failed to detonate, was placed under a bridge. If it had gone off as planned it would almost certainly have killed members of the Boys' and Girls' Brigades assembling at the war memorial.

Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister, is believed by the security forces, most historians and many republicans to have been in the IRA's Northern Command, which sanctioned the attack.

However, he has consistently denied being an IRA member at this stage. Despite demands by unionists, including Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster, that he be questioned, he was not interviewed as part of the HET investigation.

During his recent presidential campaign in the Republic he told RTE's Ryan Tubridy: "The people who did this held up their hands and apologised for what they had done and it's right they apologised, because what they had done was totally and absolutely wrong."

December 5, 2011

This article appeared in the December 3, 2011 edition of the Belfast Telegraph.

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