Ireland Revisited: Part 11

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Sunday, February 19th, 2012
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After months of intense planning the Provisional IRA decided to carry out one of its most daring bombing ventures on English soil. The date 12th October 1984 was to become indelibly etched on the minds of every member of the English public. The government of the day, led by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and her Conservative Cabinet was classed as the main enemies of militant republicanism by 1984, due in no small part to Thatcher’s earlier policy regarding the Hunger Strikes as well as claims of collusion between British Army personnel and loyalist paramilitaries. To kill the head of the enemy state would be, in terms of republicanism, a massive coup.

Provisional IRA man Patrick Magee was the operative assigned with planting the bomb in the Grand Hotel in Brighton, which was to host the annual Conservative Party conference. Under a false name, Magee checked into the hotel several weeks earlier and planted the huge bomb under the bath in his room, fitting it with a long-delay timer. The bomb exploded in the early hours of 12th October as Thatcher paced her hotel room, anxiously rehearsing her conference speech which was due the following afternoon. The bomb badly damaged her bathroom but did not damage her bedroom or sitting room and thus, Thatcher and her husband escaped serious injury.

In an act of defiance, the Prime Minister gave a surreal interview to a BBC television crew outside the hotel. The interviewer, asking Thatcher whether the conference would go on despite the bombing, was given a blunt answer; “The conference will go on, as usual.” In the immediate aftermath of the bomb Thatcher and her husband were taken to Sussex Police Headquarters where they stayed the rest of the night. Although the bomb failed to kill Thatcher or any of her Conservative government ministers, five people lost their lives. Conservative MP Sir Anthony Berry and Parliamentary Treasury Secretary John Wakeham’s wife Roberta were two who died instantly.

The Provisional IRA, claiming responsibility for the attack, spoke the following day of just how close they came to destroying the hierarchy of the British Government in one fell swoop; “Mrs. Thatcher will now realise that Britain cannot occupy our country and torture our prisoners and shoot our people in their own streets and get away with it. Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always. Give Ireland peace and there will be no more war.” Their words served as a chilling reminder to the British Government that despite all the counter-insurgency tactics, paid informers and anti-terror legislation, the Provisional IRA still had the capabilities to strike right at the heart of the British establishment.

Thatcher, as promised, carried out her speech the following day as scheduled and claimed the bombing was “an attempt to cripple Her Majesty’s democratically elected Government. That is the scale of the outrage in which we have all shared, and the fact that we are gathered here now,  shocked, but composed and determined, is a sign not only that this attack has failed, but that all attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail.” Patrick Magee was charged with the bombing in 1986 and found guilty of murdering five people, injuring a further 34. For his part Magee received eight life sentences, with a minimum of 25 years to be served. However, Magee was released in 1999 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, much to the disgust and dismay of the victims’ families.

In the immediate aftermath of the Brighton bombing, the British and Irish Governments held talks and eventually signed a deal a month later which would give the Republic of Ireland a say in the running of Northern Ireland for the first time….


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