Ireland Revisited: Part 14
Although always stating that they were a non-sectarian organisation, the Provisional IRA was guilty of some horrific acts since its inception.
As already covered in earlier weeks, the Kingsmill Massacre was one such act which disgusted even the most ardent sympathisers and supporters of armed republicanism. The Remembrance Day Bombing, or ‘Poppy Day Massacre’ as it is commonly referred to, was another such act which illustrated the lethal, and sometimes indiscriminate, potential of the Provisional IRA.
The attack, believed to have been planned for several months, took place on 8th November 1987 in Enniskillen, where several hundred people had gathered to pay their respects to British Army war dead. The Provisionals claimed they were targeting members of the British Army, whose soldiers were parading to the local memorial. As the crowd assembled at the cenotaph in the town the bomb exploded. Scenes of chaos were beamed around the world via the media as 11 people died and 63 more were inured. The attack, particularly at such a sacred event, shocked and horrified the world, with many prior American sympathisers to militant republicanism condemning the attacks.
The Provisional IRA, acknowledging the impact such a disaster was going to have on its armed campaign, released a statement shortly after the bombing claiming that a “Crown forces patrol was the target”. Furthermore, to try and avert the looming crisis within republican ranks the Provisionals announced that their Fermanagh Brigade (believed to be responsible for the attack) was to be stood down immediately. However, the damage was already done and the bombing led to a sharp decline in support for any form of Irish republicanism for some time.
Sinn Fein didn’t escape the fall out from the bomb either, with the party losing four of its eight council seats in the first local elections in 1989 after the bomb. It took a further ten years for a republican leader to apologize for the attack. Gerry Adams, speaking in 1997 on the tenth anniversary of the bombing remarked, “I hope there will be no more Enniskillens and I am deeply sorry about what happened.”
The Provisional IRA did very little over the following months, keeping a low profile after the Enniskillen bomb. On March 6th 1988 the SAS, in ‘Operation Flavius’ killed three unarmed Provisional IRA members in Gibraltar. The three had been planning to hide a bomb in a car where members of the Royal Anglican Regiment would be congregating for a parade. The PIRA volunteers (Danny McCann, Seán Savage and Mairéad Farrell) were stopped by the SAS as they walked down Winston Churchill Avenue and shot dead.
The SAS, in trying to justify the killings, claimed McCann was shot after he made an ‘aggressive move’ towards a bag he was carrying, that Farrell made a move towards her handbag and Savage moved his hands quickly towards his pocket, with the elite British unit deciding to kill them before they could reach for any weapons. This however, was proved to be a fabrication, as it later transpired that all three Provisional IRA members were infact unarmed at the time of their murder. The murder of three unarmed Provisional IRA members further angered republicans and nationalists alike, stoking the controversy surrounding the perceived British ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy.
Some ten days later, back in the epicentre of the conflict, Michael Stone was about to write his name into ignominy with an indiscriminate act of his own – again at a sacred event – in scenes also beamed around the world. This time the graveyard was to be the arena where three would lose their lives and over 60 others were injured…
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