Ireland Revisited: Part 16
The summer of 1988 saw a dramatic increase in the number of conflict-related incidents. On Sunday 15th June 1988 the Provisional IRA detonated a bomb in Lisburn which killed six off-duty British Army soldiers. On the same day the Belfast brigade of the Provisionals assassinated a UVF member, setting the scene for a long and bloodied summer of violence and retaliatory attacks by armed loyalists and republicans.
The Provisionals changed the focus of their attacks to mainland Britain once again – for the first time since the Brighton Bombing – which came very close to killing most of the British cabinet as well as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. On 1st August the group detonated a bomb at an army barracks in London, killing one soldier and injuring nine others.
Back in Northern Ireland the Provisional IRA also killed two Protestant building workers, who had been carrying out repairs at Belleek police station in County Fermanagh on 4th August 1988, once again restating their belief that anyone seen or believed to be helping the police or British Army was ‘collaborating with the enemy’. After months of intense planning, the Provisional IRA set in motion a huge attack on British Army personnel, a bomb which would rival the Narrow Water Bombing in Warrenpoint which left 18 British soldiers dead.
On Saturday 20th August 1988, the Provisional IRA executed its plan, in the townland of Curr on the outskirts of Ballygawley. An unmarked bus had been transporting nearly 40 British soldiers across Northern Ireland from RAF Aldergrove to a military base outside Omagh. The Provisional IRA had anticipated the exact route and timing of the bus and after it passed Ballygawley, several Provisional IRA volunteers remotely detonated the 200lb roadside bomb.
The blast killed eight soldiers and left the remaining soldiers injured, many seriously. Not since the Warrenpoint bomb in 1979 had the British Army lost so many personnel in one attack, a feat the Provisionals took great pride in. Rocked by the killings, the British Government soon learned that the explosives used in the bomb may have come from an old enemy, Colonel Gaddaffi and his rogue Libyan state, which further angered the British Government.
Armed republicans had long claimed to be subjected to torture and inhumane treatment whilst in police custody throughout the Troubles, an allegation which cropped up consistently and was brought to the attention of The European Court of Human Rights. On 28th November 1988 the body decided that by detaining suspects for more than four days, Britain was in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights.
However, just like other subsequent rulings directed against Britain, the British Government dismissed them, concluding on 22nd December 1988 that Britain was going to remain with its seven-day detention period for suspects.
As the Troubles raged on with no end in sight, Douglas Hogg, then British Home Office Minister, commented on the role of solicitors in Northern Ireland when he criticized “a number of solicitors in Northern Ireland who are unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA”. It is widely believed this comment provided the platform for one of the most notorious murders of the Troubles, when on 12th February 1989, a Belfast solicitor who had represented numerous republican prisoners throughout his career, was murdered in his house by loyalist gunmen….
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