Ireland Revisited: Part 18
Twenty years after British troops first arrived in Northern Ireland under ‘Operation Banner’ there was fear from within the British Government that the Provisional IRA was planning a “spectacular”. The Provisional IRA was determined to give the British Government a timely reminder that as long as British troops were on the streets, they would be a target, not just in Northern Ireland but on English soil and anywhere abroad where an opportunity arose.
Several months after the infamous murder of solicitor Pat Finucane the Provisional IRA planned its latest attack. This time the Royal Marines School of Music was the target for a bomb. In the early hours of 22nd September 1989 the 15lb bomb went off in the recreational changing room, where the Provisional IRA had anticipated would cause maximum damage, with the bomb making the building collapse. A total of 11 people died and scores more were injured. The vast majority of the victims were teenagers.
In the aftermath of the bombing the Provisional IRA, through a media outlet, claimed responsibility for the attack, stating that the bomb was merely the continuation of their armed campaign to rid Northern Ireland of British Army personnel. Margaret Thatcher, who was on an official visit to Russia said that she was “shocked and saddened” and ordered a full review of the security of all British Army bases. Nobody was ever convicted of the bomb attack.
The Provisional IRA continued its bombing campaign on English soil in 1990, with July of that year seeing them carryout a bomb at London’s Stock Exchange. The bomb, at the heart of the City was intended to hit the British Government financially rather than kill any human targets.
The aforementioned attacks at the heart of the British economy led the British government to employ drastic measures to ensure their safety, and duly erected what was to become known as a ‘ring of steel’ around the City, with police roadblocks and checkpoints a frequent sight. These preventative measures by the British government ensured that the PIRA’s bombing campaign was consistently on the British political agenda and in the British public psyche.
The Warrington bomb several months later in 1993 turned into a PR disaster for the PIRA after it emerged that 3 year old Jonathan Ball and 12 year old Tim Parry were killed. The reaction by the British and Irish public was that of utter disgust and bewilderment and in an unprecedented move, the Provisional IRA reiterated its claim that valid phone warnings had been given prior to the bomb. They further claimed that both phone warnings were precise and lay the blame of the death of little Jonathan and Tim squarely with the police for reacting too slowly.
The Provisional IRA spokesman, when questioned about his reaction to the death of the two children added, “Horror. Exactly the same emotion as went through the minds of the volunteers who planted the bombs. I am furious that there are those within the British authorities who have played this cynical game for almost 12 months.”
On 24th April 1993 the Provisionals again set out to attack the financial heartbeat of Britain, with the City of London again feeling the full force of a huge explosion. The bomb was hidden in the back of a tipper truck parked in Bishopsgate. Police were evacuating people after a series of coded warnings were received by them when the bomb went off. Several buildings were completely destroyed and the British Government later estimated the bomb to have cost the economy £1bn.
Under increasing pressure to end their military campaign following some huge embarrassments and a gradual decrease in support, the Provisional IRA decided to call a ceasefire, which came into action on 31st August 1994. Their statement said there would be “a complete cessation of military operations”.
The move followed tense negotiations through various back channels for the Provisionals to declare a ceasefire as a gesture of goodwill whilst all political avenues could be used to find a peaceful solution. The ceasefire however, was not permanent and just 17 months later the Provisional IRA would re-introduce itself with devastating consequences…
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