Michael Reade (MR) hosts Anthony McIntyre (AM) in the studio who provides analysis in the wake of yesterday's announcement about the inquest into the Birmingham pub bombings. A big thanks to TPQ transcriber.
The Michael Reade Show
2 June 2016
(begins time stamp ~ 1:09:25)
MR: Andrew McIntyre is in the studio with me. I'd imagine the name Andrew McIntyre is familiar to a lot of our listeners,
MR: Indeed. Anthony, I know you're probably familiar to a lot of people because you're living locally as well – a former IRA prisoner and the author of The Pensive Quill and somebody who's probably familiar with the workings of the IRA - more so than most of us. What do you know about the IRA in 1974 and the operations that led to these two terrible bombings that took the lives of twenty-one people?
AM: Well my knowledge of it is basically as an historian. The IRA at the time had begun a bombing campaign in England the year earlier, driven by the Belfast leadership of the IRA, and it became very vicious at times – the M62 coach bombing at the start of 1974 which targeted British soldiers but also killed a woman and two children; Judith Ward was wrongly convicted. The IRA were also trying to open up talks with the British government and the British were feeling out the IRA and the IRA were feeling out the British. So there was an attempt to enhance the IRA's negotiating position because in the Summer of 1973 the IRA was facing serious difficulties in the cities and were moving their operations into the rural areas – there was greater number of operations getting carried out in rural areas. The discourse from Seamus Twomey in his interviews had changed. (Twomey was Chief of Staff at the time of the Birmingham bomb.) So it fitted into his strategy of trying to intimidate British public opinion into favouring a withdrawal.
MR: I think Judith Ward was one of eighteen people who had their convictions quashed, when you take into account the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, The Maguires and so on and undoubtedly there was an Irish prejudice at the time but it was also Birmingham – a city that was very good to the Irish – a point that was made at the time; there were many Irish there, many Irish who were living in the city who suffered probably little possibility of them getting caught up in the bombing but was it an act of war? Was it perceived as an act of war by members of the IRA?
AM: Well, I mean in relation to your first point, yeah, I mean there's an old legal principle in Britain: 'Innocent until proven Irish': and I think that's what happened with many of the people you referred to. The IRA would have regarded it as an act of war. The problem with the Birmingham bomb is that it was a case of incompetence. The IRA did phone warnings through, the warnings were too short and the IRA has a litany of this type of activity over the years: Bloody Friday, the La Mon bombing – time and again, time out of number, the IRA have set out not to kill civilians but to cut down the time with which the British can or the state forces can defuse the bombs and they brought it too close to the wire. And this didn't suit the IRA. I mean, it certainly didn't suit the IRA in terms of killing massive amounts of civilians. Had the IRA wanted to target they could have targeted football grounds and stuff and...(crosstalk)
MR: ... It was an atrocity wasn't it? Bombing a pub at eight o'clock in the evening - ten lives lost. A few minutes later another bomb in a separate pub - eleven lives lost. It's said that there was a third bomb set to go off – I mean it was an atrocity in itself but then there was the further atrocity on top of it that they let innocent people served time for it.
AM: That's true. There's no mitigation that can be offered in terms of the atrocity that occurred other than the fact that it was not intentional but that's of no use whatsoever to the victims. And the IRA will – they did allow innocent people to go down for it as did the British state and the two sides in this have a certain amount to answer for, yes - both to, not just to the relatives who they conned, the IRA less so than the British, but the British definitely set out to con the relatives as to who the guilty were. The IRA more or less acknowledged that the people in the dock were not guilty, even in relation to the earlier bombs at Guildford and Woolwich - the people responsible were known as the Balcombe Street gang - they took responsibility for that but still the British insisted on putting down the wrong people.
MR: And they were named on British television – Granada Television I think in 1990 named the bombers.
AM: Well I can't remember the actual documentary you refer to and I listened to Kieran Conway last night on RTÉ saying that he knew the identities of the bombers and that their identities were common knowledge.
MR: He was an Intelligence Officer with the IRA.
AM: Yes he was and he was described as that last night and described himself as such in his book.
MR: And given that the identity of the actual bombers has been known and definitely known to the IRA has the IRA let itself down do you think?
AM: Well I think the whole IRA campaign in many ways has been a let down, not just the Birmingham bombing. Given what was on offer prior to the Birmingham bombs in 1974 and what was accepted by the Good Friday Agreement – you know, anything that happened the IRA rejected it – the Sunningdale Agreement - it accepted the Good Friday Agreement. The difference couldn't ever have justified the deaths of anybody so in that sense it was a big let down on the part of the IRA. But secondly – and it also calls into question the whole morality behind the IRA campaign, certainly post-1974 - but in terms of did the IRA let itself down by not putting forward the people who were responsible? It's not something that the IRA would do. I mean, no people in any war situation would do it. I don't know anybody that brings forward their own and hands them over to the courts for operations that were carried out under their auspices. I mean, it's different if, for example, in the case of the McCartney killing in East Belfast in 2005 – the IRA said, even though many people don't believe they were sincere – but the IRA said that the people who were responsible should be handed over. Those people were IRA Volunteers but were not Volunteers on an IRA operation so I don't expect the IRA to hand over its own people to the British state and I don't think in that particular situation that they let themselves down.
MR: I'm sure like all of us who watched Paddy Hill speaking in Birmingham on news bulletins last night and I'm not sure if you saw him speak with Christy Moore recently as well but he appears very much to be a broken man whose life was destroyed by events that he was not responsible for but held accountable for. And he's also very bitter - calling the authorities in Britain, particularly the police in Birmingham, as 'rotten' – and perhaps if these inquests are going to achieve anything it's justice in that sense for the victims in terms of what was known, by whom, who acted and didn't act and what could have been done to protect people.
AM: I think that the inquest into the Birmingham bombs, if not thwarted by the British police, and I mean we have to bear in mind the British police cover up everything. Look at how long it took for the relatives of the Hillsborough dead – the ninety-six that were unlawfully killed at Hillsborough to get some sort of justice - and this is what the British police do in terms of the...
MR: ...But they made promises before haven't they? I mean when the Birmingham Six were released they promised a review and a couple of years later that review reported but it wouldn't have been what people would have expected two years previous.
AM: No I mean – this is what happens when you're dealing with the British police and you're dealing with the state – the institutional instinct is to cover-up and to lie and to delay, derail, defer – they do it all the time. The British police go after, I mean for example at the moment, they're going after Boston College tapes and arguing that they want them because they're investigating things like imitation firearms back in - somewhere in the 1970's ...
MR: ...Interviews you were involved in recording – yes.
AM: Yes. I mean seriously, they're saying that they have no money to carry out investigations. The British state do not want to pursue British state officials. They will follow all leads unless those leads lead them back to the British state. And I think that the people of Birmingham and the relatives – and unfortunately for the relatives – many have died since then and time has passed and as years go by there's not as many about who will benefit from the inquest as would have been had the British been honest in the first place. But it will prove more detrimental to the narrative of the British than it will to the IRA – the inquest. The inquest isn't going to tell us much about the IRA we do not already know. It may reveal an awful lot about British state perfidy.
MR: Okay, Anthony, thank you for coming in to us and for sharing your thoughts with us as well. Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA prisoner, and you can read his thoughts on the internet through his blog, The Pensive Quill.
(ends time stamp ~ 1:18:20)