RTÉ Radio One
1 June 2016
(begins time stamp ~ 1:23:32)
MW: The Birmingham bombings were part of a wider IRA campaign in Britain. I'm going to discuss the thinking behind that campaign now with Anthony McIntyre who was a member of the IRA at that time. And Anthony, when you go back to that time, and I suppose events like the bombings in The Mulberry Bush and The Tavern in the Town they'd now be called spectaculars but what was the thinking in inflicting that sort of devastation on Birmingham with the potential loss of so many innocent lives?
AM: Well I don't think it was described or would even be described today as 'a spectacular' because a spectacular was the type of operation that the IRA launched at the Heathrow Airport back in the '90's and also the attack on Downing Street when John Major was in a cabinet meeting. But the type of activity then … the IRA I don't think were seeking a spectacular – they did give warnings. But I mean typical of the IRA – massive, massive amount of incompetence, disorganisation - and it was part of a wider strategy. IRA strategy had moved away, to some extent, from concentrating on bombs in Ireland and there was a belief within the IRA that a hundred bombs in Belfast were equaled by one bomb in London. And at the time of the Birmingham bombing the IRA Chief of Staff would have been Seamus Twomey, who had escaped the year earlier from Mountjoy Prison in a helicopter, and he had previously been the leader of the Belfast IRA. And the Belfast IRA had been central to the shift in strategy in 1973 to take the bombing campaign to England when we had the bombing of the Old Bailey in London.
MW: I think you were in prison at the time of the Birmingham bombings. What was the organisation's reaction at the time? What was the reaction among you and your fellow prisoners?
AM: Well I remember talking to a prisoner officer the next morning about it and just having a conversation with him, an English guy, and just saying that I had thought it was terrible. We didn't really understand it. The IRA hadn't claimed it. But earlier there had been IRA attacks in Birmingham or IRA activity, because an IRA Volunteer had been killed: a man by the name of McDaid, had been killed and … so people knew or strongly suspected, that it was the IRA. And even though it was on a par with what the British had carried out against the civilian population on Bloody Sunday there didn't seem to be within the prison any eagerness for that type of activity. You will always get the person who will say: 'To hell with them' but just didn’t see any, I didn't sense any eagerness or certainly not the type of eagerness that we would have experienced in prison … five years later when the British paratroopers were blown up at Narrow Water. That sort of IRA operation was welcomed whereas the Birmingham pub bombings was not and it was viewed very much as a disaster. And certainly in later years, when we came to look back on these things, we had viewed it very much as a disaster. It didn't do the IRA any good but the IRA at that time were putting out peace feelers to the British and they were trying to establish a stronger hand because the IRA had been effectively run down in Belfast and Derry mostly since June, 1973, and there had been a shift to rural areas in terms of IRA operational activity which wasn't regarded as 'bangs for bucks' and so they compensated by moving the war to England. And when the war was moved to England there was always the loss of control to some degree but it all fitted into that type of strategy – the IRA trying to increase its bargaining position for upcoming talks or what they felt were feelers coming from the British state. And while it suited the IRA to show it had a strong hand in England it certainly didn't suit it to be killing the type of people that it was killing. The IRA - disaster as it was - didn't set out to kill the people. Whereas earlier that same year they had set out to kill the people on the M62 coach bombing because there was a large number of British soldiers on it. And Judith Ward was wrongly convicted. So, IRA strategy very much at that time was to apply pressure to the British to withdraw and also to increase its hand, to strengthen its hand in any upcoming negotiations.
MW: You're a writer, you're an historian, you've been involved with the Boston College archive. Is there anything in that archive that will, in due course, shed light on events in Birmingham?
AM: You can't expect me to comment whether there's anything in the archive or not. I mean, if you ask me if there's anything about the attack on Pearl Harbor in the archive, you would hardly expect me to say that there was or there wasn't because any reference to the archive at all sends the British state and the British state's prosecutor in the North of Ireland off in pursuit of it and trying to pursue people for activity carried out by non-state actors when they will not hand over the papers and the documentation that they have which indicates their own involvement, the British state's own involvement …
AM: … in the Dublin-Monaghan bombings.
MW: Alright. Anthony, thank you very much for joining us. That's Anthony McIntyre there.
(ends time stamp ~ 1:29:23)