Higgins lays wreath to mark 50th anniversary of bombing of Dublin and Monaghan

Irish president Michael D Higgins has laid a wreath in Monaghan close to the spot where a bomb devastated the town centre 50 years ago.

A ceremony was held to mark the anniversary of the deadly attacks on May 17 1974 when three no-warning bombs went off across Dublin city centre and one in Monaghan town.

The service on Friday evening was watched by some survivors of the atrocities and families of victims as well as hundreds of people who had gathered in the centre of the town.

The names of the victims were read out and the bells of St Patrick’s Church tolled at 6.58pm, the exact time the Monaghan bomb exploded, before Mr Higgins laid the wreath on behalf of the people of Ireland.

Local TD Heather Humphreys laid a wreath on behalf of the Irish Government before prayers were said and a tree planted.

No-one has ever been convicted over the bombings, but the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) admitted responsibility in 1993.

A commemorative event also took place in Talbot Street in Dublin earlier on Friday, where an official memorial honours the 35 people killed in the bombings, including two unborn babies.

Dublin and Monaghan Bombing 50th anniversary
President of Ireland Michael D Higgins during wreath laying ceremony at the Memorial to the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings (Brian Lawless/PA)

It was the biggest loss of life on any single day of the Troubles.

Another 300 people are estimated to have been injured in the blasts.

Delivering her address in Monaghan, Ms Humphreys said the Irish Government was committed to ensuring justice and access to information for all Troubles victims.

She said: “This Government and our political system has made clear that the British Government’s ongoing refusal to release the relevent documents related to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings remains a fundamental barrier to achieving justice.

“This week, for the fourth time, the Dail supported a motion calling on the British Government to look afresh at the urgent request for access to information.

“We are committed to doing everything possible to ensure access to justice and to information for victims of the Troubles, north and south and to continue to press the British Government to respond positively to our collective calls for answers.

“It is enormously disappointing that so many years on the British Government have failed to respond adequately in any way.”

Speaking earlier at the event in Dublin, Mr Higgins said there was a “manifest failure” of the UK and Irish governments to adequately respond to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.

He said: “Even in the context of the many atrocities committed at that time, the Dublin and Monaghan car bombings of 1974 were crimes of a particular level of savagery, executed consciously upon workers and civilians with total disregard for human life and suffering.

“Like the families of so many other victims and survivors of the Northern Ireland conflict, so many of you here today have been trying to find answers about what happened.”

Mr Higgins said it is a “matter of profound regret” and “unacceptable” that no-one had been held accountable for the atrocities.

The president said systemic failures at state level include possible collusion between security forces and loyalist paramilitaries, the disappearance of important forensic evidence and a refusal to supply information.

He said: “The manifest failure of both the British and Irish governments to initiate suitable responses in the aftermath of the attacks has left a legacy that cannot be left unaddressed.

“I share with the relatives gathered or represented here their feeling of being abandoned and failed by the system, of their being denied justice for the loss of loved ones.”

Mr Higgins said the relatives need more than an empathetic ear, adding: “Justice demands that they deserve the truth – no more, no less.”

The president also criticised the current British Government’s Legacy Act, saying: “The enactment of that unilaterally sourced legislation has resulted in families who have spent decades fighting for an effective investigation into their cases of not only facing further uncertainty and delays but of the deprivation of legal rights.”

Mr Higgins said there was a collective responsibility to deal with legacy issues in an ethical manner, adding: “A strategy of feigned amnesia, or hoping time will deliver one, is simply not an option, nor is any strategy of continuing the protection of previous evasions or failures to act.

“It is not morally acceptable, nor is it politically feasible, to request that those affected by such tragedy should forget about the past, draw a line or move on in the name of any naive desire for a supposed closure that may never be attainable.”

He said the families’ call for the full truth to emerge should be supported, “however embarrassing or painful it may be”.

Ireland’s premier Simon Harris and deputy premier Micheal Martin also attended the event organised by the Justice for the Forgotten group which represents bereaved families and survivors.

Dublin and Monaghan Bombing 50th anniversary
People during a wreath-laying ceremony at the Memorial to the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings (Oliver McVeigh/PA)

PSNI Chief Constable Jon Boutcher and Sir Iain Livingstone, who leads the Operation Denton operation, were among other attendees.

Former Irish premiers Leo Varadkar and Bertie Ahern were also present.

Before the Dublin ceremony, Mr Martin and Mr Boutcher attended a memorial mass at nearby St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral.

Leading the service, Archbishop Dermot Farrell read out the names of those killed in the bombings.

Calling for reconciliation, he added: “Pray that those with the power to be able to deliver that justice, which will ultimately bring peace, will come quickly so that all may be fully healed of that awful atrocity and tragedy.”