Enniskillen bombing may have been ‘carefully planned’

Analysis of the Remembrance Sunday atrocity cast doubt on the IRA and Sinn Féin explanation

A statue of a soldier still stands  atop the Enniskillen cenotaph on November 9th, 1987. Photograph: Reuter

A statue of a soldier still stands atop the Enniskillen cenotaph on November 9th, 1987. Photograph: Reuter


The Enniskillen bomb may have been a carefully planned and premeditated attack, according to early intelligence gathered by Irish officials.

Newly declassified records, released under the 30-year rule, show officials were tasked with gauging the thinking behind the Remembrance Sunday atrocity which claimed 12 lives and left another 63 injured.

One diplomat warned the bombing may have been calculated to provoke loyalist paramilitaries. In a report for the Department of Foreign Affairs five days after the attack, the Irish official disputed the IRA and Sinn Féin’s explanation for the bombing and huge loss of life.

“The operation may not have been a bungled ‘maverick’ action, as Sinn Féin and the IRA have suggested,” T O’Connor of the Anglo-Irish section wrote to fellow officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs. “It may have been a carefully planned, premeditated attack on Remembrance Day, aimed at provoking a loyalist backlash, driving a wedge between the two governments and bringing the Protestant community and the British back together.

“There are also suggestions that it may have been a revenge attack for what the IRA regarded as the ‘desecration’ of its ceremony honouring its dead at the Derry funerals on November 2.”

The document, released by the National Archives in Dublin, was marked “Analysis of Sinn Féin/IRA reaction to the Enniskillen bombing”.

The file on the bombing also revealed that Margaret Thatcher, prime minister at the time, viewed the attack as the “last straw” in a list of failures under the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Dermot Gallagher, a senior Irish government diplomat, wrote a confidential note on a lunch meeting with the her press secretary, Bernard Ingham.

“There was a deep sense of shock in No 10,” he said. The PM’s office warned it would be difficult to manage Dublin’s call for new extradition laws to be deferred in the wake of the atrocity.

“Enniskillen has hardened Mrs Thatcher’s heart,” Ingham said.

Previously confidential documents on the fallout from the atrocity also showed SDLP leader John Hume initially believed the IRA could not have carried out the attack. Two days after the incident he told a Department of Foreign Affairs contact that he subsequently changed his mind and that the Provos were to blame “in the knowledge that there would be civilian casualties”.

“If so they had completely misread the Catholic view of Poppy Day,” he said. “Catholics deeply respected the act of remembrance and of course nearly every household in Ireland had a relative in one or both of the World Wars.”

The files also show several people wrote to then taoiseach, Charles Haughey, recommending various responses to the atrocity.

John Berridge from Cardiff, but whose family came originally from Ireland, told the taoiseach that the IRA were secular Marxists using the situation in Northern Ireland to mask their true intention, which was “the overthrow of the Irish Republic”.

The pity of it all, he wrote, was that the people of the North were the original Irish, coming from the Celts who lived around the Bay of Biscay.

“Ironical, isn’t it?” he wrote.

Mr Haughey’s private secretary thanked him for his letter.

Aideen Madden from Banagher in Offaly lamented that no representative of the government had been at the Remembrance ceremony.

“I hold no brief for the British Army as I was raised a Republican,” she wrote, “but I think that it is time for us to make some real gestures towards peace in this country. Sadly, an opportunity was missed.”

Eileen O’Brien, an English pensioner with Irish cousins, copied to Haughey a letter she sent to Bill Newton Dunn, a British Conservative MEP for Lincolnshire. It her letter O’Brien said she was “in deep sympathy with the people of Northern Ireland who suffered on Remembrance Day”.

She said that Northern Ireland should be granted self-government and the entire island “should be a ward of the European Parliament and the UN Security Council”.

“I would suggest that those people who do not wish to remain with whatever government is negotiated should be helped to move to another part of Britain or, if accepted under immigration laws, elsewhere. The people wishing to move would be making a sacrifice in the interests of peace and, therefore, should receive a special award” from either the European Parliament, or the UN, “the special award being instituted for people wishing to relocate for political reasons. . .

“PS,” she concluded, “would it be possible to negotiate a new country called All Ireland or Ireland Inc?”

Haughey’s private secretary sent an acknowledgement to the correspondent, copying it to a colleague, B McCarthy, “for attention & appropriate action” which was not specified.

A Capt SP Julian from Ormesson-sur-Marne near Paris urged the taoiseach to “dissolve or outlaw Sinn Féin, please, and retain your self-respect. Words do not suffice”.

James Flanagan, with an address in Battersea, London, urged Haughey to “please stop this harbouring of terror”.

“God has given you a gift of power,” wrote Flanagan, “please use his gift to bring peace to Ireland.”

One letter, from a writer in Sweden whose signature is indecipherable, adopted a supercilious tone, saying that “news of the glorious battle of Enniskilling” had reached Sweden, as had word of IRA killings of “a few charwomen” outside London, “imperialistic cavalry horses” on the Mall near Buckingham Palace, and the mutilation of some shoppers at Harrods store in London.

“I congratulate you and the IRA to [sic] these successful events . . .”

An official has handwritten on the letter: “In view of the tone of the letter, I am reluctant to even acknowledge it – for your files and any actions thought appropriate”.

It appears that inaction was thought to be most appropriate as no reply is on file. - Additional reporting PA