By 1993 the Provo leadership was slowly coming to the realisation that the so-called “Armed Struggle” would never bring Ulster to its knees. Years of bombing and murder had not forced any real concessions from the British government nor had it broken the will of the people. Loyalist resistance groups- namely the UVF and Ulster Freedom Fighters- were carrying out more and more audacious and brazen attacks. The previous two years had been particularly successful ones for the Loyalist paramilitaries. PIRA/SF had lost a number of high profile activists and many more had been wounded or left psychologically scarred. Sinn Fein ‘Advice Centres’ had become frequent targets of UVF bombers and the UFF’s ‘Rocket Team’, a specially selected group of volunteers armed with RPG-7s.
UVF volunteers pose with an assortment of weapons, including an RPG.
With much of their terrorist activity curtailed by the actions of the UFF and UVF, and with more and more of their NI based members devoting more and more of their time and energy to try to retaliate against- and keep themselves safe from- the Loyalist groups, PIRA/Sinn Fein took the decision to concentrate their efforts on the British Mainland. Some within the senior ranks of the Provos had been advocating a renewed bombing campaign in England for some time. Believing that such a campaign would finally bring some sort of victory. Even though behind the scenes, the SDLP and senior figures within the Roman Catholic Church had been tentatively discussing the prospect of a ceasefire with PIRA/Sinn Fein, and even though there were those within Provo ranks who appeared to genuinely desire peace, there was still a strong element which argued that a Mainland bombing campaign could, and would, rejuvenate the so-called “Armed Struggle” and bring the fevered desires of rabid Irish nationalists a step closer to realisation.
On Friday, the 26th of February, 1993, a PIRA bomb gang exploded three devices at a gasworks near the town of Warrington, Cheshire. The bombs caused extensive damage but no injuries. Whilst fleeing the scene, the bombers shot and injured a police officer and two of them were then caught after a high-speed pursuit. Less than a month later the Provo bombers were back, though this time they were out for blood. On Saturday, the 20th of March, as the people of Warrington went about their daily business, PIRA/Sinn Fein plotted mass murder. Two bombs, hidden in litter bins, exploded on Bridge Street, a busy shopping area. The two devices had been placed less than 100yds apart, one outside McDonalds, the other outside Argos. The blasts happened within a minute of each other. Eye-witnesses reported how “the first explosion drove panicking shoppers into the path of the next blast just seconds later“. A brutal and cynical tactic used many times by the bloodthirsty Provos. It was later found that the bombs had been deliberately placed inside cast-iron litter bins, causing huge amounts of shrapnel to fly out in all directions, causing maximum death and serious injury. Buses were organized to ferry people away from the scene and 20 paramedics and crews from 17 ambulances were sent to deal with the terrible aftermath.
Three-year-old Johnathan Ball died at the scene. He had been in town with his babysitter. The second victim was 12-year-old Tim Parry, who received the full force of the blast and suffered terrible injuries. He died on the 25th of March, 1993, when doctors switched his life support machine off, having asked permission to do so from his family, after tests had found minimal brain activity. Fifty-four other people were injured, including a dozen children and two pregnant women. A piece on BBC North West’s ‘Inside Out’ programme in September, 2013, speculated that the bombing may have been the work of a “rogue” PIRA gang, which was supported by the Provos but operated independently and was driven by a warped, extreme Left-Wing ideology. This murder gang reportedly used operatives who were from England to avoid suspicion. The programme suggested, but provided no evidence, that those who planted the bombs were members of the Marxist-Leninist group ‘Red Action’.
Tim Parry, age 12, and Jonathan Ball, age 3. Innocent victims of psychotic Irish republican gangsters
More Bombs- More Tragedy
Despite the international outrage at the deaths of two children in Warrington, PIRA/SF continued to attack civilian targets in England. On the 23rd of April they bombed a fuel storage depot in North Shields, near Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. On Saturday, the 24th of April the Provos detonated a massive bomb, containing more than a ton of home-made explosives, at Bishopgsate, London. Photographer Ed Henty was killed and 44 others wounded. The bomb caused extensive damage and extended as far north as Liverpool Street station. On the 12th of May, the city of Oxford became the Provos next target. They detonated a device in an area popular with students but the device only partially exploded and no-one was injured.
The Provos then decided, for reasons unknown, to target England’s seaside towns. In August they targeted Bournemouth, detonating a number of crude fire-bombs in shops in the town and also targeting the pier. Brighton was next, though fortunately the 4 devices left by the incompetent PIRA gang all failed to explode. On the 4th of October PIRA/SF once again turned their attention back to London. Five bombs, all placed in crowded civilian areas, exploded injuring five people, the youngest of whom was just 8 years old. More innocent people would have died but for the fact that, for some reason, timer units being used by the terror gangs seemed to be defective and devices were only partially exploding.
The Shankill Bombing: Sectarian Slaughter
The Shankill Road in west Belfast has long been regarded as one of the spiritual homes of Ulster Loyalism. Alongside Dan Winter’s cottage and the walled city of Londonderry, the Shankill Road has become something of an iconic location for Loyalists and Unionists. The ‘Road’, with its close-knit community and spirit of defiance had become a powerful symbol of Ulster Loyalist resilience. On Saturday, the 23rd of October, 1993, PIRA/Sinn Fein visited carnage on the people of the Shankill. Coldly, calculatedly and deliberately. The Irish republican gangsters unleashed terror onto the entire Unionist/Loyalist people and, as a direct result of their murderous actions, onto their own community as well.
Two PIRA members, Sean Kelly and Thomas ‘Bootsy’ Begley were dispatched on a mission of mass-murder. Unbeknownst to Kelly and Begley, the Provo godfathers had intended it to be a suicide mission. Kelly was 21 years-old, Begley was slightly older but had been described at secondary school as being “educationally sub-normal” and was functionally illiterate. The two hapless goons were bundled into a stolen Ford Escort car, handed a five pound bomb with a 7 second fuse and told to place the bomb on the counter of Frizzell’s Fish Shop on the Lower Shankill and “run like Hell”.
The alleged target was a supposed meeting of the UDA’s ‘Inner Council’ (the collective leadership of that organisation) which was taking place in an upstairs room. Irish nationalists/republicans claim the bomb was designed to kill Johnny Adair and the entire leadership of the Ulster Freedom Fighters. That myth, presented as truth by, among others, Wikipedia and the CAIN Index of Deaths, is a deliberate and cruel lie! It is also stretching credulity to breaking point. How can anyone expect there not to be civilian casualties when a bomb with a seven second fuse (or an 11 second fuse, or even a 30 second fuse) is placed in a busy shop, in the middle of a street packed with innocent people? What kind of hate-filled imbecile really believes that everybody in that fish shop, in adjacent shops and walking past outside, could put a safe distance between themselves and the bomb blast in just a few seconds? What kind of terrorist masterminds send two gluesniffers, one of them (Kelly) a petty thief and joyrider, the other (Begley) an illiterate man-child with learning difficulties, on a hugely important (if the Irish republican narrative is to be believed) mission to destroy the HQ of your most bitter enemy and obliterate their leadership in the process? Surely such an allegedly vital mission would have been undertaken by much more experienced and senior members of the Provisional IRA? How can a device with a 7 second fuse “explode prematurely“? But that’s just it, nobody does seriously believe it. Those who trot out that despicable, callous, filthy lie do so in the full knowledge that it is absolute garbage. It is designed to divert blame and absolve the perpetrators of their guilt. The Provo godfathers knew full well that they were unleashing sectarian slaughter on the Shankill, that was their objective, and that is why, rather than sending hardened and competent terrorists they sent two utterly expendable, completely ignorant young thugs. If Adair or other senior members of the UDA/UFF were killed alongside the civilian dead, then in their eyes- “so much the better“- for the deaths of any Loyalist activist would, no doubt, be used as pathetic justification for a cowardly and sickening attack.
“They Were Bringing Out Limbs in Plastic Bags”
The Shankill Road was devastated by the PIRA bomb. The whole road was covered by a thick layer of dust. Acrid smoke rose into the air. Local men formed a human chain to remove debris from the wrecked and partially demolished fish shop. The first thing many of the desperate rescuers saw was a mangled pram, sticking out from under the rubble. Tiles, bricks and pieces of wood were falling from what remained of the shattered building but nobody was deterred. They disregarded their own safety to search for survivors. There were a number of girls trapped in a hair salon above one of the adjoining shops and rescuers were faced with the dilemma of whether to try and get them out first, or to try to help people on the ground until the emergency services arrived.
Seven year old Michelle Baird, youngest victim of the Shankill bomb outrage.
As the rescue operation continued, a huge crack appeared in the wall of a nearby building, sparking fears that more buildings would collapse, killing and maiming even more people. One local man later spoke of how severed human limbs were carried away from the scene “in plastic bags“. In total 9 people were murdered on the Shankill that day. Provo killer Thomas Begley was also killed. More than 50 people were wounded, many of them women and children. Some of them suffered horrific injuries that still limit their lives to this day.
A Heavy Price
In the wake of the sectarian carnage on the Shankill, the UFF issued a chilling statement warning that “Gerry Adams, John Hume and the entire nationalist electorate will pay a heavy price” for the attack and also stating that “all units” had been placed in a state of readiness. Ulster held it’s breath, waiting for the inevitable retribution. Two days later the UVF shot and killed two men- Sean Fox, an elderly man killed at his home in Glengormley and Martin Moran (22), an alleged republican activist shot dead as he delivered take-aways in the Donegall Pass area of Belfast. The following day, the 26th of October, an ASU from the UFF’s 2nd battalion, C’ company, opened fire at a Belfast City Council depot in Andersonstown, killing two council workers. Meanwhile, the Mid-Ulster Brigade of the UVF shot and killed the Cairns brothers at their home near Lurgan. As bad as these ‘tit-for-tat’ killings had been, worse was yet to come. On the night of the 30th October, two UFF volunteers entered the ‘Rising Sun‘ bar in Greysteel, an exclusively Irish nationalist village a few miles from the city of Londonderry. The two gunmen opened fire, killing 8 people.
Northern Ireland was on the edge of an abyss. PIRA/SF had unleashed unbridaled carnage on the Loyalist/Unionist community, the UFF and UVF responded in kind.
The Downing Street Declaration
On Wednesday, the 15th of December, 1993, the Prime Minister, John Major and the Irish Taioseach, Albert Reynolds, delivered the Downing Street Declaration, affirming both the right of the people of Ulster to self-determination, and the concept of consent, i.e.- that there could be no change to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland unless a clear majority of the population advocated such a change and thereafter voted to that effect in a referendum. It also included, as part of the prospective of the so-called “Irish dimension“, the principle that the people of the “island of Ireland”, had the exclusive right to solve the issues between Ulster and Éire. It is the latter statement that provided PIRA/SF with a “way out”. The joint declaration had pledged the British and Irish governments to seek a peaceful constitutional settlement, and promised that parties linked to armed groups, such as Sinn Féin, could take part in the talks, provided that they abandoned violence.
Contrary to recent historical revisionism, the 1993 Downing Street Declaration was not universally well received by Irish nationalists and republicans.
Irish nationalism now had an opportunity to completely abandon their rapidly failing military campaign, without losing control of their core constituency, and without the humiliation of having to quietly slink away back into the shadows without a single concession to show for 25 years of murder, destruction and atrocity. Messrs Major and Reynolds had just provided PIRA/SF with an opportunity for “peace with honour“. The Provos were neither foolish enough, nor suicidal enough, to reject the “exit strategy” that had just been handed to them on a silver plater. Any ethically minded organisation, any group sincerely interested in the well being of their community, would’ve begun the transition from war to peace immediately, but Provisional IRA/Sinn Féin are neither. Better, at least for them if not for their community, to carry on killing and maiming, whilst at the same time negotiating. It would seem that for the Provo godfathers “war/jaw” was preferable to either “war/war” or “jaw/jaw“.
1994: New year, same old nightmare
As 1994 dawned a few in Northern Ireland dared to hope for peace, but for many that peace seemed as far away as ever. In December of the previous year the Provisional IRA and the Ulster Freedom Fighters had continued the killing, and the UFF continued to plan for a renewed bombing campaign against Irish republican targets in the Irish Republic. In the first three months of ’94 ten people were killed, half by Loyalist groups, half by republicans. Amongst the dead was former INLA warlord Dominic McGlinchey, shot dead as he stood in a telephone box in Drogheda, Co. Louth.
Very few people, anywhere in the British Isles, were aware of the intricate politicking that was inching PIRA/SF, painfully slowly, towards peace. As Winter turned once more to Spring, the violence that had blighted Ulster since 1969 continued. Inside the “republican movement” however, the uncomfortable truth that the Provos were a razor’s edge from military defeat, not by the “Crown Forces” but by the Combined Loyalist Military Command, had become an accepted fact. The so-called “armed struggle” could not be maintained in the face of constant and brutal pressure from the UVF and the Ulster Freedom Fighters. In the wake of the Downing Street Declaration and the United States’ allowing Gerry Adams to enter the country, apparently to seek the counsel of some of the terrorists more senior financial backers, the Provo leadership seems to have come to the obvious conclusion that “the war” was lost. Their only realistic option was the abandonment of their much vaunted “armed struggle“, and with it a significant portion of traditional republican precepts, negotiating a settlement with their sworn enemies and accepting the existence of the Northern Ireland state. Such a defeat had been unthinkable just a few years previously and their were many PIRA activists who would never acquiesce to a “partitionist settlement” or a “return to Stormont“, but Adams and McGuinness felt confident that they could secure enough support to at least claim that they spoke for the majority of their mafia like organisation. Peace was on the horizon, but the murder gangs of the Provisional IRA had not completely satisfied their bloodlust, not yet. They had a few more innocents to slaughter first!