DOUG: How you doing? I’m Doug Devaney and you’re listening to The Plastic Podcasts: Tales of the Irish Diaspora. Now, while most of our interviews concern themselves with remembrance, today we’re discussing forgetting – or more specifically the forgotten.
Justice For The Forgotten started off as an organisation for victims and relatives of those killed in the Dublin-Monaghan bombings of 1974, but has since expanded to include the cross-border atrocities of Belturbet, Dublin Airport, Dundalk and Castleblayney, along with the Miami Showband murders.
Why should a podcast discussing the Diaspora in the UK be concerned with such apparently distant events? Well, that’s one of the many questions we’re discussing with today’s guest, Margaret Urwin. A graduate of the Open University and with a MA in Local History from MUI Maynooth, Margaret is the author of “A State In Denial” and “Fermanagh: From Plantation To Peace Process” as well as being secretary for the campaign, and the first question we’re going to put to her, naturally, is : How you doing?
MARGARET Very well, thank you. A bit apprehensive about this interview.
DOUG Ah, don't worry. I'm a soft and gentle man in many ways. The first question I've got, I suppose, is really as an introduction to our listeners of the circumstances of the creation of Justice For The Forgotten.
MARGARET: Yes. Well, I became involved with a couple of family members as far back as October of 1993. The catalyst for the campaign was the broadcasting of the Yorkshire Television programme, “Hidden Hand: The Forgotten Massacre”, and that's actually how we came to have our name, but it was shortly after that, that I got involved.
A mutual friend introduced me to two of the families. I hadn't known them at all. And, from there on, I started typing letters for them in my spare time on an ad hoc sort of basis. Because it has to be said at the introduction that the Dublin Monaghan bombings had practically been written out of history by then, by 1993. There was just nothing. They just disappeared from view for many years.
After the bombings in 1974, for a start, the garda investigation was wound down within three months. It must have been the shortest police investigation into mass murder in history. It was wound down within three months. There was nothing about it. There was a question asked in the Dáil, in the Dáil Éireann which is our Parliament in May of 75, a year after the bombings. And from that until 1991, not a single question was raised about the bombings in the Dáil. And then when questions began to be raised by Independent TD Tony Gregory, asking that a memorial be built to the victims, he was told by the Taoiseach that the bombing could not be singled out. No single attack could be singled out because it might show preference because so many people had been killed in the north as well. So that was the situation.
And it was like, it was a case of amnesia. It was the same with the media. There was absolutely no interest at all. And indeed six months after, you'll be aware that six months after the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the Birmingham bombings were carried out by the IRA. The Birmingham bombings had far more of an impact on people here than the Dublin Monaghan bombings.
Now, one reason for that, of course, is that it was carried out by the IRA and Irish people do feel and did feel a sense of responsibility for actions carried out by the IRA. But the contrast was amazing in that you had a newspaper - The Evening Herald - setting up a fund for the victims of Birmingham. And also there was what they called an Advent Fund in St. Patrick's Cathedral. No such fund was set up for the victims of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. It was just completely erased from history, you might say.
So then in the early nineties, about 1991, a former retired Colonel from the army, the Irish Army, began writing about it. And the only newspaper who would publish it was “Inniu”, the Irish language newspaper. And it was only when the Yorkshire Television programme was broadcast that again, that that interest was awakened in the Dublin Monaghan bombings. And that was in July of 1993, up until then it was total amnesia.
DOUG Can we just discuss the significance of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings?
MARGARET: Yes. The Dublin-Monaghan bombings saw the greatest loss of life in a single day of the conflict, right through, because you had three bombs - no warning - car bombs explode in Dublin within two minutes of each other. The first one at 5:28, the other two bombs around 5:30. We can be certain that the first one was at 5:28, but it was certainly around 5:30 when the other two exploded.
And then less than an hour and a half later, you had a fourth bomb explode in Monaghan town, just south of the border with Northern Ireland. And 34 people were killed: 33 plus a full term unborn baby who was recognized by the coroner, the Dublin city coroner, as the 34th victim at the inquests. And you'd be surprised to hear perhaps that the inquests were not held for 30 years.
Again, it just shows how neglected this was. The inquests were opened fairly soon, couple of weeks after the bombings. They were adjourned sine die, which means without a date for reopening. And that was the end of it. The coroner at the time never thought to bother asking the gardai about it. The gardai didn't bother asking the coroner to complete the inquests. So they were just left. And it was only when our lawyers got involved, and began to investigate this, that they discovered that the inquests had never, ever been completed. So the inquests were only held in 2004, which was, 30 years after the bombings. Speaker 2 00:07:06
DOUG: Why do you think that is?
MARGARET: It's all part of the same amnesia. Deliberate amnesia, that's what that was about. They just wanted it all swept under the carpet and they very nearly succeeded. We don't know for sure, but perhaps if Yorkshire Television hadn't broadcast the programme at that time, it might never have become an issue again. Maybe it would after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, but it's unclear you know, as to whether it would have or not. But certainly that was the catalyst for our campaign. And it was in 1996 that we eventually began to get together properly, and the organization was given a name – Justice For The Forgotten, because that's exactly what it was - by one of our lawyers.
DOUG: I'm going to come back to “Hidden Hand” shortly if I may. But first of all, if I can discuss some personal background. You started studying at the Open University, yes?
MARGARET: I began studying with the Open University in the early nineties, that's right. And then I followed on with a Master's Degree in NUI Maynooth.
DOUG: And what were you doing before then?
MARGARET: I worked in accountancy, a very different sort of job, all of my adult life really up until 1999, basically, when I began full time with Justice For The Forgotten, when we managed to get some funding. In 1999. A businessman, he had been a former member of Fianna Fáil, he began to fund us and gave us a certain amount of funding. We actually didn't get any funding from the government until 2001. And we have been more or less funded ever since. Well, they withdrew our funding in 2009, and then the Pat Finucane Centre took us under their umbrella in2010, December, 2010.
We've been associated with Pat Finucane Centre, then, since December 2010.
DOUG: That must have been quite a change for you then. I mean, going from accountancy into advocacy?
MARGARET: Yeah. Well, it's just much more interesting, certainly.
Undoubtedly. Yes, a very different life altogether. I feel it's much more rewarding. It can be very frustrating, but we always seem to pick ourselves up again and keep going.
DOUG: How did that change come about?
MARGARET: I was doing work for the families from 1993, from very shortly after the broadcast of the Yorkshire Television Programme through a mutual friend. I got to know a couple of the families who had lost loved ones. And also an organization called the Irish National Congress for a while was involved because they thought they might be able to hold an unofficial inquiry into the bombings, because they had done so in another case in Northern Ireland. But that was a very different case. It was a shooting where there were many eyewitnesses and so on. The bombings was a completely different scenario and it just wasn't possible. And it would've been prohibitively expensive anyway. So that's how I got involved, but I wasn't involved full time until 1999. But for six years I was helping in my spare time.
DOUG: Is it that moment where you're watching the programme and you're thinking “I have to do something?”
MARGARET : Yes, absolutely. Yes. Because like everybody else here, I wasn't - like the vast majority, I should say, of people here - I wasn't affected by the bombings. And because it was completely ignored, it wasn't a focus of mine. But it did become so very soon once I had seen that programme
DOUG: You’re listening to The Plastic Podcasts: we all come from somewhere else. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. While the Yorkshire First Tuesday programme “Hidden Hand” concentrated mostly on the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, there had been significant similar events in the Republic of Ireland before that. We talk to Margaret Urwin about those earlier incidents and the campaign’s search for the truth.
MARGARET: On the 1st of December ‘72, two bus men were killed in the first ever car bomb here. And then in January 73, a young Scottish man, Tommy Douglas, was killed. He had come over here with his fiancée to work, and he was an electrician by trade, but he was waiting to get some qualifications here that he could take up that career and in the meantime, he took a job as a bus conductor. And he was killed in exactly the same street as the two previous busmen on the 1st of December 72, and indeed his family somehow - coincidentally - got in touch with us around that time and came over from Scotland. And indeed they have been coming ever since.
He was only 21 years old so that they were the first people other than the first families, other than those of Dublin- Monaghan to get involved. And then, because the Barron Inquiry was set up then in 2000 and other victims of other attacks came forward - like Dundalk and Castleblayney and the Miami Showband and Belturbet , of course, they all came forward and we were successful in having all of their cases investigated – well, reviewed at least - by Judge Henry Barron, who did the investigation into the Dublin-Monaghan and Dundalk bombings and the murder of Seamus Ludlow.
From between 2000 and 2006, he carried out inquiries and reviews into all of those cases.
DOUG: What was the outcome of that?
MARGARET: Well, just first of all, if I might say the reason they were set up in the first place was because we kept lobbying, even though every door was closed. We kept pushing at another one and eventually the Taoiseach at the time Bertie Aherne , to his credit, established. - it was not a statutory inquiry, but it was a private inquiry, which was established under Justice Henry Barron. And the outcome of it was that it gave us a lot more information, but the problem was that the British did not cooperate with it at all. Gave very little information, didn't give any intelligence. And as a result, Judge Barron himself said his report had to be less than complete.
And ever since we have been trying to get the undisclosed documents from the British government, through the passing of Dáil motions. There have been three Dáil motions passed calling on them to release the documents they withheld from the Barron inquiry.
DOUG: And this, I suppose, takes me back to “Hidden Hand”, which is where Fred Holroyd is being interviewed. And the more than suggestion that the British intelligence services and forces were actually part of people behind the behind those incidents.
MARGARET: Yeah. Fred Holroyd was interviewed and so was Colin Wallace. Colin Wallace of course was working for information policy in Northern Ireland in the headquarters - HQNI – in Lisburn. And he also provided a lot of useful information. He's one of our main whistleblowers, along with Fred Holroyd. And of course, also, not until 1999, did we have another whistleblower, a former RUC Sergeant John Weir.
Now the Yorkshire Television programme did not link the Dublin-Monaghan bombings with any other attack. They named suspects and so on, but they did not link it with any other atrocity on either side of the border. It wasn't until 1999 when John Weir came forward and let us know - made it known to us - that the Dublin-Monaghan bombings were very much linked to many, many other attacks.
And of course, I can talk about that later about the current investigation that's ongoing, but it wasn't until 1999 that we came to know that it was linked to many other cases. On this side of the border, it was linked to the Dundalk and the Castleblayney bombings and the murder of John Francis Green In County Monaghan in 75. And also with the Miami Showband attack in July of 75 and many other attacks in the north, which they're all linked. And they're about 120 deaths.
DOUG: Where Fred Holroyd’s concerned, he was incarcerated and it was as though he was sectioned and his mental health was called into question in order silence him.
MARGARET: That's right. Absolutely. Yes. And also Colin Wallace of course, was convicted of manslaughter. A conviction that was later overturned.
DOUG: Were you concerned that perhaps there might be other forces railed against you?
MARGARET: Well, I never, we never really considered that to be honest, not really. No.
DOUG: Wow. There's two big television moments, really, I suppose. One is the “Hidden Hand” documentary, but also so more recently on Netflix, there's been an examination of the Miami Show band murder - murders, rather - cos that's a cross border event, isn’t it? Literally cross border
MARGARET: Yes. Well of course, the Miami Showband were traveling south. They had been playing a gig in Banbridge, County Down and were on their way home when they were stopped by what appeared to be a genuine army checkpoint. And, of course they placed a bomb on the bus and it exploded prematurely killing those who were placing it on the bus. And because of that, they shot - they tried to shoot all of the band and they succeeded in killing three of the five members who were there and severely wounding one of them and also wounding a second, man. But luckily he wasn't too seriously wounded. So he was able to go and get help. And that was how - that was how probably the life of the other survivor was saved because he was able to go and get help fairly quickly. So yes, I mean they were - as I say - they were coming back to their homes here in Dublin and they were just shocked for no apparent reason.
DOUG: When we talk about these events and you say there's an amnesia that's taken place. Previously when we’ve spoken in preparation for this, you say there's an amnesia that's taken place in education as well.
MARGARET: Yes, but it's not just the British it's the Irish system as well. I mean, we discovered few years ago - because one of our family members had a son just starting secondary school - and when he brought home his history book, she was absolutely horrified to find that there was nothing at all about the Monaghan bombings. Wasn't mentioned. They had a number of attacks in the north mentioned - they had dates wrong, which is just incredible - and, you know, the, the Dublin-Monaghan bombings was just not in there.
And we made representations about it to the Department of Education and to the author of the book. The author of the book just kept his head down, refused to engage with us. And I don't know if that has been corrected, but it is just absolutely incredible that the day that saw the greatest loss of life in the entire conflict, which happened in the capital city and in Monahan, is just completely, again, that was totally written out of history. But that has been the case all the way.
As recently as last February, I think it was, RTE were getting reactions to Brandon Lewis's proposals for legacy, for dealing the legacy of the troubles and, RTE on the Morning Ireland was getting reaction from families. They had somebody from Derry, they had somebody from Belfast, they had somebody from Birmingham, but they had nobody from Dublin. And I sent an email that very day to the programme. I didn't even get a reply. I said, I was delighted you had those victim’s families on, but why did you not think to include a family from Dublin as well?
DOUG: If there are aspects that one would call Irish, one of them is remembrance. And yet to somehow feel as though, what's taken place, in the Republic has been forgotten, must come as a very odd, almost counterintuitive, sort of thing.
MARGARET: That's right. Yes. Yeah. I mean, we actually believe that a directive was given to the gardai to let it slip, to let it die, and not to follow up too closely. And for years and years, the mantra was given that “Unfortunately, nobody had been brought to justice for this attack, despite the fact that it had been an intensive gardai investigation over a protracted period of time.” Now that was the mantra that was used. It was totally untrue. And we know that from Judge Barron's report. It's not just me saying this. We know from his report that leads were not followed up and that it was not an intensive investigation over a protracted period of time, because it was wound down within three months of the attacks.
DOUG : Do you often meet with people who say, look, it was a long time ago, the inquests and inquiries have happened. What's the point of carrying on with this? Why not simply let these sleeping dogs lie, as it were?
MARGARET: Yes, we do meet people like that, obviously. But my reply to them is that, yeah, that's not for me to say. It's for the families to say, and the families are not willing to give up. Now, obviously I'm sure there are some families who do not want to carry on, but the majority of families do want to carry on. And I think that's the case, right through, for all of the victims who were killed. There will be some who perhaps have decided for their own personal reasons, perhaps for their sanity, that they cannot continue. But most families we find want to find out the truth because, you know, it's not like somebody has died of natural causes, it’s not like somebody has been killed in a car crash. They were murdered deliberately, and for the most in all of our cases, of all these 120 deaths I was speaking about, only one of those victims was actually a member of the RA. One member. All the others were just ordinary civilians going about their daily lives.
DOUG: We’ll be back with Margaret Urwin in a moment, but first it’s time for The Plastic Pedestal, that part of the podcast where I ask one of my interviewees to talk about a member of the Diaspora of personal, cultural or political significance to them. This week, Chelsea McDonagh with not one but two historic pedestals.
CHELSEA McDONAGH : Probably James Connolly. And for the most part - I mean, all my friends know I'm low-key obsessed, but, and I think for me, there's a hope that, like, if we would have, you know, Connolly’s socialist republic, Travellers would be part of that. Because the one we’ve got, they weren’t. If we were to work for, towards what I hope would be a United Ireland in my lifetime, it would be under some of those principles. It would be under the - kind of, like - that we don't get left behind once again, that kind of thing.
There's a scene in “The Wind That Shakes The Barley”, where one of the main characters - he's in a cell. And he's with another one and they basically talk about- like, you know - there's that quote and I can't remember word for word, but it's a bit like: you can get rid of the British, you can hoist the Irish flag over Dublin Castle but, like, if you don't set about creating a socialist republic, then it will all be in vain. And I think there's a moment for me where it kind of was I didn't quite understand at the time, but then the more reading I did and, you know, I was doing a lot of different reading and because you can be enamoured by different people, you know, different people of great significance - but I think it's finding those that then kind of align with like what you believed in whether that kind of aligns with some of your thinking.
And then probably also Constance Markievicz, cos I think she’s a bad bitch. You know, if you think about women's role, not in Irish society at that time: they weren't doing that. And especially someone that came from an affluent background. Yeah, I've always kind of had - if there was two people it would be them. Just kind of, like, showing that it's possible. And I also think one of the things I like about Connolly is he also came from the Diaspora. So it's that kind of thing of like Ireland can still be yours, even if you are from the Diaspora and, you know, one day it could be home.
DOUG: Chelsea McDonagh there, and if you want to hear more of what Chelsea has to say why not listen to her full interview? Simply go to the Episodes page at www.plasticpodcasts.com and there you’ll find her – among all the other bright, sparkling interviewees, just waiting to be heard by you.
And in fact while you’re still there, why not subscribe? Just go to our Home page at www.plasticpodcasts.com, scroll down to the bottom, and insert your details in the space provided. One confirmatory e-mail click later, and all the plastic loot of the world will be yours.
And now back to Margaret Urwin.
The history of the campaign in Northern Ireland and beyond is a complex one. It’s filled with names and references that get lost in a wave of words. So for clarity for the next section:
Operation Denton is a review of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings and other events referred to as the Glenanne Series as they were carried out by the self-named Glenanne Gang. Operation Denton is headed by Jon Boutcher, a former chief constable of Bedfordshire.
The Sunningdale Agreement was an attempt to establish power-sharing with a Northern Ireland Executive and a cross-border Council of Ireland in an Anglo-Irish agreement and signed in 1973. It didn’t go well.
It has been some 30 years since Hidden Hand and the founding of Justice For The Forgotten. Given that amnesia Margaret Urwin refers to, I wonder how hard it is to keep the campaign in the public eye.
MARGARET: Well, we have been able to keep it alive so far because we have had new opportunities throughout. First of all, we had the Barron inquiries, which as I said continued for six years from 2000 to 2006, then we had what was called the MacEntee Inquiry into certain aspects of the Dublin-Monaghan bombs. Now that was not - we were very, very disappointed with the outcome of that inquiry because it was totally unsatisfactory. The man who did it, the senior council, Paddy MacEntee, failed to report on one of his specific terms of reference. It was very unsatisfactory.
And then we had a period, yes, where it was very difficult to keep it going. But then, you know, we tried taking cases to get access to some of the material. They didn't work out, but eventually then we discovered that we might be able to take a civil case in Belfast- in the High Court in Belfast - and also that the Police Ombudsman possibly be willing to take on cases from the Republic. Now the Police Ombudsman's Office is also investigating all these cases as one. It’s called Operation Newham. And that's been ongoing since 2017 and they’re still nowhere near completion on that. So we have had opportunities that have been that have been able to keep the campaign going obviously, and then we got Operation Denton and that began in 2019. So we have been able to keep it going.
But obviously if the British government closed down all avenues, it's very hard to see where we could possibly go from there.
DOUG: We're talking as a result of Jack Byrne discussing the Dublin-Monaghan atrocity in his new novel “Across The Water”.
MARGARET: You know, we're very grateful that Jack has paid such tribute to the victims by focusing on the bombings in the second book of his trilogy.
DOUG: And, and also you have a - this will be after we talk but before the broadcast - you've got a memorial taking place later in May, yes?
MARGARET: For the first time in three years, because of COVID. The 48th anniversary of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. We’ll have a wreath-laying ceremony at 11:30 AM at which the Lord mayor of Dublin, the Taoiseach and the Cathaoirleach, that is the Chairman of Monaghan County Council, will be present. They will say a few words. They will lay wreaths. And we also have our annual oration this year is being delivered by former Independent TD Maureen O’ Sullivan.
And that will be followed by the Commemorative Mass in the Pro Cathedral in Dublin at 1245.
DOUG: Trying to keep the campaign in the public eye. Does that become increasingly difficult?
MARGARET: It hasn't increasingly difficult not up to now. No, as I say it probably would - it will be - if Brandon Lewis and the British government go ahead with this planned legislation, it certainly would be then. We are hoping that Operation Denton at least will be able to finish its work by the time - we hope it'll be so far advanced by the time the legislation comes into effect. It obviously can't be introduced in a matter of weeks. So we are hopeful that Operation Denton will be so far advanced that it won't be halted before it finishes. I mean it would be absolutely outrageous if it were to be - when you consider all the work that's being put into this by Jon Boutcher and his team of detectives - not least the amount of money that's being spent on it. But far more importantly, is the fact of trying to get the truth and to get as much as possible. And hopefully he will be allowed to complete his work.
DOUG: Obviously this podcast concerns itself with the Irish Diaspora, particularly but not exclusively in the UK. And so people may well be asking the question, why should The Plastic Podcasts be looking at this campaign? I have my own answers to that, but I wonder what your thoughts were.
MARGARET: Well, I think it's very important for the Irish diaspora to know about this, about the Dublin-Monaghan bombings and about the fact that so many attacks took place. Cross border attacks took place during the Troubles, the last one was as recent as 1994. One man was killed in that. So I think it's very important that they be aware that the conflict was not confined exclusively to Northern Ireland.
And obviously all the Irish in Britain who were there at the time are very aware of the Birmingham bombings and the Guildford bombings and so on. And I know many Irish people suffered a lot because of the backlash, because of those bombings, even though some Irish people were killed in the Birmingham bombings as well. But what isn't so well known perhaps is that quite a number of attacks took place here. And 50 citizens of this state, of the Republic, were killed in cross border attacks alone over the course of the conflict. The vast majority of them in the 1970s, but also I think two would've been killed in the nineties.
DOUG: Given, as you said a little earlier, that only one member of the IRA was identified as being a victim of any of these events that took place. What do you think the purpose of them was?
MARGARET: Well, I think they weren't always the same purpose perhaps., I think a lot of the cases in the north were to scare people from perhaps even considering giving support to the IRA. Quite a number of the people killed as a result of what we know as the Glenanne Gang - that is the name that has been given to them the Glenanne series of attacks - many of those in the north were killed because they wanted to frighten people off, giving any support to the IRA. So they picked - many of them were actually members or supporters of the SDLP, in fact, at the time in the seventies - a lot of them were maybe up and coming and getting on well in life. A lot of the victims, they were starting their own businesses, building their own houses and many of them, so –
But the motive for the Dublin-Monaghan bombings and Dundalk - the motives for attacks in this state, would've obviously been different. I mean, the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, as you’re probably aware, occurred right at the start of the Ulster workers council strike. The Ulster workers council strike began on the 15th of May. And two days later, the Dublin-Monaghan bombings happened and obviously elements of British intelligence, as well as the loyalists, certainly did not want the Sunningdale Agreement to succeed.
They didn't want the assembly in the north at that time to succeed. And the strike was called and obviously a decision was taken to stop the Irish government, as they saw it interfering in the affairs of Northern Ireland. And also of course they were worried about the part of what was agreed at Sunningdale was to be a Council of Ireland to be set up. So I think that was the motive in the Dublin Monaghan bombing. So a lot of these cases had various motives.
Some of them may have been retaliation. We have seen recently in documents from Kew that the Miami Showband may have been - that that attack may have been a retaliation for three men who were killed by the IRA as they were returning from a dog show in Cork a few weeks earlier in, I think it was, early June of 75. Now, whether that's correct or not, we don't know: there are all sorts of theories about these things. And that is just a very recent documents we have accessed from Kew that suggest that that may have been the motive, but we simply don't know. We can't be certain, we can only, you know, have an educated guess if you like, as to why these particular people were targeted or why these attacks were carried out.
You see, the problem with Sunningdale was that it excluded - it only really included the middle ground. It didn't include republicans, it didn't include loyalists. So it was, I suppose in a way it was doomed to failure um, it was certainly a good effort and it deserved to be given a chance, but obviously it wasn't to the liking of unionists, the majority of unionists - not all, but some, the majority of unionists - and loyalists, who didn't want it under any circumstances.
DOUG: But inevitably we see that with Brexit, Northern Ireland becomes once again, a kind of weird playing card in a game that nobody quite understands, it would seem. Has Brexit been a retrograde step for the campaign?
MARGARET: Well, I don't think it has really affected our campaign at all. As I mentioned earlier, we've had three Dáil motions calling on the British to release the papers that were withheld from Judge Barron. Well, I'm happy to tell you that it seems that all of these entities in Britain are fully cooperating with Operation Denton, with Jon Boutcher's team. That includes obviously the PSNI in the north, it includes the MoD and it also includes MI5, so that he's confident that he's getting and has got a lot of material there. So in that sense, no Brexit does not affect us at all in that way.
DOUG: You’re listening to The Plastic Podcasts: we all come from somewhere else. The Justice For The Forgotten campaign has been running some 30 years now, with Margaret Urwin an essential part of that campaign for almost all that time. It’s quite a commitment, and I wonder how her day works.
MARGARET Well, I work full time from home now. I've worked from home for the last 10 years. I have a Portakabin. That's where I'm speaking to you from now. And it's out of the house, you know, so that's good. So I work from home and I have done, as I say, for the past decade. When I need, when we have meetings - we have a committee which come here for meetings. Now, we used to do it by Zoom, during COVID. I go and meet people in the city centre. I'm about 10 miles outside the city centre, so I can get in there by public transport. And I meet people in there where we have meetings, or when we have family meetings, we book a hotel room in the city and we all meet up there. And we actually had a meeting last month, 23rd of April - for the first time in two and a half years, we were all together again. Well, many, many of us were together. A lot of people came to the meeting. So, that's how we operate really, by meeting in the city centre.
We did have funding previously – for about 10 years, we had funding and we had a big family support centre in the centre of Dublin in Gardiner Street. And then they withdrew our funding, as I mentioned earlier. And so we were no longer able to afford that. So that was why I removed myself here and continued by purchasing a portakabin. And then we were taken on by the Pat Finucane Centre, who eventually managed to get funding. Well, the Department of Foreign Affairs then restored our funding - when I say restored, not to the previous extent, but enough to keep us going. So that happened in 2014 and they've been funding us, the Department of Foreign Affairs through the Pat Finucane Centre have been funding us ever since.
DOUG: What was that first meeting after lockdown like?
MARGARET: It was great. It was lovely to meet people after such a long time. And also Mr. Boutcher came and met the families there and, gave them an update on how the review’s going.
DOUG: And after all this time, how are the families?
MARGARET: Well, they just keep on going as well. You know, they just keep on. They don't seem to get too downhearted, and they just want to keep going right through as far as they can to get as much of the truth as possible, as I said.
The stumbling block at the moment for us is that the gardai are not cooperating. You know, we talked about the British government previously, not cooperating, but the gardai now are having, they're having difficulty with the gardia passing over material. Because they're saying - oh, this sort of technicality - this is a review and it's not an investigation and we have to get legal advice. And it's all been dragging out now for the past year. So we're hopeful that it's near resolution. We're hoping it's going to be resolved by the end of June at the latest we very much hope so.
DOUG Do you have any hobbies? What do you do for fun?
MARGARET: I don't really have hobbies. Reading, I suppose, mainly. And we have four cats, so it takes quite a bit of minding of them.
DOUG: What's the best book you’ve read recently then?
MARGARET : Well, the latest book I've read is Jack Byrne’s, I think.
DOUG: Ah, you see.
MARGARET: Yes, absolutely. And I haven't read, unfortunately, I haven't read his first book. They're not easy to get actually. I had to read his book online because I can't get a hard copy because he tells me that they're unavailable at present.
DOUG: Well, that's just a measure of his success.
MARGARET: Isn't it? Yes. Yeah. So I really do want to get his first novel as well. The first book of the trilogy.
DOUG: The last couple of questions really. Do you think all the questions will ever be answered or will there be a time when you sort of go, okay, we know enough?
MARGARET: Well, I think - if Operation Denton is allowed to complete its work, I think that's the best we can ever hope for because, from what Jon Boutcher tells us, he's getting the full cooperation. So we are very hopeful that that will answer most of the questions. I can never say it's going to answer all questions, but we're very hopeful. It will answer most. I think that would be the end of the end of it. If we get a satisfactory outcome there.
DOUG: Are you confident that the truth will out?
MARGARET: Yes, I have to be confident. I couldn't keep going, I think, if I wasn't at least very, very hopeful that the truth will eventually come out. I mean, a lot of it has come out. A lot of it has come out. I mean, it's almost 30 years. It will be next year. It'll be 30 years since I got involved with this in the first place. So in those 30 years, we have learned an awful lot, but hopefully the final pieces of the jigsaw can be put together by Operation Denton. That is if he is allowed, if they're allowed to finish their work.
DOUG: When you told family and friends that you were moving out of accountancy and into advocacy for the Justice For The Forgotten, what was the response?
MARGARET: Well, there wasn't really any. I can't say there was any response really. I mean, it was just okay. You know? Okay. No, nobody really. No, I can't say - you've surprised me with that question. I don't think so.
There wasn't any real response to it in a way, you know, because I don't think people knew what I was doing really, because as I say it was so - nobody - it didn't even occur to people because people then started to say to me, some people I would've known would say, “Oh, are you working with the families of the Omagh bombing?” Which occurred, of course, much later. 1998. So that would be fresh in their memories. And “I’d say, no, no, the Dublin-Monaghan bombings.” And they sort of would look at me blankly, and the younger generation - I think a lot of them had never heard of it.
So that tells you really, you know, it's, it's really extraordinary.
I actually wrote a little poem about the amnesia. If you'd like to hear it.
DOUG: I'd be delighted.
MARGARET: Now I’m no poet. Seamus Heaney it is not. But I just put my thoughts together in this way, couple of years ago. And it's called Amnesia.
No books of condolence
No minute’s silence,
No flowers piled up in the streets.
No candles lit,
No national day of mourning:
The Tricolour lowered for a single day,
No funds raised in solidarity.
No comforting word from politician or priest.
Compassionate notes undelivered,
Paltry compensation paid.
No inquests were held.
No arrests were made.
No suspects were sought.
No photofits were shown.
Investigation over in weeks,
Files mislaid or disappeared,
Photographs lost or discarded,
But families monitored at the Pro Cathedral
As they prayed for their dead.
No Memorial built for a score of years.
No questions asked in Dáil Éireann,
No queries raised with the British in meeting after meeting.
In 74, the media maintained a monastic silence
Unbroken for two decades,
Shattered at last by Yorkshire TV.
One July evening in 93, the genie was out of the bottle and the rest is history.
As I say, I'm not a poet, but everything I put there is straight from my heart
DOUG: You’ve been listening to The Plastic Podcasts with me, Doug Devaney, and my guest Margaret Urwin. The Plastic Pedestal was provided by Chelsea McDonagh and music by Jack Devaney. Find us at www.plasticpodcasts.com, email us at [email protected]
or follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. The Plastic Podcasts are supported using public funding by Arts Council England.