Truth requires the right questions

Malachi O’Doherty on the Historical Enquiries Team, which in September starts re-examining 2000 unsolved murders carried out over the course of the Troubles. He speculates that, as things stand, the victims and the media are left to speculate on the precise motives of the perpetrators. And as often than not they can get it wrong:

After the Abercorn bomb, in 1972 too, the Northern Ireland Prime Minister Brian Faulkner reflected on the thinking of the bomber. He assumed, correctly, that the bomber was a republican; perhaps he had had a full intelligence briefing.

He said: “What thought went through the twisted mind of the man who planted the bomb as, on the way out, he looked into the faces of the unsuspecting mothers and babies who were soon to be mutilated by the blast? Did he think of a united Ireland? If he did, then that aspiration is infinitely besmirched by this thought.

Faulkner’s first mistake was to assume that the bomb had been left by a man. It had not. It came out in the inquest that it had been left by two young women. He assumes too that the bomber’s intention was to mutilate “unsuspecting mothers and babies”. He might be right. The two young women, given the job of leaving the bomb, may have sought to incinerate innocent civilians.

The warning that was telephoned in, from a Falls Road pub, two minutes before the explosion, and which didn’t name the Abercorn, may have been intended only as a cosmetic device to allow the killers to pretend to their own followers that they had made an honest effort to prevent carnage. On the other hand, it may simply be that a pair of feckless brats made a hash of the whole operation.

As things stand however, he argues that it is unlikely that any of these stories are likely to emerge:

What truth is available there, even to the investigator who has all the names and dates?