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Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights
Sub-Committee on the Barron Report

Dé Céadaoin, 26 Eanáir 2004 - Wednesday, 26 January 2005

Public Hearing on the Barron Report

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Fr. Carr: This incident was unique in so far as no question of collusion arose. Oliver Boyce and Breege Porter were killed near Buncrana about two years later. That case was, in my opinion, meticulously followed up in comparison to how my sister’s case was dealt with.

Senator J. Walsh: What would you like to be the outcome of this process?

Fr. Carr: That is the most difficult question I have been asked today. I cannot visualise the damage done being healed in such a way as to allow us to live a normal life. The committee is faced with a problem. I have pain.

Senator J. Walsh: Thank you.

Chairman: How old was Bríd when she died?

Fr. Carr: She was 26 years old.

Chairman: You have taken many initiatives over the years in trying to further the investigation. Perhaps you could give us a chronology of what initiatives you have taken and what sort of response you have received.

Fr. Carr: I took many initiatives but I was not satisfied with the responses I received. My first initiative was to contact former Tánaiste, Mr. John Wilson. However, a difficulty arose immediately when I raised the question of whether my sister’s case was covered by the terms of reference of the first victims’ commission. I did not receive a reply to that question. I went through the session feeling Mr. Wilson was in a difficult position as I had presented a case that was not covered by the commission’s remit. The situation was not satisfactory. I felt he was seeking further information on the matter. I was seeking a remedy and he was seeking information about when and where exactly it had happened. There was no meeting of minds.

I was disappointed that in his report - I should perhaps have expected it - he dealt only with the Dublin-Monaghan bombings and the murder of Mr. Ludlow in the Dundalk bombing. Other incidents were included under the heading “Other Cases of Concern”.

Chairman: Would you accept the terms of reference were such that he was not——

Fr. Carr: The terms of reference excluded it.

Chairman: Yes. Did you at any time approach a senior garda on the matter?

Fr. Carr: I have had no contact whatsoever with the Garda as I do not have a bone to pick with them. However, as the committee may be aware, I had a great deal of contact with the Chairman and his wife from whom I received great assistance. I contacted Mr. Justice Hamilton who informed me he could not deal with the matter as it did not come within his terms of reference. That confirmed Mr. Wilson’s position.

I had occasion to meet the Taoiseach, Deputy Ahern, when canvassing outside a church. He told me he would see what he could do. I believe he followed up the matter and did what he could. I also tried to gain access to the Taoiseach through writing to his Department and was generally told the matter would be brought to the Taoiseach’s attention as soon as possible. I reached a dead end on the matter.

Chairman: The Minister, the Secretary General at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda Commissioner will assist us in our consideration of the matter. Do you have a particular question you would like the committee to put to them in relation to the death of your sister, Bríd, and the investigation or lack of it?

Fr. Carr: I can supply the committee with a copy of my submission and of Neil Blaney’s speech. I can also supply two maps which indicate where the incident took place and the relationship between the Garda station and the post office. These maps are helpful in so far as they make a statement to the effect that the gardaí were within shouting distance of where the shooting took place. I will entrust the committee with that question and see what emerges.

Chairman: We would be obliged if Fr. Carr could give us a copy of his script, the speech of the former Deputy, the maps to which he referred and any other information he feels would be helpful to us in our consideration of the report.

Fr. Carr: I do not feel I have any further information to add.

Chairman: After the session, if Fr. Carr wishes, either Melanie or Wendy will assist him to make photocopies in order that he can keep the originals.

Fr. Carr: I have the photocopies.

Chairman: I thank Fr. Carr for attending and sharing his concerns and his search for a remedy to the death of Bríd. It has been very helpful to us in our consideration of the report. He is welcome to stay if he wishes to hear the other guests who are here today.

I now wish to move on to the awful bombing in Belturbet, County Cavan, where a 15 year old girl and a 16 year old boy tragically lost their lives. The ages, in particular, and the innocence of the victims got me when I read the report. I welcome Anthony O’Reilly, Marie O’Reilly and Frances McCann. Frances is a sister of Geraldine O’Reilly, Anthony is a brother of Geraldine and Marie is Anthony’s wife. I thank them for attending, they are all very welcome. Greta Farrell and Susan Stanley who are sisters of Patrick Stanley are also with us. I thank them for attending and sharing their experiences with the sub-committee. I invite the O’Reilly family to make its contribution. Deputies Hoctor and Finian McGrath will share in a dialogue on the various matters that emerge. I accept this is difficult and advise speakers that they should take their time.

Ms Frances McCann: I am Geraldine O’Reilly’s sister. On 28 December 1972 my husband and I were in a very happy home. My sister Geraldine was there and my other sisters, Kathleen and Bridie. My husband and I live on the other side of the town and we decided we would go home. Anthony was leaving us home and Geraldine said she would come with us, as she wanted to get a bag of chips. They dropped us off and within a short space of time we heard an almighty explosion and saw a flashing of lights. We were stunned; nobody knew what had happened. We heard that a bomb had gone off but little did I know that my brother Anthony and Geraldine had not got through the town.

I was eight months pregnant with twins and was suffering from high blood pressure and so on. My husband went out. I wondered why everybody was passing me. I asked what had happened and what was wrong but nobody wanted to tell me. My husband came home and told me that Anthony and Geraldine were involved and that Geraldine was dead. I did not want to believe it. I could not believe it. Anthony had gone to hospital. He had been waiting outside the chip shop for Geraldine. We heard that a young boy had also died and we later learned it was Patrick Stanley. It did something to us. Belturbet was a quiet town. We live very near the Border. We are just a few fields away from it but we never thought there would be a bomb in Belturbet. It was an awful shock.

My parents had to be told the news. My dad, may the Lord have mercy on him, was getting ready for bed. My parents were in shock. I do not think they ever came to terms with it. They took it with them to their grave. There was no help for any of us at that time. There was no mention of counselling or any other help. The only help any of us got was from neighbours and friends. Protestants were equally as good as the Catholics in helping out. The general thing that happens when there is a death in the family is that neighbours would keep calling to help out.

The twins were born shortly afterwards and I was in hospital for some time. They were very lucky to be born alive, thanks to the help of the gynaecologist and so on. I had two small children. I cannot describe the look on my parents’ faces. It was so sad. They were glad I had the twins safely but there was a silence and an emptiness in the house. All Geraldine’s things were there. The knitting that she had before she went out was just sitting on the couch. Everything belonging to her was there. For a long time I think mam and dad expected her to come back. They could not accept that this terrible thing had happened. They were on medication and the doctors were very good to them.

We all had to live with it in our own way. As other speakers have said, we were left to get on with it. There was no help. The people of the town were helpful. Many people were hurt that night and it was a miracle that more people did not die. As it was Christmas time there were quite a few people about and it was a 100 lb bomb that went off in the middle of the town. We felt bad for Patrick that he had to go into town that night and it is so sad that this happened to him. We had to get on with our lives. When we went home to our mam and dad, they would keep silent about it, as if it hurt so much they could not talk about it. My mam found it hard to stay in the house - she had to keep going outside. The time that Geraldine would have been coming home from secondary school was very hard for my mother - she would still watch for her. Her uniform and all her clothes hung on the back of the door in the bedroom with all her other things. I was given a piece of Geraldine’s hair, which I still have, and the purse she had in her hand that night. Geraldine died from a very severe blow to the skull. I hope she died instantly.

There was an anger directed at who did this, why no one was telling us about it and the fact that no one had been caught for it. However, we were left alone with it like all the other families. Christmas for us has never been the same. The date of 29 December lurks on our minds and I have never felt happy at Christmas since. It was definitely never happy for my parents. Geraldine was a very happy young girl of 15. Occasionally she would be allowed to go to a dance with a sister or a couple of friends. She had lovely friends and was very happy at school and had everything to live for. Even today, 32 years later, we still feel so broken by this terrible tragedy which happened in Belturbet.

Even as time passed, I found something would happen to me when I passed the spot at which this happened. I found it very hard to cope with this while living in Belturbet. We got together as a family and tried to help one another and our parents. My sisters, Bridie and Kathleen, were at home with my parents and helped them. Anthony had to deal with the fact that he was lucky to come out of it alive, thank God. It still hurts today to talk about it.

My children ask questions about this and say “Oh my God, mammy, that is terrible”. They can hardly believe it happened. The first person to do anything about it was John Wilson and, in recent times, Justice for the Forgotten. Margaret Irwin wrote to us and told us we could get some help and, although it came 32 years later, at least it was some recognition of our situation. A small plaque was erected on a wall in Belturbet. It did not state that the victims died from a bomb blast but that Geraldine O’Reilly and Patrick Stanley died tragically. For some reason, they did not want to make it a big issue. The plaque has to come down and we hope a proper monument will be erected with their names on it - some type of suitable monument to recognise that they died there on 28 December, which is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Two innocent people died that night.

Sometimes when I stop and think about it, I start to shake and shiver and wonder what she would have been like on her birthday. She would have been 16 the following April and her birthday is always a very sad time as well as 28 December. It devastated our family. We have never been the same. When mammy sees her friends, she expects to see her with them - she had lovely friends - and it makes her sad. Thank God we had good neighbours and friends on both sides - Catholic and Protestant - which was all the help we were given at the time.

Chairman: Thank you very much, Frances, for helping us out in this regard. It is very helpful to the committee. The report states that Geraldine had come into town in her brother’s car, so I assume it was Anthony’s car. Is that correct?

Mr. Anthony O’Reilly: Yes.

Chairman: Does Ms O’Reilly wish to contribute?

Ms Marie O’Reilly: I will do so on behalf of Anthony because he is very emotional today as well as Frances. I met Geraldine personally when I started going out with Anthony. Both of us are from Belturbet and Frances is married to a brother of mine - so we are intermarried. Geraldine used to baby-sit our baby daughter, Caroline, who was a year old the following day. I was only 20 years old at the time. Frances said that Geraldine went to the odd dance. Anthony and I took her to one of her first dances after which we waited for her to come out. I thought she was a lovely girl. She enjoyed Irish dancing and her costume was with her school uniform hanging on the back of her bedroom door for years. Geraldine’s mother went into the room an odd time and would look around.

Anthony and I had been in Glasgow before this happened. We got married in Glasgow. Mr. Joe Douglas said he was from Glasgow - I must find out from where exactly. When we returned home, Anthony’s father was ill so we stayed at home and lived in the same house with the family. As Frances says, that particular night Anthony went into town and brought Geraldine with him and left Frances and I at home.

We heard the explosion but did not know what had happened. We all gathered outside the house - which was outside the town - and watched cars going past. A particular car stopped and someone said there had been an explosion in the town. Straight away we knew Anthony had been in there with Geraldine. A neighbour and I took it upon ourselves to walk into town, the house being a mile outside it. The devastation on the Diamond was terrible. The Army was there with the Garda. A barricade had been erected and when we went up to it, we were told two people had been killed - a man and a woman. Straight away I thought “who are these people?”. One person said “Actually, one of them is a young girl called Geraldine O’Reilly - we do not know who the other person is”. Immediately I thought it was Anthony so I went a wee bit hysterical. Geraldine Magee - the neighbour who came with me - said that the husband of a sister in law of hers was in the town. They went to find some information for us.

We said there was a young boy but they did not know who it was. It was not Anthony and he had gone to hospital as he was hurt and injured. We turned home again. When we got to the house, the doctor was attending Mrs. O’Reilly and Anthony’s father. The bishop came in afterwards. The doctor wanted to give me some sedatives but I would not take them. As my daughter was asleep in a cot down in the bedroom, I took her into my arms and into the bed. We slept the next few nights together. I was brought up to the hospital to visit Anthony. He wanted out. They did not want to discharge him but he wanted to come home because he wanted to be there for Geraldine’s funeral.

For years afterwards, I was picking glass out of Anthony’s head. He must have been blown out of the car. The car was a mess, which can be seen from the photographs. It was double-parked and very near the car bomb. He had nightmares for years afterwards and would wake up. We had a lot of problems. We had so many that our marriage nearly ended. We are talking about 15 years later.

Luckily I got help when I needed it. I met up with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and started studying the scriptures. It was through my study of the scriptures that I realised why these things happen. God does not cause them. Many people ask why did God take these two unfortunate children, but God does not do things like that. Man is the ruination of man. The comfort I got was in the scriptures where in 2 Corinthians 1.3-4 it says, “Blessed be ..... the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in ... our tribulation.” Many a time I have quoted this scripture to Anthony. I have often referred to Acts 17.31, “He [God] has set a day in which he purposes to judge the inhabited earth in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed [we know that man to be Jesus Christ], and he has furnished a guarantee to all men in that he has resurrected him from the dead.” Through the continuing study of the scriptures, we know that there will be a resurrection and we believe it will be on Earth. That has given me a great comfort and I was also able to help Anthony come to terms. Yes, he is still an emotional wreck when it comes to the like of this. However, we have grown together and we have overcome it.

The first time we heard of something like this was when Joe Tiernan called, a journalist writing a book on the bombings in Dublin, Monaghan and other places. He was speaking to Anthony. He in turn got in touch with Margaret Urwin and she got back in touch with Anthony. We learnt there was a group called Justice for the Forgotten. Anthony thought he would like then to get involved in it as he wanted answers. He wanted those to be brought to justice for what had happened. We have compiled a file at home, which he goes over now and again, with all the different photographs all through the years from that particular night

A friend who was a Protestant and I who was a Catholic, both from Belturbet, became Jehovah’s Witnesses on the same day. We are now 15 years in that organisation. We have come across many other people who have gone through traumatic experiences but have learnt through the scriptures to come to terms with this. We know that no man can fully help anybody in situations like this. We put our faith in our God. If anyone wants to ask questions of Anthony, he will probably be able to answer them.

Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. I am glad that your faith gave you such strength because you certainly needed something to help you over the years. Is the premises a chip shop now?

Mr. O’Reilly: No. It is a chemist.

Chairman: You would prefer to take and answer questions from members. Deputies Hoctor and Finian McGrath will ask questions of the witnesses.

Deputy Hoctor: With the Chairman, I welcome members of the O’Reilly and Stanley families and Fr. James Carr. I thank Anthony, Frances and Marie for being here under difficult circumstances. They have relayed their stories very well and the sub-committee appreciates this very much. On the geography of the Belturbet area, I understand that Geraldine’s homeplace was Drumacon and Anthony, Marie and Frances lived in the locality. Did you all live within a radius of one or two miles in the Belturbet area?

Ms McCann: Yes.

Ms O’Reilly: We all lived out of Drumcon, around a mile on the northern side of Belturbet. Frances lived on the other side of the town.

Deputy Hoctor: So you all lived within a near distance of Belturbet. On the night of 28 December of that year, a bomb had gone off in Clones, approximately half an hour before the bomb in Belturbet. Was it relayed on television or was it known to anyone in Belturbet that this had happened in Clones?

Ms O’Reilly: No.

Ms McCann: No.

Deputy Hoctor: Was there political tension in small towns such as Belturbet and Clones in the northern boundary area? In Dublin, people were very much on the alert. In the Barron report, details are given on car registration numbers, so people were alert to a certain extent. Were people alert to such events in Belturbet? Was it unexpected that such an event could occur there?

Ms McCann: It is the last thing one would think of for your town. We lived on the edge of the Troubles. The Border was just down the road from us, but it was totally unexpected. It brought the town to a standstill. The people of the town were stunned. There were not many gardaí on duty in Belturbet at any particular time. The gardaí there were very helpful and did what they could. No one ever expected it. It was a horrible tragedy, especially when one thinks that Patrick Stanley would have come into the town and been there at that particular night. It is really shocking.

Deputy Hoctor: Thank you. A few lines were dedicated to Geraldine in the Barron report. Did you have the opportunity to meet Mr. Justice Barron?

Ms McCann: No, we did not.

Deputy Hoctor: Were you invited to meet him?

Ms McCann: No.

Deputy Hoctor: You mentioned there was a plaque dedicated to both Geraldine and Patrick Stanley. Who was responsible for erecting the plaque?

Ms McCann: It was the town commissioners and one man in particular, Mr. John Scott. It was erected on the 25th anniversary of their deaths. He asked us if it was all right to go ahead with it. He got in contact with the Stanley family too. That was a sad occasion. Somehow we wished something had been done when our parents were alive. Our parents got absolutely nothing - no plaque, no remembrance, nothing to remember them by and nobody to say they were due anything. That was the sadness I felt on that day - if only this had been done when mummy and daddy were alive. However, they did it and we appreciated it at the time.

Deputy F. McGrath: I welcome the delegation to the Oireachtas sub-committee and once again I wish to convey our deepest sympathy.

Given that Geraldine and Paddy Stanley were 15 and 16 years of age at the time, they must have been among the youngest victims of the Troubles. It opens ones eyes when one sees it, which is not to demean any of the other victims. It is just that these people were starting off their life. They were young and fresh, two young teenagers who, all of a sudden, were just wiped out. I find it very sad and it must be horrific from the families’ point of view. On the comments the Chairman made earlier, it is a very difficult process for the families. The dignity, courage and generosity of the victims today and yesterday has absolutely amazed and moved me. It is important to put this on the public record because it is an extremely difficult time for all the families.

My question relates to the incident itself and the death of Geraldine. Frances said that the bomb was totally unexpected. Was this unusual for a Border town? In 1972, many people further south would have expected Border towns to be hotbeds of activity, with explosives and bombs.

Ms McCann: Yes, they would. Belturbet and Ballyconnell are Borders towns. Clones was another one. It could have happened at any time. If only there was a warning. There was absolutely no warning. Definitely that fear might exist. I am sure Geraldine and Paddy Stanley would not have been thinking about bombs or the Troubles. I was an older sister and we would have known more about them. At her age, Geraldine would have been thinking about when dad might let her go to a dance. She went out with her friends and so on. When she died, she looked very peaceful, and I know that both she and Paddy are in Heaven. I had some lovely dreams about her, which was a good help to me.

Deputy F. McGrath: You said that one of the saddest aspects was that your parents did not even see the outcome of the Barron report or the hearings being conducted today. This is probably one of the saddest and hurtful aspects from your point of view. You also referred to the plaque. Can I ask the family why they think that happened at the time? Why did you feel let down or ignored by the State at the time, or does the family have a view on it?

Ms McCann: They just did not know. They did not have the information. It was not followed up. A certain amount of investigation was probably carried out but for some reason it did not continue. It was as if it never happened.

Deputy F. McGrath: I find that amazing. There is a constant theme that many of the victims of the 1972 and 1973 bombings, particularly our neighbours from Scotland, felt totally let down by the system. I do not accept that this should have happened. Some 32 years on, I find it amazing. From the families’ point of view, do people feel that a blind eye was turned to the whole thing or was it for political reasons? Perhaps you do not agree with that analysis. I am just asking the question.

Chairman: As Frances has already stated, they were the times that were in it.

Ms McCann: To answer the question, yes. I think the Garda may have done their best, but for a particular reason the books may have been closed. They came up against a blank wall. They were not getting help from the other side. At the time, the gardaí in the town were very helpful. I would say that they wanted to catch the culprits. However, for some particular reason, they were coming up against a blank wall.

Deputy F. McGrath: I have one final question for Anthony or Marie. What would they like to happen next on the whole issue of the murder of Geraldine?

Ms O’Reilly: A memorial is now being erected in the town. Finally, there has been a recognition that something occurred. I grew up in Belturbet and worked in a shop in the Diamond. The shops in Belturbet depended a lot on cross-Border activity. It was particularly devastating that this bombing happened and no one knew who did it. People felt that perhaps people who were travelling in and out did it, and they were still walking around. There was this type of feeling throughout the town. I do not know whether people talk about it to this day. It is freaky to think that one’s neighbours could do such a thing. The problem is not knowing who did it. If we knew, particularly if Anthony knew, he could come to terms with it and say, “This is what happened, now I must leave it.” It is great that a monument is being erected in the town. I thank the Taoiseach for putting money aside to erect the monument.

Chairman: Thank you very much. Would Anthony like to say anything about his relationship with Geraldine or what he would like to see happen as a result of these hearings?

Mr. O’Reilly: I was very fond of Geraldine but I am not happy to talk about it.

Chairman: You miss her terribly.

Mr. O’Reilly: Yes.

Chairman: Thank you very much for coming along and sharing with us your obvious grief and distress. I hope this has helped in some way to bring you to terms with what has happened and reduce the grief and distress you feel. I thank Anthony, Marie and Frances.

I now want to go to Patrick Stanley’s sisters, Susan Stanley and Gretta Farrell. His was an equally tragic and innocent life lost.

Ms Gretta Farrell: I have a presentation prepared because I find it difficult to talk about the matter.

On 28 December 1972, my parents, brothers, sisters, extended family and I were devastated by the loss of Paddy. This tragedy still lives with us and we will never fully recover from the loss of Paddy. Paddy was tall, dark and he had shoulder length hair. He was very handsome and I was very proud he was my brother. He was 16 and I was 13 years of age when he was killed. He was the eldest of ten children. He lived for sport. He loved soccer, gaelic football and hurling, and he played as goalkeeper in all of these sports. He was nominated for an under-21 GAA All-Star award before he died.

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