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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 10 Jul 1991

Vol. 410 No. 7

Adjournment Debate. - Border Area Security.

I raise this matter because it is one of the most frightening incidents which has happened in the Border area in the last 20 years of troubles in Northern Ireland. It is appalling in what we believe to be a Christian society that acts of violence can be ruthlessly planned by people who call themselves — and believe others should call them — Christians. It is frightening that these people, acting as an armed gang, should invade the privacy of a home and hold a father, mother and seven children hostage while they primed a 3,000 lbs. bomb intending to kill or maim fellow human beings.

When one considers that a 1,000 lbs. bomb caused so much damage at Cushquin on the Donegal-Derry border late last year, one gets some idea of the magnitude of the damage this evil deed could have caused if the ruthless gang had been permitted to continue their evil work. It is more frightening to think that every family in the Border region is now a soft target for so-called Republicans claiming to act in the name of Irish people. This new development in the IRA campaign of violence, where families close to the Border who are soft targets, can be used as proxy bombs can no longer be ignored by the Government. Armed gangs cannot be allowed to act in such a manner. It was fortunate that a roving Garda patrol car happened to be in the area, suspected that something was wrong and called at the home on Sunday night. From what I can gather, if they had been a half an hour later it would have been too late. This new threat demands that the Government take immediate action to step up security arrangements in Border areas. The Garda are doing a good job but we need more of them. Ruthless armed gangs must not be allowed to terrorise families in Border areas; it is the duty of the Government to provide proper and adequate protection, and not to depend on Lady Luck, as happened on Sunday night.

One can imagine how frightening it is for a young family to be confronted by an armed gang who take possession of their home, invade their privacy and cause all kinds of frustrations and frightening thoughts in the minds of the young children whose parents were not at home. One can imagine the reception the parents got when they arrived home to be confronted by this; one can imagine what thoughts went through the father's head as he knew what happened to Patsy Gillespie at Cushquin about six months earlier when he was used as a proxy bomb to kill people wearing British uniforms, which is their justification for taking the life of a human being. One can imagine the thoughts going through that family's mind as these things were happening.

While all this is going on the Government are not providing adequate security or personnel for Border regions. Every family living in the Border regions of Counties Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth are now soft targets, which must not be allowed. The Government can no longer ignore this peril which causes so much anguish to people living in those areas. Every family is now in that category. The family — I hesitate to use the name — who were the victims on Sunday night know the experience. The family of Patsy Gillespie have already had the experience and every family, whether they own a vehicle or not, are subject to this kind of danger. They are in the front line of this war.

This is the most devious, frightening and sinister development which I have come across since the troubles started. I do not know the answer to it; if evil people plan deeds like this I do not know how they can be stopped. However, one allows them to proceed if one turns ones back on them, treats them lightly or does not take them on. There are not sufficient gardaí in Donegal at the moment to protect the lives and properties of the people in the area. We need more gardaí and Army personnel. This is a warning, we were lucky on Sunday night that the Garda prevented the bomb exploding, which would have caused a terrible disaster. The bomb was destined for the village of Clady, about two miles away or for the military check-point between Strabane and Lifford. No matter which site they selected the damage would have been devastating, it would have wrecked private property within a mile of the explosion.

I ask the Minister to take this matter very seriously because the next time Lady Luck might not intervene. If the Government do not do something about this I will hold the Minister responsible for the deaths of people in future explosions.

I am confident that I speak for the House when I condemn in the strongest possible terms those responsible for the events at Ballindrait, County Donegal on Sunday night and Monday morning last. It is quite clear from the reports I have received that prompt action by the Garda prevented an attack on the security forces in Northern Ireland and, almost certainly, prevented significant loss of life.

The House will, I am sure, also wish to join me in congratulating the Garda on their success in foiling this latest attempted PIRA attack. The bomb being prepared at Ballindrait would have been ready for use if the Lifford patrol car had arrived on the scene a few minutes later. Their prompt response, taking account of the size of that bomb, almost certainly, therefore, prevented a major tragedy.

With regard to those events, I am informed by the Garda authorities that at 11 p.m. on Sunday night armed men entered a family home taking hostage seven children, ranging in age from 16 years to 13 months, who were then in residence. A short time later the parents of the children were also taken hostage. A member of the family was then forced to obtain a lorry on which the gang worked during the course of the early hours of Monday morning. That work consisted of mounting a bomb comprising approximately 3,000 lbs. of home-made explosives in the trailer of the lorry incorporating a sophisticated triggering device. The bomb was connected in such a way that the tractor part of the lorry could be disconnected from the trailer by activating a device which would, in turn, set off the bomb. The gang also reinforced the interior of the cab with steel plating. When the gardaí arrived just before 6 a.m. on Monday morning, the murderous scheme was foiled. The gang immediately fled the scene leaving the lorry behind.

The gardaí secured the scene and the major Border emergency plan was put into operation. Searches of the area were instituted and the bomb was subsequently examined by an Army explosives opertional detonating team and made safe. As Garda investigations into the incident are continuing, I do not wish to elaborate on what I have said about the detail of the incident, or that investigation. I would, however, assure the House that the matter is being rigorously investigated by the Garda with all the resources at their disposal.

The Provisional IRA, in attempting to mount this latest outrage, have again demonstrated their complete disregard for the rights and lives of people on both sides of the Border. That disregard can be seen first and foremost in the size of the bomb under construction — approximately 3,000 lbs — which was clearly intended to cause maximum loss of life and destruction of property in a totally indiscriminate fashion. It also includes taking hostages and holding at gunpoint innocent families in order to obtain the means to mount their attacks — in this case, as I have said, the hostages included seven children, the youngest of whom was 13 months old and the eldest 16 years of age. By their actions the Provisional IRA have shown that no consideration of normal decency or morality will be allowed to stand in their way and have again revealed their utter contempt and disregard for the people in whose name they purport to wage their campaign of murder and bombing.

The Government and the Garda authorities are acutely conscious of the threat which the Provisional IRA continue to pose to the lives and liberty of all the people of this island. Both the Government and the Garda remain steadfast in their determination to ensure that the Provisional IRA's campaign of violence will not succeed. At present the Garda authorities have informed me that they are satisfied with the resources, both in personnel and equipment, assigned to all divisions in the Border area. It is, I am sure, common cause that the people best placed to assess what is needed in this regard are the Garda authorities themselves and that it is prudent to be guided by their professional assessments in this regard. The House may be assured also, of course, that those resources available are kept under constant review and that any adjustments in relation to resources, including the deployment of additional Garda or Army personnel which may prove necessary, will be made as needs dictate.

I assure the House that the Government and the Minister for Justice view the position very seriously. We have the utmost confidence in the Garda Síochána, backed up by the Army, being able to deal with the very serious problem.