Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 9 Mar 1976

Vol. 288 No. 10

Adjournment Debate: Castleblayney Car Bomb.

At the outset I wish to condemn in the strongest possible terms the outrage perpetrated in Castleblayney at the weekend. I am convinced that this horrible deed served no purpose whatever either North or South of the Border and I express my sincere sympathy with the relatives of the dead man and with those who were injured in the blast.

My reason for raising the matter of this bombing incident stems from my concern with the issue of security not only in Border areas but throughout the country generally. It has been established locally that the town of Castleblayney which has a population of more than 2,000 people, was without a Garda street patrol from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday last and that only one garda was on patrol in the town up to 1 p.m. on that day. The bomb exploded at about 8.30 p.m. but it is thought that the blue Cortina car in which it was placed had been outside the Three Star Inn for some three hours or so before the explosion. To say the least, these facts are disturbing. In the first instance it is imperative that a Border town, such as Castleblayney, be patrolled and policed 24 hours a day, every day.

I understand that Castleblayney Urban Council have demanded a 24-hour Army-Garda street patrol in the area. The Minister for Justice was asked by the council on 27th August last for a strengthening of Garda security in the area but I am told that despite further requests and reminders they did not hear from the Minister on the matter.

Now, as a result of the car bomb one man is dead, 17 people are injured and damage to the extent of £500,000 has been caused. The Minister for Justice is the person charged with responsibility in the area of security so the blame for there not being a Garda street patrol in Castleblayney during the hours I have mentioned must rest solely with him. The Minister, the Taoiseach and their colleagues in Government have been telling us constantly of the millions of pounds being spent on security, both Army and Garda but if what I have been told is true, one must ask where is the security that is costing so much and how could it happen that a car with false number plates, representing the County Monaghan area, was parked in a main street of a vulnerable Border town for more than three hours without any attention being paid to it. These are very serious questions which are of the greatest importance to all of us but particularly to those who live in towns in close proximity to the Border.

I am told that the people of Castleblayney are gripped with fear, the fear of indiscriminate bombing such as that which occurred on Sunday. Another Border town—Clones—is a ghost town to all intents and purposes for the reason that in the past it has experienced bombing. I am sure the Minister will agree with me when I say that people along the Border are very concerned because the existing security checks in the area are not on a 24-hour basis but consist of occasional spot checks. Because of this it is possible for cars, such as that used in the Castleblayney blast, to get through the security net without any great difficulty but at the cost of lives and property in the Republic.

It is highly desirable that every car crossing the Border be checked thoroughly and that the driver and any other occupants be identified to the satisfaction of the security forces. Unfortunately, because of the way in which the security check system operates, those who wish to cause destruction or to take lives can watch the movements of our security forces along the Border and take advantage of their absence to act with impunity.

Because of the mismanagement and the inefficient handling of the country's economy the Minister for Justice was forced recently to announce that there would be serious curtailment of overtime for the Garda. It is logical to assume that those members of the force who were on overtime were fulfilling a necessary and vital function: otherwise, they would not have been on overtime. However, because of the economic strangleholds which were applied in this instance to the security forces, not only in Border areas but throughout the country, we are now without adequate security.

Admittedly, the Garda authorities have said that despite cutbacks in overtime they have sufficient manpower to meet all situations. Did they say this so as not to be in conflict with their Minister or with the Government? However, if they mean they are happy with the situation as it existed, for example, in Castleblayney on Sunday last, one must question their notion of adequate security and must ask what they mean when they say they have sufficient manpower to meet all situations. If this situation is considered as adequate policing I can only say to the Minister and the Government that they have brought about a dangerous and farcical situation by reneging on their responsibilities to the people in sensitive Border areas.

If it is true that the Minister failed to reply to the request and the subsequent reminders of Castleblayney Urban Council in relation to security, one can only conclude that there is a complacency in relation to the whole issue of security. I have spoken with those Deputies and Senators here who represent Border areas and I am assured that the situation is as I have outlined. In his reply I expect the Minister to remind me that the Garda Síochána are stronger now numerically than they have been since the foundation of the State. While this may be true, I have had personal contact with members of the Garda from many counties and they have told me of their spells of duty in Border towns in recent times, of the fact that they have nothing to do in their off periods and would be happier doing a job of work they believe should be done. This could have been managed but for the order given by the Minister curtailing the necessary finances to make it possible.

In recent times we have heard boasts by the Minister for Justice, some of his colleagues and the Taoiseach, that they are a law and order Government. I would prefer, as would many others, to see action rather than hear words. We have had an unbelievable frequency of bank and post office robberies in recent times. Unfortunately, we have had two and three in one day. Three or four years ago a bank robbery was given banner headlines on the front pages of our national newspapers but because of their frequency now they are hardly mentioned on the inside pages. I was disturbed recently to be told that on a night in January in Limerick city there was only one patrol car on duty. Only one man was on duty, except for those involved in prison duty.

The Deputy is ranging rather wide of the subject matter of the question.

I appreciate that and I do not propose to develop this any further now but I will at a future date avail of the opportunity of having a general discussion on this area of security. It has been put to me by people from County Monaghan, and other Border counties, that if there was a Garda foot patrol in Castleblayney on Sunday that patrol might possibly have spotted the car which was stolen in Belfast or spotted the false number plates on the car. The patrol would have spotted that if the car had a tax disc it might not have corresponded with the registration number. It is disturbing that people can park indiscriminately in the main streets. I am reliably informed, and I am sure Deputies opposite who represent the constituency will agree with me, that but for the grace of God 50 people could have been killed in that explosion.

The situation is serious. I will not take away from the boast of the Minister, or the Taoiseach, on law or order if we can see it in operation. The main fall-down here is because of the overtime ban introduced by the Minister. I understand that the Garda authorities are doing their best but nobody can accept that a sensitive and big town within a couple of miles of the Border should be left, as reported—this has not been denied officially by the Garda authorities—with one man on patrol up to 1 p.m. and nobody between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. If this is so, security is very weak indeed.

I should like to condemn, with Deputy Collins, in the strongest manner all types of bombing and violence. I should also like to extend my sympathy to the relatives of the man killed and to those injured. I should like to tell the Minister that it is very frightening to visit a town like Castleblayney, Monaghan or Clones after a bombing or to visit those who were lucky enough to escape with injuries and talk to them of their experiences. It is also frightening to talk to the people of the towns. When dealing with a matter like this one must look at the position of Monaghan and the number of small towns in that county that are close to the Border. Three of the five big towns in that county have suffered from bomb outrages and there was shooting in one village in the county. One must also consider that the urban area of Clones extends to the Border. When those who represent that county bear in mind the position of the towns in relation to the Border we realise that security is a problem and that the spot checks being carried out cannot be very effective.

We were deeply concerned to read in the newspapers that there was no Garda patrol in Castleblayney on Sunday from 1 p.m. It should be realised that the most effective type of policing in such towns can only be carried out by Garda foot patrols. I hope the Minister will have this matter re-examined. I should like to pay tribute to the Garda Síochána for the work they have done since the troubles started in the North. I should also like to pay tribute to those young gardaí who, when they completed their training, spent many months in Border areas. Patrol cars are fine to cover large areas or to give chase but a greater degree of protection is necessary and that is why I call for more gardaí to be put on foot patrols.

We realise the great demand on the Garda and on the Army and the huge bill the nation must face to provide those services but lives are at stake in the Border areas. Security cannot be counted in cash terms. The people of Castleblayney, Clones and Monaghan and those living in other Border areas are entitled to the fullest protection possible as they go about their daily work or in their recreation. The Minister should immediately review the Garda needs and ask the Minister for Defence to carry out a similar review. Sunday's outrage is particularly disturbing when one considers the good relations that existed between the people of all religious and political persuasions in County Monaghan and the good relations that existed with those living across the Border. The need for proper hospital facilities in that area also arises in that regard. On 22nd October, when he outlined his general hospital plan, the Minister for Health made light of the downgrading of Monaghan County Hospital which is in the centre of the county.

The Minister for Justice is not responsible for that matter.

I want to bring to the attention of the two Ministers in the House the importance of proper hospital facilities in an area in which such tragedies have occurred. The situation in Castleblayney, Monaghan and Clones would have been more serious as a result of the bombings if we did not have a proper hospital to cater for those injured.

We all wish to see an end to the bombing but no one can hazard a guess as to when there will be an end to the campaign. While that campaign is with us we will have to provide proper security for our people and provide the services that are essential following such bombings. I would ask both Ministers to have another look at this because the people of Monaghan are and have been very concerned about the dangerous situation in which they are living.

I share the sense of outrage expressed by the other side of the House about this atrocity and join in the expression of sympathy to the family of the person who so tragically lost his life. I also join in the expression of sympathy to those who were injured in their persons or property. It is a matter of great regret for everybody that these atrocities should take place.

The urban bomb is one of the more grotesque manifestations of guerilla war as we know it. It is particularly deadly because the defences available against it cannot be absolute, and are far from absolute. This has been proved in Northern Ireland where the people have suffered from this scourge for a number of years. Happily, we have not experienced it to the same extent and we pray God that we will not.

Experience in the other jurisdiction has shown that there is no absolute defence against the urban bomber. That experience has been based on the implementation of differing tactics. There has been the total sealing of towns and centre city areas by security forces. There has been total sealing of cross-Border roads and random vehicle checkpoints. None of these has been proof against the urban bomber.

Then there is the questions of the tactics and the measures we can take here using the unfortunate experiences on the other side. The professional assessment of those whom we trust with the security of our towns and villages is that random patrolling and checkpoints, with some exceptions, are the best defence against the urban bomber. Recognising that there is no absolute defence, and that the quality of the defence and the extent to which a defence can be successful depends very much on the alertness and co-operation of the, for the use of a better word, civilian population—the willingness of people to keep their eyes open and report suspicious objects, is the most important part of the community's defence against this atrocious modern weapon of the urban bomb.

The Border is 300 miles long. Daily there are hundreds of points being covered by members of the Garda Síochána with the assistance of the Army. There are numerous crossing points. This is particularly true of the Monaghan section of the Border. On other parts of the Border there are physical features which reduce the number of crossing points. There are a very large number of minor roads and crossings on the Monaghan border. Any suggestion that each of these can be sealed on a permanent basis is not practical. In any event, that is not the answer because there will have to be some cross-Border traffic and the feeling of the people living along the Border is that there has to be access back and forth, there will be ways and means for determined people to get back and forth without detection.

I deprecate the political tone which Deputy Collins introduced into his remarks, that is, the criticism of the Taoiseach and me for what we said about law and order. The desire to use this unfortunate incident to beat us about the head was, in my view, entirely inappropriate. He mentioned overtime as one of the reasons why there might not be adequate policing in Border towns. I want to make it clear now, as I did when the curtailment on the expansion of overtime was announced, that it was not a cutting out of overtime but a curtailment of the amount of overtime which was announced at the time. That excluded overtime necessary for security reasons and that is still the position. The Garda authorities are aware that where security is involved, there can be no question of curtailment of the use of men on an overtime basis. It was with that criteria attached that the Government's decision to restrict the growth of overtime was involved. The question of security was specifically excluded.

I am satisfied that the level of policing along our Border is adequate for the needs of the area. That is not to say that I am complacent about or that the Garda authorities are complacent either. That position is kept under continuous review. It involves the deployment of men from post to post as the need demands or as the urgency suggests. The House might be interested to know that over the last three years the number of Garda on duty at the Border—I do not want to give the exact number which exceeds four figures—has been increased by no less than 50 per cent. That is an earnest of the Government's intention to see that the Border areas are adequately policed and patrolled. It would be a matter for the Garda authorities if they feel that vast increase is not sufficient to come to us and say so.

With regard to the specific incident in Castleblayney which brought so much tragedy to so many people, it is true that for a period on that afternoon, a garda who would normally be on duty in the town was diverted to other duties, and for a period there was no patrol on the town itself. There was a large Garda presence around the town. This again brings us back to police tactics and what are the best tactics to defeat the urban bomber. Should it be patrols on the outskirts of the town or should there be random checkpoints? Should there be a man on the beat in the town? This must be left to the professional judgment of the officers on the spot. This may vary from town to town, from village to village and from week to week. It is true that there was no patrol for a certain number of hours in the afternoon. This will have to be looked into to see if it should have happened, did it have a material effect, or would it have made any material difference.

I understand the particular vehicle was noticed by some civilians. This brings us back to the point I made at the beginning of my remarks, that the effectiveness and efficacy of any protection the security forces can give can be increased immensely by full alertness and co-operation from the civilian population. The Garda by themselves can and are doing a great deal. I want to thank them and the Army for what they have done. Deputy Leonard expressed the gratitude of the people in the Border areas. I know I am reflecting the views of all the House when I express their gratitude to the Garda and the Army.

As I said, on that particular day for a short number of hours, because a garda was diverted not away but off the actual town centre, there was a time when there was not a garda presence in the town centre. There was a garda foot patrol and a mobile patrol in the town centre from early evening and for several hours before the unfortunate explosion took place.

I regret that Castleblayney Urban Council were not answered comprehensively in regard to their letter of last August which requested round the clock Garda and Army checkpoints on all roads leading to the town from the Border. It was a matter for the Garda to decide whether these should be provided. The better advice is that full-time vehicle checkpoints are not possible because of manpower requirements and, instead, the best tactic is the random checkpoint. Ultimately the defence of any town lies in the hands of its own inhabitants.

At this point I want to pay tribute to the co-operation which has been given to the Garda. Again I wish to express sympathy with those who are bereaved and to assure the people in all the Border towns that it is the concern of the Government, the police and the Army to ensure that the maximum protection possible will be made available to them. I appeal to the public for their continued co-operation and ask them above all, to be on the alert and report anything suspicious as soon as it comes to their notice.

The Dáil adjourned at 9 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 10th March, 1976.