Four decades after the atrocity former senior IRA officer Kieran Conway admits the terrorist group carried out the Birmingham pub bombings
By Andy RichardsBirmingham Mail
9 December 2014
**Photos, links and video onsiteThe Mulberry Bush after the attack One of the IRA’s most senior former officers has admitted for the first time that the terror group is responsible for the Birmingham pub bombings.
Kieran Conway, who was head of the IRA’s intelligence-gathering department in the 1970s, broke a 40-year silence by the organisation to make the admission.
He admitted he was “appalled and ashamed” because he claimed the bombing of civilians went against everything it stood for.
He said the attacks on The Mulberry Bush and The Tavern in The Town had been in revenge for the death of IRA bomber James McDade.
At first he feared that the timing of the attacks - with very little warning - had been deliberate because “tempers were high”.
But he was later told that the IRA unit involved had tried to use “a succession of phone boxes” which were out of order, significantly delaying the bomb-warning call.
Conway, who makes the admissions in his new memoir, also revealed that soon after the bombings the IRA’s England Operational Commander and his adjutant “made it back home” to Dublin for an urgent de-brief and to assess the impact of the disaster as far as the terrorists were concerned.
Funding for the terrorists dried up almost overnight and the bombings, which left 21 dead and almost 200 injured, including many maimed for life, cost them hugely in the propaganda war.
And in an interview he confirmed that the IRA hierarchy in Dublin knew all along that the six Irishmen arrested for the explosions were innocent “from the get go, from the very start.”
Now, Julie and Brian Hambleton, who lost their sister Maxine in the bombings and lead the city’s Justice4the21 campaign, called on West Midlands Police and David Cameron to take immediate action.
Julie said: “I am expecting West Midlands Police Chief Constable Chris Sims and West Midlands Police Force to interview with Mr Conway with immediate effect.
“And I hope that Mr Cameron, who a week ago told The House of Commons that the pub bombers must be found, takes note of this development and ensures that the police follow this through.”
Brian added: “The police keep saying they won’t do anything because there is no fresh evidence. Well, here it is in black and white. It’s an admission. They have got to do something with this information.”
Mr Conway, now a criminal lawyer in Dublin, says in the book that where off-duty soldiers were the targets of bombings “I had little sympathy for either the soldiers or the unfortunate civilians who had been sharing their drinking space.”
He continued: “The Birmingham bombs were another matter. The bombings came after British police disrupted funeral arrangements for James McDade, a volunteer who had himself died in a premature explosion in England."
“Tempers were high and I, for one, certainly at first feared that the local IRA had knowingly caused these dreadful casualties – 21 people were killed and a great many others injured.”
“I was appalled and personally ashamed of the bombing, which went against everything we claimed to stand for.”
He said he told two other senior IRA figures, Dave O’Connell and Kevin Mallon “exactly what I thought” when they met up.
“In fact, both men were themselves furious, fully recognising not just the damage the bombing had caused to the IRA but its immorality as well.”
McDade, a lieutenant in the Birmingham Brigade of the IRA, blew himself up while trying to plant a bomb at Coventry Telephone exchange a week before the pub bombings.
Neither The Mulberry Bush nor The Tavern in The Town had any military connection.
Normal IRA procedure at the time for any attack on non-military targets was to give a 30-minute warning in order for full evacuations to take place.
The Birmingham Mail received an ambiguous call at 8.11pm on November 21. The caller did not identify either pub, referring instead to The Rotunda, above The Mulberry Bush and the New Street Tax Office, which was above the underground Tavern in The Town.
The first bomb destroyed The Mulberry Bush just six minutes later. The Tavern was destroyed at 8.27pm.
Conway was not directly involved in the debrief with the England Operational Commander.
But he said he was later told “that the early indications were that the casualties were the result of yet another failure in the warning system, a succession of phone boxes from which the warning might have been relayed having proved to be inoperable.”
In an interview with a national newspaper he described the Birmingham pub bombings as “a total disaster.”
He added that the secret ‘Feakle Talks’, held a couple of weeks after the bombings, were used by the IRA to try to start to repair its image after the Birmingham and the Guildford pub bombings.
The talks, in Feakle, County Clare, involved senior IRA officials and Protestant clergymen and ended abruptly after a tip-off that Irish Special Branch officers were on their way to arrest the republicans.
But they set in train a process that eventually led to a brief ceasefire that began on December 22, 1974.
Conway had been recruited in 1970, having been radicalised during the 1968 student protest movements.
He met with senior republicans, including future deputy first minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.
Adams continues to deny that he was ever in the IRA.
Conway was later jailed in Belfast’s notorious Crumlin Road prison and went on hunger strike to achieve political status.
Although he left the IRA in 1975, he rejoined during the 1981 hunger strike, then finally broke with the republican movement for good in 1993 when the British and Irish governments announced the Downing Street Declaration.
He claimed the declaration basically reinforced partition.
“The IRA went on ceasefire, it decommissioned and did all the things they said they would never do, and disappeared into history,” he said.
“It was a complete and utter defeat, absolutely.”
In his book he also claims that rogue Irish police officers colluded with the IRA throughout the Troubles and that members of the Dublin establishment, including several mainstream politicians, aided the Provisionals in their armed campaign.