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Birmingham bombs: Interview served no purpose other than to outrage grieving relatives

By Anthony McIntyre

I recall the Birmingham bombs well. As a 17-year-old IRA prisoner, it was a talking point in Crumlin Road Gaol.

The year was ending pretty much as it had started for the IRA's England campaign: bomb-induced fatalities that reached double figures. If the M62 coach bombing was something the IRA could boast about because of the predominance of military personnel among the dead, there were to be no bragging rights in the wake of Birmingham.

The slaughter was sans justification. What mitigation may have been cited was never going to make a dent in the public revulsion. If I found it hard to comprehend then, my understanding has not been enhanced in the slightest by the 'revelations' of Michael Hayes, interviewed for a BBC documentary on the bombings. Hayes was many years earlier identified as one of the men who planted a device on that fateful November evening in 1974. He has never admitted to it and his contribution to the BBC broadcast brought him no closer to an admission.

His responses to the interviewer often seemed like the standard fare IRA posture when confronted by RUC interrogators.

It is understandable why he might wish to feature in such a programme: to convey some semblance of remorse for an action he nevertheless refused to admit carrying out. It is much less understandable why the BBC should wish to put the camera on him when he said so little of consequence.

If the appearance in combat fatigues was designed to give an air of military authenticity to the attack, it failed lamentably, merely conjuring up memories from the time when the cartoon commanders of the UDA could appear in television studios in full military regalia, and masked to boot.

Sensationalism of this type might titillate some but it is hardly informative. The BBC managed to outrage the relatives of those killed in the blasts without adding anything substantive in terms of public knowledge.

It is evident Michael Hayes can throw greater light on the bombings than currently exists. But his contribution to the BBC broadcast was heat rather than light.

He is unlikely to be forthcoming for understandable reasons.

With the paralysis to truth recovery that is induced by a prosecutorial culture, encouraged more for recrimination than revelation, the chances for procuring a detailed account of what happened in Birmingham more than 40 years ago recede to the point of neither heat nor light - only darkness.

Dr Anthony McIntyre is a former IRA prisoner, journalist and co-founder of The Blanket, an online magazine that critically analysed the peace process. He blogs at thepensivequill.am

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