Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Shankill bomb: Murderous week when Ulster was teetering on brink

The IRA wanted Johnny Adair dead – and what the Shankill bomb demonstrated was that they wanted him dead at any price.

That device carried into Frizzell's fishmongers was always going to mean civilian deaths.

Someone had calculated the cost in terms of the body count and let that IRA bombing mission involving Thomas Begley and Sean Kelly go ahead.

Nine days earlier, the IRA's intent was signalled in an interview published in the republican newspaper An Phoblacht.

The context of the period was a huge surge in loyalist violence – both by the UVF and the UDA-linked Ulster Freedom Fighters with Adair on the Shankill Road both a key figure and target.

On that loyalist surge, the IRA commented: "There is no hiding place for those involved with the loyalist death squads.

"We are determined to exact a price from them.

"Those involved with the loyalist death squads will be held accountable for their actions."

But, nine days later, it was men, women and children who died.

The bomb carried into the fishmongers resulted in the slaughter of civilians on that Saturday afternoon. And however that attack is dressed up and presented, that was always going to be the result.

In the same block of buildings, above Frizzell's, there was an office used by the UDA.

In my reporting in that period of the early '90s, I had visited that office many times; had met Adair there and other senior loyalist figures – Jim Spence, Billy McFarland, Alex Kerr, Joe English, Gary Matthews, Tom Reid and Ray Smallwoods.

It wasn't just a meeting place for the local UDA but for that organisation's so-called 'inner council'. But, on the Saturday of the bomb, it was empty.

As I stood on the Shankill watching the rescue operation, I saw English and Adair.

October 1993 was one of those periods when this place walked to the very edge.

Between the 23rd and 30th of that bloody month, 24 people lost their lives – a week that began with the Shankill bomb and ended in the shootings at the pub at Greysteel.

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