Belfast Telegraph

Lack of Government support drove me to brink of suicide, says Enniskillen bomb victim

By Mark Bain

A man caught up in the Enniskillen bomb 31 years ago has said the lack of action from the Government over securing compensation for IRA victims drove him to the brink of suicide.

Joe Holbeach was standing close to the Cenotaph in the Co Fermanagh town on Remembrance Sunday, November 8, 1987 when the IRA bomb exploded.

Eleven people died and many others were injured.

Now 69 and living in Lurgan, he suffers from health issues as a result of the bombing, including severe anxiety and depression, alcoholism, and has also attempted suicide.

Mr Holbeach said he still has nightmares and his struggle for justice only worsens them, though says he is "grateful for his life".

UK banks hold an estimated £12bn of Libyan funds after the UN ordered that they be frozen in 2011 to prevent their theft or misuse during the war that toppled Colonel Gaddafi.

Libyan Semtex was used in the Enniskillen bomb.

Mr Holbeach said he lives in hope that those frozen assets will one day be released to compensate UK victims of IRA terror, and said that though it may be too late for some who have already died, there are many more who deserve justice.

"The lack of action from the British Government - Blair, Brown, Cameron and now May - it drove me to try and take my life," he said.

The bomb was 31 years ago, but for Mr Holbeach it still feels like yesterday.

"It felt like meteorites flying in space all around me. All I could think was: 'I'm gonna die'," he said. "Everything just went dark and silent for a few minutes. I saw light and I went to it and all I saw was just debris and bodies everywhere."

To date he has received no more than £500 in compensation for his suffering.

He now works closely with the Docklands Victims' Association (DVA), which is campaigning to release the Libyan funds to compensation UK victims of terrorism sponsored by Gaddafi.

"We've been campaigning for justice for too long. It's all I ever wanted - justice," said Mr Holbeach. "How many people have to say they suffer from PTSD or commit suicide for someone help us get justice?

"We have been ignored for too long. I lost my wife, I lost a lot of sleep, I never really recovered. I have my life, thank God, that's all I really have, to be honest."

DVA president Jonathan Ganesh was seriously injured in the IRA London Docklands bomb in 1996. He has now written the United Nations seeking support for the campaign.

"On behalf of all the victims of the Troubles, we have asked the UN to immediately intervene in assisting the victims of Gaddafi sponsored terrorism in mainland GB, the Republic of Ireland and NI by releasing a percentage of Gaddafi's assets being held in the UK to his victims, many of whom are still suffering with severe physical and mental health conditions," Mr Ganesh said.

Mr Ganesh has also been critical of the DUP for what he said are broken promises over the release of the frozen assets.

"We have the DUP in a position where they are supporting the Tory Government, but as far as we can see they are not doing anything to help the process despite promises over the last number of years," he said.

"The Enniskillen bomb was one of the worst atrocities in Northern Ireland's history and it was right on the doorstep of Arlene Foster, yet her party is dragging its heels about any attempt to release the funds for people who need their support.

"These people and their relatives are still suffering and many have taken their own lives over the last few years."

But Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP rejected those claims. "We can't accept that criticism," he said. "This is international law we're dealing with and the assets belong to the Libyan people. It requires international agreement.

"The DUP are not and never were in a position to promise the funds would be released.

"But we will be meeting with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt at Westminster to press that the UK releases the compensation funds initially then seeks to recover them from Libya."

Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey has been pushing a Bill through Parliament in an attempt to release the assets.

Mr Ganesh said: "We have seen victims receive compensation and justice in America, Canada and France, yet in the UK we are still dragging our heels.

"This Bill has brought the issue to the fore again and we're thankful for that, and I will be urging MPs to support it.

"People like Joe Holbeach have been left in a terrible situation. I'm in no doubt the UK Government could do more to help these people, and the truth of why they're not will eventually come out."

There is considerable resistance in Libya to any use of the funds to compensate people in the UK. Instead, they say, the money belongs to the Libyan people and should be used to regenerate their country.

But Lord Empey said: "I fully accept that the money is primarily for the Libyan people. But I'm equally clear that they have a moral responsibility under international law to acknowledge that their former head of state harmed many people in this country through support for the IRA, via Semtex in particular."

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