The resolution of the Troubles and the peace that has been enjoyed since were not always as assured as it may now seem, on numerous occasions the peace process could have collapsed completely. On the 9th of February 1996 a massive Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) assault on the Docklands area of London almost achieved exactly this.
In the run up to the attack there was a relative sense of calm, the IRA’s 1994 ceasefire had been maintained for 17 months, however, political instability in the UK ensured proceedings were about to turn towards violence once again. The Downing Street Declaration that had kick started peace negotiations had allowed Sinn Féin (a political party associated with the IRA) to be involved in the process, provided the IRA adhered to the ceasefire. John Major’s government – under pressure from the Ulster Unionists – backtracked on this condition, instead demanding that the IRA must disarm completely. This enraged the IRA and was viewed as a direct call for them to surrender. On the 7th of February 1996, a modified Ford truck was transported all the way from Northern Ireland to Barking. On board the vehicle was the IRA’s response to the British government; a massive 3,000 pound fertiliser bomb which had been fitted with booster tubes containing an additional 10 lb of Semtex.
At 5 am on the 9th of February, the IRA parked their truck in South Quay. Before leaving the scene, the driver primed the explosive which had been fitted with a two-hour timer. Half an hour later an IRA spokesperson issued a statement to the Irish broadcasting network RTÉ, the message clearly outlined that the group intended to end their ceasefire at 6 pm. RTÉ were sceptical about the message and decided not to cover the story in their 6 o’clock bulletin, however, this should not have hindered evacuation attempts, the IRA also sent detailed coded messages to other outlets such as the offices of The Irish News.
Despite this, confusion reigned as authorities attempted to get to grips with the situation. Even though the evacuation attempt had started at 6 pm, plenty of people were still in the vicinity as the bomb exploded an hour later. The blast was devastating, a 32 foot wide and 10 foot deep crater was left in the place where the truck had been. Tragically, two people lost their lives while an additional 100 were injured, many suffering life altering injuries as a result of the bomb. The attack was condemned by the British and Irish governments but played some role in getting the UK back around the negotiating table, as Major’s government quickly dropped any talk of disarmament and talks resumed in June.
A small bronze coloured plaque dedicated to those caught up in the attack now sits between the entrances to the South Quay Station, a mere 80 yards away from the site that the IRA chose to detonate their bomb and send the city of London into chaos once more