The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1996Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Comments on the Manchester Bomb – 15 June 1996

Below is the text of Mr Major’s account, from his book, John Major – The Autobiography, relating to the Manchester bombings.


Confounding the sceptics, we were able to hold elections in 30 May [1996]. Having wavered over a boycott, Sinn Fein not only took part, but recorded its best-ever result, with over 15 per cent of the vote (against 24 per cent for Trimble’s UUP [Ulster Unionist Party], 21 per cent for Hume’s SDLP [Social Democratic and Labour Party] and nearly 19 per cent for Paisley’s DUP [Democratic Unionist Party]). Pundits were divided over whether Sinn Fein’s vote was an endorsement of the IRA’s bombing campaign or an encouragement for them to call another ceasefire and join the negotiating forum. The IRA gave their answer when they demolished the centre of Manchester with a massive bomb on 15th June [1996], only days after the opening of the all-party talks under George Mitchell’s chairmanship. They were evidently not applying for admission. John Bruton hardened his stance, and demanded an unconditional and irrevocable ceasefire before they could enter.

The Manchester bomb, deliberately placed in a crowded city centre, injured two hundred people and provoked deep revulsion. It confirmed that the IRA was stuck in a groove. Even more depressing in its political message was a reversion to wider sectarianism during the July-August marching season, despite the talks. As in 1995, Drumcree was against the flashpoint. To avoid clashes, the Chief Constable of the RUC Hugh Annesley routed an Orange Order march away from the Catholic Garvaghy Road. This decision provoked a risk of even greater violence, and had to be reversed. The reversal then triggered riots, and heightened tension between the two communities over several weeks.