BUILD UP TO THE SUMMER OF ’69
‘The Summer of 69′ was not to be the rhapsodic episode as described in the song of the name – not in Northern Ireland at least. In 1969 Many of the people of Derry had attacked the RUC. The Bogside is the western part of the city of Derry and was almost entirely Roman Catholic by denomination and nationalist in political character. Many Bogsiders felt very alienated from the Government of Northern Ireland.
Through the spring and early summer of 1969 a number of bombs went off in Northern Ireland – particularly in the east. A bomb at the Silent Valley Reservoir cut off the water supply to Belfast. These explosion were widely assumed to be the work of the IRA. In fact the IRA had few members in those areas where these blasts occurred. But that did not allay suspicion. The IRA would want to bomb Protestant areas. Protestant Unionists claimed this was proof positive that O’Neill had lost the plot. His softness and his reforms had merely served to encouraged the IRA. Paisley’s slogan ”O’Neill must go” was taken up by more and more unionists. O’Neill had had about two-thirds of his MPs on his side for his reformist stance. By the middle of 1969 he commanded the loyalty of barely half of his parliamentary party. The rising tide of violence and the growing popularity of the Protestant Unionist Party had UUP members jittery. Brain Faulkner a UUP politician resigned from the Cabinet of Northern Ireland in protest. He felt that O’Neill’s reforms had gone too far. He may also have calculated that O’Neill would be forced to resign soon and Faulkner wished to position himself to take on the Prime Ministership when and if this happened. Faulkner said that O’Neill had been capitulating to nationalist pressure and this policy needed to be instantly abandoned.
Captain O’Neill called an election to the Parliament of Northern Ireland. The UUP survived as the largest party but had its majority much reduced. The Protestant Unionist Party made major advances – having some from nowhere. Terence O’Neill had faced Rev. Iain Paisley standing against him in his family seat. Terence O’Neill narrowly scraped home. It was a personal humiliation. O’Neill claimed that many Roman Catholics had voted for him. The poor election result, growing opposition to reform in his own party and the bombing campaign fatally undermined O’Neill.
The bombs that had been set off were in fact laid by the UVF. The UVF correctly surmised that these explosions would be assumed to be the doing of the IRA. The IRA saw no reason to disclaim these bombings.
Finally O’Neill resigned on 1 May.Loyalists were delighted. In his Autobiography O’Neill said he was ”blown from office.” Incidentally it is notable how episodic O’Neill’s Autobiography. Lord O’Neill of the Maine wrote them out by long hand in a school copy book and then posted them off to be typed up which is why there is a regular hiatus in the narrative.
Paisley and the UVF assumed that the reformist movement had been derailed. They were jubilant. Paisley was a household name. He seemed to be on the up and up.
The UUP moved to elect a new leader who would then be appointed Prime Minister by the Governor of Northern Ireland. Sir James Chichester Clark and Brian Faulkner stood for the leadership. Terence O’Neill cast the deciding vote in favour of Chichester Clark – the more moderate of the two candidates. The UUP selected Sir James Chichester Clark. It is often said that Sir James was the cousin of Terence O’Neill. Sir James Chichester Clark and Terence O’Neill were related but were distant cousins and not first cousins as is sometimes wrongly imagined. Chichester Clark was the descendant of 17th century English immigrants to Ireland. He had regularly visited the South of Ireland especially for the Dublin Horse Show held at the Royal Dublin Society. Such visits to the Republic were now out of the question due to rising tensions. A wedge had been driven between unionists and nationalists.
Chichester Clark was cut from the same cloth as O’Neill. He too was from an upper class family and had attended Eton before serving as an officer in the Irish Guards regiment of the British Army. Faulkner fumed that he was denied the leadership because he came from a mere middle class family in County Down although it was a very rich one – employing 3 000 people in a shirt factory. Faulkner had spent the Second World War managing the shirt factory and his lack of military service counted against him. Faulkner had attended school in Dublin – St Columba’s -and was seen as suspect by some in the Wee North. He also spoke a smattering of Irish.
Chichester Clark spoke with a public school accent like O’Neill before him. His cut glass accent carried authority among the more deferential Unionists. But others hearkened more to the unmistakably Ulster tones of Paisely. He also intended to carry on reformist policies. Local government elections were to be conducted on the basis of the vote for all men and women of the age of 18 whether they were householders or not. Brian Faulkner had posed as leader of the hardline faction within the UUP. He wished to return to the Cabinet. Chichester Clarke was committed to seeing through extensive reform. Faulkner found a face-saving formula to allow him to return to the Cabinet of Northern Ireland. He said that whilst he had opposed reform of the voting system for local elections he accepted that changes that had been made could not be reversed. He accepted one person one vote and would not seek to return to the old system. This lost Faulkner kudos among loyalist hardliners. He was trimming.
As the marching season approached people held their breath with trepidation. The marching season was sure to see a major outbreak of violence.
August 1969 is often taken as the month when the Troubles exploded.
In April 1969 the RUC were involved in some controversial actions in the Bogside of Derry. One man Sam Devenny was beaten by the RUC with batons and later died from his injuries. A judge, Lord Cameron, heavily criticised the RUC as being ill-disciplined and poorly led.
In August 1969 an Apprentice Boys march took place in Derry. The Derry Citizens’ Defence Association (DCDA) had been formed. IRA men were among its leaders. A Catholic eccentric rushed into the Guildhall and took the mayor’s chair and announced that he was the First Citizen. Clashes broke out between the DCDA and the Apprentice Boys. The RUC intervened against the DCDA. Petrols bombs were thrown at the police. Many nationalists attacked the RUC and they withdrew from the Bogside. This became known as the Battle of the Bogside. The IRA put up barricades along the streets allowing access to and exit from the Bogside. Very few Bogsiders had cars. It was possible to enter and exit the Bogside only on foot. The IRA controlled these entrance points. Any stanger was stopped questions and frisked lest he be a spy or plain clothes police officer. The people of the Bogside were also worried about loyalist attackers. In the 1920s loyalist brutes had come to the west side of Derry to shoot unarmed Catholics. The IRA had unilaterally created their own realm in the Bogside. The Home Secretary, James Callaghan visited Derry. The DCDA allowed him in but only without any police or army. He spoke to residents. The DCDA was somewhat reassured and some barricades were removed. That Callaghan could do this was astounding. Within a year such a move would be utterly impossible and the people of the Bogside were for the most part very alienated from the British Government.
The RUC seemed to see Catholic dominated vigilante groups as suspect but did not seem to regard Protestant dominated vigilantes that way.
In Belfast sectarian fighting broke out. Loyalists mobs attacked Catholic areas in large numbers. Hundreds of Catholic houses were burnt out. Catholic ex-Servicemen from the British military formed vigilante groups to try to protect their homes from loyalist thuggery. There were republicans who attacked Protestant areas and Protestant houses were burnt down but much fewer than in the case of Catholic houses being set on fire. This is partly because the IRA was on the defensive because it was outnumbered and was responding to the situation and not creating it. It may also be because the IRA was less sectarian than the UVF. The Roman Catholics comprised something like 25% of the city’s population but had suffered about 90% of the burnt out houses. It was often a case that Catholic family in a Protestant area would be forced out by death threats on the phone or in the post – grafitti and smashed windows. They would be insulted on the street and stared at menacingly. People would accuse them of being in the IRA.
The house burnings happened on such a large scale that they must have been organised. Soon there were thousands of internally displaced people within Northern Ireland.
The 3 000 strong RUC was much too small to control the situation even with the backup of the 12 000 strong B Specials. RUC officers were exhausted after battling street fighting for days on end. One RUC officer said he had to tie himself to a lamppost with his belt to stop himself from collapsing. Republicans excoriated Northern Ireland as being a ”police state” but in fact there were very few police in relation to the size of population. The IRA realised that they could soon exhaust the RUC by keeping them on duty indefinitely. The Government was compelled to keep making them police were overtime.
The government in Great Britain saw that the situation was spiralling out of control. The RUC was hopelessly overstretched and nationalists were becoming increasingly hostile to the RUC. The British Army had always been in Northern Ireland since it was part of the UK. However, the number of troops was small. Harold Wilson considered whether to send troops onto the streets of Northern Ireland primarily to protect the Catholics from loyalist terrorism. The Government of Northern Ireland was eager for this to happen but wished to have control of the Army. Harold Wilson refused this saying that the army was for the whole of the United Kingdom and must be controlled by the UK Government and not the government of only one small part of the UK. The Northern Irish Government accepted.
The Labour Government decided to dispatch thousands more soldiers to Northern Ireland to deal with the street disorder. Many Roman Catholics initially welcomed the British Army as their saviours from loyalist terrorism. Some nationalists denounced the IRA for failing to defend them and daubed on walls ”IRA= I ran away”. The loyalist attacks on Catholic houses were on such a large-scale that they were presumably organised. The UVF seems the most likely body to do this. Perhaps their goal was to scare as many Roman Catholics as possible into fleeing. The UVF also wanted to destroy any hope of political reform. A Catholic was a likely nationalist voter. The more Catholics who emigrated the lower the chances that Northern Ireland would ever leave the UK. Some UVF men felt that most Catholics were IRA supporters. If Catholics could be frightened enough they would undermine the IRA rather than dare let the IRA provoke the UVF.
Jack Lynch had taken over as Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland in 1967 at the age of 50. He belonged to the same party as his predecessor – the Fianna Fail Party. Fianna Fail was a hardline nationalist party. Pipe smoking Lynch had visited O’Neill and had brough O’Neill to Dublin for talks back in 1967. However, the policy of conciliation was hard to sustain. A high majority of people in the South of Ireland wanted the North to join them in a republic. There was considerable sympathy for the IRA. Barrister Lynch was under great pressure from within his own party to do something. There was little Corkonian Lynch could do to ameliorate the situation and much he could do to exacerbate it. He went on television and said the RUC was ”no longer accepted as an impartial force” this is notable for implying that it had been accepted as impartial before. He said that the British Army was ”not acceptable” to maintain public order. Lynch raised the Northern Ireland issue in the United Nations and called for UN troops to settle the situation. Lynch set up field hospitals along the border to treat the wounded.
Lynch ordered the Irish Army to secretly draw up a plan to invade Northern Ireland. It was called Operation Armageddon. It was well named. Armageddon is the last battle before the end of the world in the Bible. The 12 000 man Irish Army would attack and take over nationalist areas. The Irish Army would be welcome by the IRA and most of the nationalist populace. The Irish Army would link up with the IRA and collaborate with them. The planners pointed out most of the army was not combat ready and had weapons far out of date. The British Army was almost 200 000 strong although only a tenth of this was in Northern Ireland – reinforcements could soon be called in. The Irish Army Air Corps consisted of 6 combat aircraft. The Royal Air Force though had almost 1 000 combat aircraft. The plan concluded that such an attack was certain to be defeated. ”It is militarily unsound” said a confidential Irish Army report.
In 2007 a documentary was made called ”If Lynch had invaded.” It looked at a counterfactual scenario and considered what would have happened if this plan had been put into action. The diplomatic fallout would have been horrendous with planned European Economic COmmunity membership scuppered and the UN condemning the Irish Republic for aggression against a friendly neighbour. It would have poured fuel on the flames. The IRA would have come out into the open to attack. The loyalist terrorist backlash probably would have been far worse than anything that transpired with hundreds of Catholics slaughtered within weeks. The prospect of a diplomatic solution between the UK and Irish Republic would have been ruined. The cause of reform in Northern Ireland would have been set back by years. Jack Lynch very wisely chose not to go ahead with the plan. To do so would have played into the hands of the most extreme loyalists.
Nevertheless the IRA got the idea that the Irish Army would come to their aid. Many people in Derry really believed this. ”The Irish Army is coming to save us!” they cheered.
LONDON TAKES THE LEAD
The Home Secretary James Callaghan went to Northern Ireland and visited nationalist areas. He spoke to people and listened to their concerns. He was received very politely. Two years later a British Home Secretary would not have been able to do so. It would have cost him his life.
The Prime Minister Harold Wilson insisted on major and immediate reform in Northern Ireland – giving NICRA everything it wanted. He was at pains to declare, ”the border is not an issue.” He was trying to allay unionist fears that London would push Northern Ireland into joining the Republic of Ireland. Wilson’s argument to unionists was that treating Roman Catholics far from enfeebling the Union would set it in stone. The UK Government commissioned a judge, Lord Hunt, to inquire into the Royal Ulster Constabulary above all the B Specials. Lord Hunt set to work.
The IRA armed in the autumn of 1969. IRA men who had hidden guns decades ago dug them up and handed them in. A number were brought to the Sinn Fein offices in Dublin.
The IRA were felt by some to have failed in their primary goal – to protect Catholic areas. Why were they not to protect Protestant areas? This was because they had no Protestant support and indeed they attacked Protestants. The IRA split.
The Provisional IRA was set up. It was more traditionally ultra-nationalist and Catholic in outlook. It saw conquering Northern Ireland as its goal. Provisional Sinn Fein was its political incarnation. The younger and more pugnacious element were attracted to this faction.
The Official IRA was a smaller group. It was Marxist in attitude. It believed that the working class must be united first – Catholic and Protestant. Only then could Northern Ireland be wrenched away from the UK. Official Sinn Fein was the political face of the Official IRA. The Official IRA attracted some older and more moderate members, the thinking men. They were aware how violence had failed so badly before.
In time they PIRA was known as the Provisionals or Provos. They attached their Easter lilies to their lapels with pins and became known as Pinnies. The Official IRA became known as Stickies or Sticks because they used gum to stick their Easter lilies to their lapels. From here on IRA means the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein means Provisional Sinn Fein.
The Official IRA said they wished to defend Roman Catholic areas. The Provisional IRA said they wanted to do this and go on the attack against the RUC and British Army.
THE ARMS TRIAL
The Irish Government set aside 100 000 Irish pounds to help refugees from the North. Some Roman Catholics fled South because their houses had been set alight by loyalists terrorists. It was alleged that some of this money was diverted to buy guns for the IRA.
In 1970 Charles Haughey and another Fianna Fail Cabinet minister were accused of illegally importing arms to give to the IRA. An Irish Army officer was also involved. Jack Lynch insisted that Haughey and his colleague resign from the Cabinet until they stood trial. The Arms Trial went ahead with both ministers pleading not guilty. They were acquitted. Haughey was born in Tyrone and had moved South as a baby. He had many cousins in Northern Ireland. He was reputed to have burned the Union Flag in Dublin on VE Day (Victory in Europe Day) – the day that the Third Reich surrendered to the Allies. Admittedly this was supposed to be in response to pro-British undergraduates at Trinity College Dublin hoisting the Union Flag.
Although Haughey was acquitted some people still believe he was guilty. In the eyes of some nationalists this only improved his reputation. One Catholic nationalist from Dublin told the author that Haughey was right to send guns to the North, ”people were being murdered up there.” People were being killed there by the IRA as well as the UVF. Sending guns, in the long run, made things much worse but perhaps this was not clear at the time.
Lord Hunt reported on the RUC in 1970. He found that there was not one Roman Catholic in the B Specials and recommended the disbandment of the B Specials. The B Specials was not trained for public order situations as there had been so few until the late 1960s. It was ill-equipped and ill -lead. He said that the RUC needed to do a lot to win the confidence of the Roman Catholic community especially recruiting more officers from that community. He recommended that the RUC be disarmed. The RUC was disarmed.
In June 1970 the Labour Government in the UK suffered a surprise election defeat. The Conservative government assumed office under the new Prime Minister Edward Heath. Unionists seemed pleased. They remembered that the full name of Heath’s party was the Conservative and Unionist Party. The Conservatives had traditionally been more sympathetic to the Unionist position than the Labour Party had been. The Conservatives emphasised British national identity and strong defence as key policies. Both were highly attractive to Ulster Unionists.
There was an ever-increasing number of sectarian attacks. Relations between the British Army and the Roman Catholic community started to break down. It was felt that it was wrong to have a force that was a quasi gendarmerie. In 1970 the B Specials were abolished. The Ulster Defence Regiment was created instead, The UDR was recruited only in Northern Ireland and its soldiers served part-time and worked at civilian jobs part-time. They patrolled the roads and towns and their main role was counter-terrorism. The UDR was part of the Army. It was meant to fulfill the role of the B Special which had been quasi-military as the B Specials was conceived as a primarily counter-insurgent force. The UDR initially had a significant number of Catholic recruits – nowhere near the 35% that was the figure for Catholics in the general population but still a respectable 10% or so. The UDR included some men such as Ken Maginnis who had come straight from the UDR. However, soon the UDR’s shiny new bicommunal image was tarnished. Soon only 3% of its members were Catholics.
The SDLP withdrew support for the UDR. Too many UDR men had turned out to be dual members of loyalist terrorist bands. Furthermore, there were many complaints from Catholics about being mistreated by UDR patrols and road blocks.
Application forms were sent to all former B Specials. The head of the B Specials in every county then became the head of the UDR in the same county. Not all B Specials chose to join the UDR. The flood of Catholic recruits at the beginning was partly because the Royal Irish Fusiliers had been disbanded only in 1968 and many former soldiers of this mostly Catholic outfit joined en masse. As the UDR came under attack from the IRA and vilification in the nationalist community most Catholics in UDR resigned or simply ceased to present themselves for duty. The idea of it being a cross-community force became a dead letter. Some UDR men were also members of loyalist terrorist outfits. Some UDR soldiers stole weapons from UDR armouries and these firearms formed the nucleus of the arsenals of the UVF and UDA. UDR soldiers who were thought to be at high risk of being killed while off duty were allowed to keep personal sidearms for their protection.
The now disarmed RUC became vulnerable to attacks from the IRA. Police forces in the rest of the UK were no armed at the time and the idea had been to make them more of a conventional police force. The Garda Siochana in the Irish Republic was also unarmed. The IRA had previously had some qualms about killing unarmed people – they had still done it but just not often. In 1970 the IRA took advantage of the fact that the RUC were no longer armed and murdered several of them. One IRA man recalling the 1950s campaign said they failed because ”we had too many scruples.” Such moral scruples were all abandoned. The RUC had to be rearmed.
One of the leading lights of the IRA at this time was Sean MacStiofain. He had been born John Stephens in England. He was only a quarter Irish but nevertheless thought of himself as Irish. He served in the RAF Regiment and drifted into militant republican circles in his 20s. MacStiofain advocated killing RUC officers. When the first two were murdered he suddenly regretted it, ”what will their wives do?” His compassion was soon to evaporate.
The Army started to search houses in Catholic areas for hidden guns and bombs. Most Catholics strongly disliked this. In May 1970 a major search operation was launched in the Catholic district of Belfast, the Falls Road. Republicans were to dub this the Rape of the Falls. People were put under curfew in the evening while it was still bright. Loud hailers informed them not to go out. Tear gas was in the air. Some British soldiers especially those from Scots regiments were thought to have loyalist sympathies. A few British soldiers were accused of vandalising Catholic houses and destroying holy pictures. Many Catholics felt alienated from the British military. Up until then it had not been unusual for Catholics in the North to volunteer for the British military.
Sir James Chichester Clark put out an appeal on TV for people to inform on the IRA. ”I say this quite irrespective of religion or class”, he said in his plummy tones. He allowed people to leave their houses ”to fulfill their religious obligations.”
THE MODERATES LEAVE THE UUP.
Moderate unionists were unhappy with the direction that the UUP was talking. Those who had supported Terence O’Neill’s reforms were dismayed that this reform process had been sabotaged by loyalist reaction and even terrorism. Reform-minded unionists left the UUP and founded the New Ulster Movement.
The New Ulster Movement is perhaps best described as being pro-Union rather than unionist. The New Ulster Movement wanted Northern Ireland to be part of the UK but felt that this was best achieved by major reform. Reform of the RUC, reform of the local government voting system, redrawing electoral boundaries and anti-discrimination legislation. The New Ulster Movement felt that a big effort needed to be made to mend community relations and that Northern Ireland must build a much more amicable relationship with the Republic of Ireland. This was the way to a happier future for everyone in Northern Ireland and the only way to defeat terrorism. Smashing the IRA could not come through the use of force alone. They did not seem to consider that accommodating nationalist opinion would inflame the problem with loyalist terrorists in the shape of the UVF who were hellbent on scuppering any reform. Meaningful concessions must be made to nationalists.
The New Ulster Movement changed its name to the Alliance Party. It did all it could to gain support from both denominations. It alternated leaders – one Catholic followed by one Protestant followed by one Catholic and so on. Its support base is largely middle class. It takes a very considered view of matters and does not engage in tub thumping. As Blair said, ”they were totally reasonable people which is why they had absolutely no chance of winning an election.”
The Alliance Party was headed by an upper class former Ulster Unionist MP – Hon. Phelim O’Neill, a relative of Terence O’Neill. Stratton Mills and Basil MacIvor were also UUP politicians who joined. Some NILP people joined too.
The Alliance Party was too moderate to do well. It did not emphasise identity politics which was they key to success in Ulster politics. Its members were denounced as Lundys by hardline unionists. With a rising tide of violence the easy and tempting thing to do was to get furious and talk in violent terms. The harder and nobler thing was to be restrained and to speak of reconciliation. The Alliance Party eschewed simplistic analyses and sloganising. Its convoluted explanation of the situation was more truthful but did not play well in an ever more polarised scene. The other factions were becoming increasingly partisan.
In August 1970 Rev. Ian Paisley founded a new political party – the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The DUP had a membership that was solely Protestant and was avowedly loyalist. The DUP opposed ANY concessions to nationalist opinion and ANY rapprochement with the Republic of Ireland. The DUP appeared to think that the Troubles was entirely the fault of the Catholics especially the Catholic Church. The DUP argued that the Catholic Church encouraged the IRA. The DUP claimed that all the reforms of the 1960s had been terrible mistakes. The DUP was determined to torpedo further reform. Their strident and alarmist rhetoric raised the temperature appreciable.
The same month that the DUP was launched a new loyalist paramilitary outfit was formed. It was called the Ulster Defence Association. Various defence associations had been founded by Protestant civilians in different areas of Belfast and the countryside. In Belfast there was the Shankill Defence association and the Woodville Defence Association. These defence association banded together to form the UDA. The UDA appealed to those who were obdurate loyalists. The UDA’s motto was ”law before violence”. The UDA paraded in uniform but at least officially had no weapons. The UDA said it was made up of responsible citizens who were doing their bit to help the security forces – they would alert the security forces if they say IRA movement. The UDA did not seem to be troubled by loyalist terrorism. Protestant men patrolled their streets with whistles at night ready to challenge and question strangers. They did this with the blessing of the British Army. The UDA designed its own coat of arms and had on it the words ”quis separabit” – Latin for ”who will separate us?” This had been the motto of many Irish regiments in the British Army.
The UDA began going around in uniforms and giving themselves uniforms and ranks. They viewed Catholics with suspicion. Catholic men were often stopped by them and put up against a wall and patted down. Every Catholic was seen by them as a possible IRA man. Catholics began to feel it unsafe to live in Protestant majority areas. The UDA marched down streets and often carried cudgels. Some Catholics were threatened or had their property vandalised. A family’s cat would go missing and then its hat would turn up on the doorstep. Their would be graffiti in the house, the tyres of the car would be slashed, their would be hate mail, there would be phone calls in the middle of the night and a brick through the window. Vandalising property also indicated that next time it would not be a window that was smashed but a person.
The UDA often wore parkas with furry hoods. This made them resemble wombles – imaginary creatures from a popualr childrens’ television show in the 1970s. The Wombles of Wimbledon. The UDA became known as Wombles by some – it was affectionate. The UDA sometimes paraded with bandanas over their face and dark glasses even on an overcast day. This hid their identities but also made them more menacing – as the Russian Army knows. Hiding the face makes someone scarier.
The UDA was a rival to the UVF. The UDA was a private outfit – it had no link to the government. A number of UDA members engaged in sectarian murders. The UDA murders were claimed in phone calls to media outlets. UDA members would say the body that had carried out the murders was ”the Ulster Freedom Fighters.” Sometimes they claimed their sectarian murders in phonecalls to the media with the name of ”the Protestant Reaction Force.”
A Protestant man of moderate opinion known to the author was involved in the UDA. He simply saw it as being helpful to his community. All he did was patrol his street for an hour a night armed only with a whistle to blow if there was an intruder. After his shift was over he handed over to another neighbour so all through the night there was someone keeping watch. ”It was with the Army’s blessing” his wife explained. The idea was to stop the IRA coming onto the street to kill people.
The UVF wore black uniforms with white belts. The UDA sometimes disdainfully called the UVF ‘blacknecks’. The UVF sometimes pejoratively called the UDA ‘Japs’ – ”because they came at you in waves.” The UVF was a more elite organisation in that it was more violent and at the beginning had a high proportion of its members with military backgrounds. The UVF was more aggressive in its attitude towards Catholics. The UDA as its name suggests was more defensive. Both started out with a loyalist sectarian mentality. This was due to degenerate into sheer gangsterism covered by a few political slogans.
The loyalist terrorist organisations had some support from groups in Great Britain. Neo-Nazi groups backed the loyalist criminals. In the Lowlands of Scotland in particular loyalists supported their kindred in Northern Ireland. Some men in quarry pilfered explosives to hand to their friends in terrorist groups in Northern Ireland. In Independent Orange Order (which is not the same as the Orange Order) allowed fundraising for terrorist organisations. Rangers football hooligans in Glasgow often chanted ”U-U-UVF, U-U-UVF” at matches.
Men in Great Britain who were sympathetic towards loyalism assisted the UDA and the UVF. Some miners and construction workers stole explosives from their workplaces and gave them to their contacts in the loyalist terrorist organisations. Money was also raised.
The UVF took the Orange Order’s Flag and inverted it – an orange star on a purple field instead of the other way around. Both have the cross of St George in the ensign.
In 1970 moderate nationalists got together and formed the Social Democratic and Labour Party. They had discussed another ordering of the words but feared being the LSD Party. The fact that they had the same name as the Bolsheviks was only a coincidence.
The SDLP was formed out of elements of the Nationalist Party, the NILP, Republican Labour and a tiny nationalist group called the National Democrats. The SDLP was moderately left-wing and was committed to Northern Ireland joining the Republic of Ireland. The SDLP opposed IRA terrorism. The SDLP also opposed loyalist murderers and was very critical of the conduct of the security forces. The SDLP wished to achieve a united Ireland through exclusively peaceful means. It did sometimes encourage civil disobedience.
The SDLP stressed its non-sectarian credentials. It always had some Protestant members. It said that the root cause of the conflict was injustice especially sectarianism. The SDLP worked closley with the Irish Government. The SDLP said it was willing to speak to unionist parties any time.
John Hume, the Derry MP, became leader of the SDLP. Gerry Fitt, a Belfast MP, was another prominent member. Paddy Devlin joined thew SDLP. Devlin had been in Fianna Eireann (the IRA youth wing) in the 1940s and had been interned in the Second World War. He had long since renounced republican views. Paddy Devlin had been in the NILP. There was always some debate in the SDLP as to whether it was primarily a social democract party or and Irish nationalist one. Dr Joe Hendron, a West Belfast GP, also became a politician in the SDLP.
The SDLP took the oath of allegiance to the queen of the United Kingdom as a matter of expediency. This allowed them to sit in Stormont and in time in the Westminster Parliament.
John Hume preached against violence. His grandfather had been a Scots Protestant migrant to Ireland who had converted to Roman Catholicism. John Hume’s father had served in the British and then in the Irish Army. Hume’s father had suffered years of unemployment despite his years of military service. Hume had grown up in Derry and studied at Maynooth – the most illustrious college for training Catholic priests in Ireland. John Hume decided he could not lead a celibate life and chose not to be ordained. Instead he became a teacher of French and History. He started a credit union and became involve in moderate nationalist politics and NICRA. Although he was nationalist he was mildly so – ”you cannot eat a flag” his father told him. John Hume concentrated on tackling poverty. Hume wanted a united Ireland but was consistent in deploring republican violence. He said that it would not work and indeed was counter-productive, hardening unionists attitudes and causing loyalist terrorism. He said republican terrorism could never bring a truly united Ireland. Ireland united must be one of united hearts and minds and violence caused acrimonious division. Hume and the SDLP withheld support from the RUC and Army because they said that these forces were sectarian and too heavy handed.
THE IRA BEGINS TO TARGET THE ARMY.
Gun battles between the IRA and the British Army broke out. The first soldier to be shot dead was Gunner Richard Curtis. He was the first soldier to be killed in Ireland since 1924 when the IRA had machinegunned some soldiers at the Royal Naval Base at Haulbowline Island in Country Cork. Since then the IRA had been slaying RUC men. The IRA volunteer who killed Curtis was himself fatally shot a few weeks later. Superstitious people were agog that he was killed on Curtis Street.
In March 1971 three young off-duty soldiers were socializing in a Belfast pub. Two of the three were brothers. They were invited to a party where they were assured that pliant young ladies were be in plentiful supply. These three soldiers were lured into the countryside by the IRA and shot dead. This had a great impact on British public opinion. Sympathy for the Catholic community was eroding in Great Britain. The IRA was proving itself more ruthless. Prior to that the IRA had seldom shot unarmed people but it was to become their standard modus operandi. The triple murder was particularly keenly felt in Scotland where sympathy for loyalists was stronger than in England and Wales. The three dead youths had all been from Scotland and all under 20. Nationalists had seen enough of their people killed not to be too moved by these three more deaths.
In April 1971 Sir James Chichester Clark flew to London to meet the Prime Minister of the UK – Edward Heath. Chichester Clark made the point strongly – the security situation was deteriorating rapidly and more soldiers were needed as a matter of urgency. Heath said he would send an additional 1 300 men. Chichester Clark said that this was very insufficient and threatened to resign if his demand was not met. It was not met and later that month Chichester Clark handed in his resignation to the Governor of Northern Ireland. Heath pleaded with Sir James Chichester Clark to reconsider. Sir James refused. He was a man of his word. He was ennobled as Lord Moyola.
The UUP had to select a new leader. Brian Faulkner was elected defeating William Craig. Faulkner became Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. Faulkner was the first Prime Minister to speak with an Ulster accent although it was mild and middle class.
REFORM IN THE REPUBLIC
Liberals such as Mary Robinson had campaigned for the constitution to be amended and references to the Catholic Church deleted. They wanted this on its own merits but also as a concession to Protestant feeling especially in the North. Paisley had said he would regard the South, ”in a different light if it did so.”
The Republic of Ireland held a a referendum and the ”special position of the Catholic Church” was removed from the constitution. There was no improvement in the loyalist attitude towards the Republic. The laws against contraception were eased but divorce was still forbidden. Despite the constitutional change Paisely and his followers did not seemed to be at all mollified.
In August 1971 it was decided that internment must be introduced. It had been used in the 1920s, the 1940s and the 1950s. It had always been successful in reducing terrorism greatly. The Irish Government had also had internment in the 1940s and 1950s and this had been a runaway success. However, on previous occasions it had been introduced across the whole of Ireland simultaneously. The Cabinet of Northern Ireland discussed the issue. It was pointed out that loyalist terrorism was as big a problem as republican terrorism. Shouldn’t loyalist suspects be interned too? The trouble was the loyalist terrorist organisations were so new that little was known about them. The loyalists tended to murder Catholics at random. The IRA tended to attack the Army or police which required much more planning. The IRA was far more organised than the UVF. The IRA was therefore easier to identify. The RUC had little experience in combating loyalist terrorism and had scant information on the UVF. Although interning UVF men was desirable from a public relations point of view as well as in the interests of protecting the Catholic population it was noted that the Government could not intern people just to make up the numbers. Who should be interned? The RUC had very few UVF members on its files. In the end it was decided only to intern republicans at that stage. This was a grave misjudgment in terms of public relations as well as in security terms.
The RUC’s files on the IRA were rather out of date. There had been a rush of people joining the IRA in the heightened sectarian atmosphere of the post 1969 Troubles. Sometimes the RUC would only be able to identify an IRA man as ”a young man” at such and such an address. This description could apply to several people at the address.
On Sunday 4 August at dawn RUC and Army units raided hundreds of addresses across Northern Ireland. About 500 suspects were brought in for questioning. The RUC soon realised that the drag net had brought in many people who were not wanted. Sometimes a father and son had the same name and the wrong one had been arrested. Some elderly men had not been active in the IRA for decades. Some were said to think it a great accolade to be considered a threat to the UK when a geriatric. Within 2 days half the suspects were released.
The IRA would remember this event with the song ‘The Men Behind the Wire’ – ”armoured cars and tanks and guns came to take away our sons…. we must all stand behind the men behind the wire.”
Some detainees were abused. They were hooded and sometimes put in stress positions. They were subjected to white noise for hours. 4 men took their case to the European Court of Human Rights with the Irish Government’s backing. They won a case against the UK of torture. The UK appealed this and the ECHR amended its finding. The word torture had not been right as the mistreatment was not drastic enough to warrant the word torture. These men were abused though.
The internees were not charged with a crime. They were held in a former RAF base called Long Kesh. The IRA detainees were given wooden huts to live in. The IRA suspects often proved they were in the IRA. They paraded with IRA flags and had an Officer Commanding who dealt with the British Army who were acting as guards at the internment camp. The IRA were held behind barbed wire hence the expression ‘the men behind the wire.’ The Prison Service was not involved in running Long Kesh at that time.
In time some loyalists were interned. However, 95% of those interned were republican suspects.
The principal aim of internment had been to reduce the level of violence. It was a colossal failure. Much of the IRA had anticipated internment and had gone into hiding. Those who were lifted usually only played a bit part in the IRA. In the past internment had been introduced throughout Ireland. Relations between the Republic of Ireland the UK were so bad that the Republic of Ireland refused to co-operate. Unionists became suspicious that Dublin was sympathetic towards the IRA.
In its objective of getting the death toll down internment was at first a spectacular failure. It boomeranged enormously. It could be argued that the death rate was rising anyway and had it not been for this intervention then it would have risen even faster. In the midterm internment did contribute to reducing the number of fatalities.
THE REACTION TO INTERNMENT.
The number of killings rose dramatically after August 1971. The IRA would take their guns and head out in search of soldiers to shoot. The UVF and UDA killed Roman Catholics at will. The army confronted stone throwing republican youths in Belfast and Derry on an almost daily basis. The republican rioters would often throw petrol bombs. The soldiers would have riot shields and batons. Occasionally some soldiers would be in trainers rather than boots – their duty was to run forward from the shield wall and grab stone throwers for arrest. The soldiers were accused of grabbing any youth and then he would be charged with riotous affray.
The Army in Derry would go along to the queue outside the benefits office and arrest youths whom it said were part of the Derry Young Hooligans. Soldiers claimed to recognise suspects from many previous running battles. Some Derrymen said that the soldiers were arrested young men more or less at random.
Nationalists of all shades protested against internment. They denounced it as against civil liberties but also discriminatory against Roman Catholics. The MP for Derry, John Hume, went on a hunger strike outside Downing Street in protest against internment. He soon gave that up. Many of his constituents were interned and he was under massive pressure from people in Derry to stand firm. The SDLP boycotted local council elections. This led to Unionists winning previously secure nationalist seats.
The author met a man who had been a British Army interrogator at the beginning of internment. He said they used stress positions and hooding. Blindfolded suspects were put into helicopters and flown 1 000 m up. They were then told they would be shoved out. They were shoved out but by this time the chopper was 1 m off the ground. A suspect could end up a nervous wreck. The interrogators were not allowed to hit the suspects or use electric shocks or anything like that. One RUC officer who punched a suspect was removed from such duties. All the interrogators were Catholics so that republicans could not say that Protestants were mistreating Catholics. This soldier was half-Irish. His formula for improving the situation was to ensure one man one vote and to assassinate Paisley. He felt that loyalist unreasonableness had caused the IRA to grow.
30 JANUARY INCIDENT.
In January 1972 an anti-internment operation went ahead in Derry. The city was very tense because two police officers had been murdered two days earlier. The march was banned by the Home Affairs Minister of Northern Ireland. For months the army had been confronting what they termed the DYH – Derry Young Hooligans. There was plenty of stone throwing and hurling of petrol bombs. The Army had responded with tear gas and rubber bullets but never lethal force. The Parachute Regiment had been sent into Derry. The Parachute Regiment is the most aggressive in the British Army. One former Para told the author, ”I joined the Paras because I was a lunatic.” The Paras are said to be ordered to go to pubs off duty and start fights to get some practice. These assault troops made poor policemen and they were being asked to fulfill a more or less police role. A police response to public disorder is minimum force. A soldier’s response is overwhelming force. The army’s attitude is to see a situation as a battle. Anyone identified as an enemy is immediately killed.
The march went ahead and broke up without serious incident. The Paras were down in the Bogside. On the walls of Derry above them were RUC and men of the Royal Anglian Regiment.
The Derry Young Hooligans broke away from the march as it dispersed and went to taunt the Paras. Stones were thrown. Firing broke out. Who fired first? The Paras maintain that it was the IRA. Nationalists maintain that it was the Paras. Some think that the RUC of Royal Anglian Regiment on the wall a few hundred metres to the rear of the Paras opened fire and the Paras heard this. Because of the echoing the Paras assumed they were under attack from the IRA to their front.
The Paras shot several people. They were ordered to stop firing but some continued for up to 10 minutes. In the end 26 people had been shot. 13 died at the scene and one died a few days later. All the dead were male Catholics – the youngest being aged 17. Some cars carrying the wounded to hospital were stopped and searched by the army. This infuriated the nationalist population who thought this could cause the wounded to die.
The Paras were interviewed by the Royal Military Police. The Paras asserted that they had come under fire and had responded. That the IRA did open fire is admitted by the IRA and all concerned. However, the IRA contends that it was only one shot. Some IRA men wanted to fire more but others told them not to. They could see a propaganda coup. The British Army would come out of this day looking very bad – greatly advantaging the IRA.
NICRA called for Northern Ireland to join the Republic of Ireland and NICRA dissolved itself. For many unionists this revealed that NICRA had been a nationalist front organisation all along. However, all of NICRA’s demands had been met or were about to be. Months after Bloody Sunday a new law on voting gave the vote in local elections to all those over 21.
Martin McGuinness was there at Bloody Sunday probably carrying a Thompson submachinegun but it is not thought that he fired it. No one disputes that the IRA fired but it may have been but one shot. One shot may have sounded like several because of the Walls of Derry behind the scene of the mass shooting – there was an echo chamber effect. All the photos and film do not show any IRA gunmen.
Of the dead one was an IRA man but unarmed. One had earlier handled a blast bomb. The Saville Inquiry was to hold that the killings had been wrong. Five of the Paras shot people they did not even suspect of posing any threat. Some men who were wounded and on the ground were shot several times. Those going to the aid of the wounded were shot. The Paras ran amuck. Interviewed just hours after the killings a senior Para officer said his men had done nothing wrong and had killed several gunmen. He seemed to believe it. The Paras involved were interviewed by the Royal Military Police. One of those at the scene was Mike Jackson – later head of the British Army in Northern Ireland. He maintained that the Paras were right to fire until changing his tune 38 years later.
One Unionist politician, Bill Craig, said after this incident that Londonderry west of the Foyle ought to be given to the Republic of Ireland. A high majority of people there wished to join the Republic of Ireland so there was was strong logic to this proposal but it does not seem to have been considered. Derry had a great sentimental value to loyalists.
It was claimed by the British Government that most of the dead had been carrying nail bombs or had paraffin on their hands – proof that they had handled firearms. This was later admitted to be almost totally false. Of the 14 dead one had thrown stones at the army that day and one had a nail bomb. They others were unjustifiably killed.
The army was permitted to open fire when they believed that life was in danger. If that belief later turned out to be false they were blameless so long as that was a reasonable belief. The Paras may be forgiven some of the shooting at the panicked beginning but to continue shooting for so long despite and order to stop was inexcusable. Some wounded men were shot dead on the ground.
In response to these killings the SDLP leader John Hume allegedly said, ”now it is a united Ireland or nothing.” He has since denied ever saying that.
Nationalist opinion was outraged by the slayings. Nationalists dubbed 30 January 1972 as Bloody Sunday. A huge mob gathered outside the British Embassy in Dublin. The Gards tried to protect it but bowed to the inevitable. It was burnt down. In Parliament Bernadette Devlin slapped the Home Secretary Reginald Maudling and pulled his hair, ”he shot my people in the back.”
The Irish Government restated its stance that immediate withdrawal of the British military was essential and Northern Ireland must be included in the Irish Republic.
The Provisional IRA said its response would be, ”to kill as many British soldiers as possible.”
The Official IRA bombed a barracks in Aldershot, England a few days later. 6 cleaning ladies and a Catholic chaplain were killed. Another Catholic priest was convicted of planting bombs elsewhere in England.
Ranger William Best, a Catholic serving in the British Army, was home on leave. He was kidnapped by the Official IRA and shot dead. Many Derry nationalists disapproved of his killing.
Some loyalists were pleased with the 30 January incident. One elderly loyalist who considered himself a good Christian heard that 13 Catholics had been shot dead. He said, ”there should have been a nought behind that.”
The Derry coroner – himself a Protestant – described the slaying as ”sheer bloody murder”. Several eyewitnesses were former British Servicemen who denounced the killings as shameful. A highly decorated former British soldier who was Irish returned his medals in protest.
Some loyalists invented a song about the killings.”We shot one we shot two we short thirteen more than you with a Mick whack Paddy whack give a Prod a gun Paras 13 Bogside none. We shot three we shot four then we shot number 1 some more which a mick whack Paddy whack give a Prod a gun Paras 13 bOGSIDE none. We shot 5 we shot 6 we had rifles they had sticks with a Mick whack Paddy whack give a Prod a gun Paras 13 Bogside none. We shot 7 we shot 8 killing Catholics is really great Paras 13 Bogside none. We shot 9 we shot 10 then we shot number 8 again with a mICK whack Paddy WHACk give a Prod a gun Paras 13 Bogside none. We shot 11 we shot 12 into the case the law lords delve.”
An irate mob gathered in Dublin and burnt down the British Embassy. The Gards failed to defend this diplomatic mission. Their lives may have been forfeit if they had. An Englishman in Limerick had racist grafitti written on his car which was to become widespread. In fairness Irish people in Great Britain often experienced the same.
THE WIDGERY REPORT
Lord Widgery was told to head an inquiry into the shootings. The Prime Minister told him, ”remember we are fighting a propaganda as well as a military war.” Many took this as an order to make the Paras come out looking innocent. The spearhead force was not the right one to use in such a place as Derry.
Some nationalists were loathe to participate fearing that the report would be intended merely to exculpate the killers. However, moderate politicians and priests persuaded them to take part. The hearings took place at Coleraine near Derry. After a few months Lord Widgery reported. His report largely exonerated the Paras and said they had been attacked and had fired back. ”At times the firing bordered on reckless.” His report included statement from witnesses some of whom had served in the British military who said they were ashamed at what had been done. Some former British servicemen in the Republic handed back their medals in protest. One former British soldier and an Ulster Protestant described the killing as ”unadulterated murder.”
The Widgery Report was rejected by nationalists as a whitewash. One said it was surprising that Widgery did not find that the people had committed suicide.
The Widgery Report has been largely discredited by the much more comprehensive Saville Inquiry which had far more time and money and the dispassion of hindsight with which to examine the events of the day.
In March 1972 the Prime Minister of the UK, Heath, announced that the Parliament of Northern Ireland was to be prorogued for one year while the situation was calmed down. Westminster was thought to be more impartial than the heavily Unionist Stormont Parliament. Faulkner bitterly complained about this but he was legally powerless to stop it. In the end Northern Ireland did not have an autonomous legislature functioning for over 30 years.
The IRA stepped up its offensive. It launched bombs in a County Londonderry village of Claudy a few weeks after 30 January. 9 people were killed. The RUC heard a rumour that a certain Catholic priest planted the bombs. He strenuously denied this to his bishop. He was never arrested for fear of further inflaming Catholic opinion.
The IRA began bombing shops to ruin the Northern Ireland economy and make it too expensive for Great Britain to subsidise her. The Government guaranteed to make good all losses caused by bombings – to pay for things to be rebuilt and shops to be restocked. On Bloody Friday in Belfast 22 bombs went off in quick succession and 9 people were killed. The IRA phoned in warnings about 30 minutes before the bombs went off. The idea was to destroy property not people they said. The warnings were often inadequate. Brendan Hughes – an IRA man involved in this attack – said that it might suit the British government to allow civilians to be killed in these attacks because that could be used to besmirch the IRA. Who planted the bombs though?
The IRA launched a bombing campaign in Great Britain in the belief that this would cause the public there to demand the British Government to expel Northern Ireland from the UK. Sean MacStofain said they the IRA need only kill 65 British soldiers and the UK would expel Northern Ireland. He picked this figure from the number of soldiers killed in South Arabia in the 1960s. MacStiofain has no historical perspective. The UK intended to withdraw from Aden anyway. The UK gave a 6 year time limit for withdrawal and in the ned withdrew afetr 5 years and 6 months. South Arabia was never part of the UK. It did not have anyone who wanted to be part of the UK. He was not comparing like with like.
The loyalist terrorists stepped up their bestial attacks on Catholic civilians. Catholics such as Bobby Sands were threatened at gunpoint to leave their jobs and homes in Protestant areas. This was partly sectarian motivated but partly because a Catholic could be an IRA man. How do we know he is not setting us up for assassination? – they would ask.
In June 1972 a truce was called between the UK and the IRA. IRA leaders including Gerry Adams, Ivor Bell and Martin McGuinness were flown by helicopter to London. As the chopper circled around Belfast the IRA men were worried they could be shot down by their own side. They met in a house in one of the most exclusive streets – Cheyne Walk owned by a Conservative Government minister. The UK Government decided to find out what the IRA wanted as though that was not already blatant. In the end the talks came to nothing. The IRA wanted immediate release of all internees – the British Army to withdraw to barracks pending a total evacuation to be completed before 1 January 1973. These conditions were totally unacceptable to the British Government. Adams expressed his wish to attend university but wished to fight first. But this had given the IRA credibility. It had perhaps given the UK time to get more spies into the IRA and to sow dissension.
Loyalists were deeply concerned by these talks. Any deal struck would be at their expense. 3 years before Harold Wilson had assured unionists ”the border is not an issue.” Now even a Conservative Government was treating with the IRA. What was anyone to conclude? Crime pays. If it pays for the republicans so too it must pay for the loyalists. Loyalists also wanted to show that abandoning them would make the situation far bloodier than ever before. Kicking Northern Ireland out of the UK would not be a cost free option.
Loyalist terrorist were determined to provoke the IRA into terminating their ceasefire so that Her Majesty’s Government would break off talks. The Loyalists did not want the Government to cut a deal with the IRA.
Harold Wilson, then leader of the Labour opposition, traveled to Dublin for secret talks with the IRA. These too came to nothing. Wilson did express the view that there ought to be Ireland united as a republic within 15 years. We are now 27 years beyond his deadline and there is no sign of this ever occurring.
The loyalists stepped up their attacks on the Catholic populace. The IRA eventually felt it had to hit back. The ceasefire was at an end. The proximate cause of the ceasefire breakdown was a dispute over housing reallocation. That is people moving into houses vacated by those of the opposite denomination who were terrorised out of their houses.
July of 1972 saw a massive upsurge in violence especially in Belfast. There were sectarian murders and bombings daily. People became inured to the violence. The Army felt that it had been a mistake not ally republican areas of Belfast and Derry to de facto secede from the UK. Operation Motorman was launched. Thousands of soldiers burst into these areas with armoured vehicles. The IRA chose not to fight this because it knew that it was outgunned. From then on the Army patrolled these areas but the IRA had more subtle control over these areas.
The IRA effectively controlled Catholic areas in Derry and Belfast. It had become a state within a state. Catholics in these areas tended to strongly mistrust the RUC. If one of them called the RUC they were likely to face severe punishment from the IRA. The IRA set itself as a police force in these areas. The IRA tried to deal with petty crime by beatings with iron bars and hurleys; by dropping breeze blocks on limbs and kneecapping – shooting the suspect in the kneecap so they would never be able to walk again. People were exiled from Ireland – given 24 hours to leave Ireland or be shot. They were ostracised for a set number of years or for life. Loyalist thugs carried out the same style of rough justice without any trial. There would be no need to call on the RUC for law enforcement – the IRA would enforce its own form of very rough justice with unfair trials and mutilations. To a lesser extent loyalists did the same. Loyalists did not reject the RUC or the court system.
In Omagh an IRA team came to shoot dead Inspector Peter Flanagan. Flanaghan was an RUC officer and a Catholic. Sean O’Callaghan shot dead Inspector Flanagan as he stood in a pub. O’Callaghan and his comrades then drove away. They were hidden by a priest in a parochial house. This was a typical pattern for the attack – shooting dead an unarmed man. Being hidden by a priest was unusual.
By the end of 1972 500 people had been killed in the Northern Ireland conflict. This made it by far the bloodiest year of the Troubles. Some 3 500 died in total. The IRA was optimistic thinking that the UK had a breaking point and that had almost been reached. They could so sicken the British public that people on the Mainland would demand their government threw in the towel.