Written on: 9. 8. 2021 in the category: Uncategorized

Fifty Years On, Folly Still Rules

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Fifty years ago this morning, in the greatest act of insanity any European state has perpetrated within its own national borders since the Second World War, the British government launched an entirely illegal and often criminal assault on its own citizens in Northern Ireland. Hundreds of men were taken from their beds and dragged off to detention centres. Many were beaten. Some were put through mock executions – either involving phony firing squads or being pushed blindfolded out of the back of helicopters, in the belief that they were flying at several hundred feet when they were just inches off the ground.

The worst treatment of all was reserved for around a dozen men who were hooded, dressed in overalls and forced to lean against walls, their legs apart, while their brains were flooded with white noise. If they attempted to move, they were violently kicked and were left there sleeplessly for days, soiling themselves while they endured psychologically irreversible damage.

That morning proved to be a complete triumph for the Crown’s counter-insurgency policy: twenty-five years later, the terrorist band which this orgy of criminality was designed to break was lobbing mortar bombs into Downing Street and blowing apart the Canary Wharf financial services centre, which had not even been a glint in its instigators’ eyes when all those men were getting the shit kicked out of them.

The methods learned during the final squalid imperial days in Aden, Cyprus and Kenya were now being applied to the citizens of the UK. Mayhem reigned. Murder and brutality became sovereign. Law departed and was not seen again for many a long day.

The evil of that August morning, and the weeks that followed, could not be measured only in the atrocious events that followed almost with the methodical tick of a metronome, but what it did to men’s hearts. The Provisional IRA –  from the outset, a psychotic organisation – became a nursery for psychopathy where the already deranged prospered and rose, while the previously normal inhaled the heady fumes of insanity and went mad themselves.

The resulting dementia lives on in Ireland today, as young people assimilate a completely deranged version of history, in which the primary authors of the Troubles, the Provisional IRA, are turned into civil rights campaigners following in the peaceful steps of Martin Luther King and Gandhi. But a vital part of that corrupting process must be laid at the door of 10, Downing Street, Stormont Castle, Castlereagh Detention centre and British Army HQ, Lisburn.

Together, either in concert or through neglect, they allowed paratroopers to break the law, to kill the innocent, to beat the hapless into a pulp in gutters and laughing, to leave them there. I know this to be true: I saw it for myself.

Up until that time, the social matrix of Catholic areas such as Ardoyne, New Lodge Road and the Falls had been provided by the NCO-class of British army veterans. These were the men who had fought the fallschirmjager in Italy, who had landed by sea and by silk in Normandy, who had crossed Rhine in plywood gliders and fought their way with the Micks in Guards’ Armoured into the North German plain. Catholic areas of Belfast had been traditionally left-leaning, not republican, and the IRA had long been regarded as childish fantasists. Stormont might be a ridiculous confection set in preposterous fairy-tale palace of marble; but equally ridiculous was the notion that the way to end its rule was a violent insurrection by a minority within a minority living in a handful of geographically confined areas of Belfast and elsewhere.

The British army, with its criminal Falls Road curfew of 1970, when people walking their own streets could be shot on sight, and law-abiding people were gassed in their homes as CS grenades were casually hurled down tiny cobbled-streets, began the deconstruction of that social matrix. A year later, the deconstruction was completed: the Catholic servicemen who had volunteered to fight Hitler, who had left the corpses of their fellow Catholic soldiers across Europe, from Narvik to Naples, and Ouistreham to the Ochtum Canal, no longer had authority over Catholic areas, which now self-consciously adopted the title “ghettoes” as the delusions of 1916 became culturally triumphant.

Power now passed to the lunatics; to the Adams family, to the Hannaways, to Frankie Card, to Seamus Twomey, to Billie Reid, to Ivor Bell, to Albert Price, to the Kelly family of North Belfast. Is it relevant that six of these groups – Adams, Hannaway, Card, Reid, Bell and Price had planter names whose families had historically become converts to Catholicism? Is it relevant that four of them, Card, Price, Twomey, Reid and Adams were suspected of child sexual abuse, for which Reid had been convicted and imprisoned, and for which Adams was outed after his death?

These men were hard, and their actions early in the troubles remind us that the internment operation was not conducted simply out of some visceral dislike of Catholics. The Provisional IRA had begun its murder campaign in 1970 with attacks in East and North Belfast in which five Protestant civilians were killed. Later, two police officers were blown up outside Crossmaglen. Early in 1971, the IRA – including a former paratrooper, who is still alive and cannot be named, and Billy Kelly, a founder member of the Provisional IRA in Belfast – lured three drunken, unarmed off-duty Scottish soldiers from a city centre bar to their summary roadside murder while they urinated.

There is a term for this kind of deed. War-crime.

That the military balance of power had been shifted dramatically was shown by the IRA’s destruction of Royal Avenue with a series of bombs on July 11th, 1971, and the comparable demolition of the Daily Mirror’s new printing works in Dunmurray in Belfast a week later.

Meanwhile, the IRA was setting the scene politically, causing the SDLP to dance obediently to its tune. Having burnt almost an entire Catholic family to death in Derry in 1970 with a premature explosion – an event that has now been conveniently forgotten in the city – the IRA began to use guns against British soldiers there. The IRA liked to open fire from concealed positions during riots, thereby increasing the likelihood of unarmed rioters being shot by soldiers. Unsurprisingly, after several nights of such encounters, soldiers finally shot and fatally wounded two such youngsters in Derry. John Hume demanded a public enquiry into the shootings or the SDLP would withdraw from Stormont. The party leader, Gerry Fitt, being aware of the IRA tactic of opening fire in circumstances where civilians might well be killed by return fire, argued unsuccessfully against a boycott. The SDLP withdrew from Stormont, and the Provisional IRA had the stage virtually to itself.

So, we all now know what the security forces should not have done: what is less easy to say, even now after half a century, is what should have been done. The murder of the three Scottish soldiers, though it had shocked, enraged and hardened a loyalist community that was already being turned homicidal by IRA attacks on civilian targets, had not aroused comparable anger amongst nationalists. Calcification of the human conscience was proceeding apace: men were conspiring, arms were being assembled, utterly unreal political goals were being assessed as if they were within weeks of achievement.

Much of republican Ireland, from the wild men of Fianna Fail and some within Fine Gael, and the newly emerging hardmen of the IRA, thought a united Ireland was just a few hundred killings away. The heartfelt attachment to membership of the United Kingdom by the Unionist people, evinced in the 1912 Solemn League and Covenant that attracted 500,000 signatures, and in the five thousand dead and wounded around the Schwaben Redoubt in 1916, was held to be a chimera that could all be washed away with a suitable amount of cleansing bloodshed.

In other words, much of nationalist Ireland wanted a war. Explosives from the dynamite factory at Arklow passed effortlessly to the North. The Taoiseach Jack Lynch knew of IRA training camps in the Republic but did not shut them down because of the uproar such actions would cause within Fianna Fail, where the Haughey-Blaneyite rump remained a barely silent pro-war faction.

The Fianna Fail jest in Sligo, “We don’t want to bomb a million Protestants into a united Ireland: we just want to bomb them out of it,” merely echoed a feeling that was widespread across an Ireland that had treated its own minority with studied disdain for the previous fifty years. Why show any concern for the feelings of Northern Protestants? When push comes to shove, will they not fold as tamely and as did their southern counterparts?

Fifty years on, the question for nationalist Ireland remains today as it had done for the previous half-century: why, when hearing Ulster unionist voices, is it still pathologically incapable of subtly rearranging the letters of the anagram ON so as to convey its only possible alternative meaning?

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