Shortly after the death of Martin McGuinness, I listened to a radio discussion about the Provisional IRA and its origins. Among the contributors was Ruth Dudley Edwards, the self-professed revisionist historian. At one stage in the programme, I heard her say, “I can understand why people went out on civil rights marches – because there were injustices that needed to be dealt with – but I find it completely unjustifiable that people on these marches should have then turned to the bullet and the bomb to right those wrongs.”

This made me angry because in that one sentence Ms. Edwards had shown herself to be a propagandist. I knew that she could not have been ignorant of the origins of the Provisional IRA. She must have known, for example, that in August 1969, about a year and a half after the Northern Ireland civil rights movement was set up, there were pogroms in Belfast. Seven people were killed and hundreds more wounded. Whole streets of Catholic houses, as well as factories and shops, were burnt out. In addition, thousands of mostly Catholic families were driven from their homes and fled in terror with only the clothes they had on them. The Royal Ulster Constabulary made no effort to protect Catholic areas and in many cases joined the militant Protestants who were petrol-bombing the houses. All this resulted in many thousands fleeing Northern Ireland, resulting in – at that time – the biggest movement of population in Western Europe since World War 2.

The Labour government in Westminster sent the British army into our little state in what it said was “a limited operation” to restore law and order. My friends and I understood that the Brits had really come to prevent British investment being wrecked by rampaging rioters from both Catholic and Protestant sides but nearly all Catholics still welcomed the troops with open arms because they saw them as their protectors in a life-and-death situation.

While the British army were settling into the North, a loosely-organized defence outfit that called itself the Provisional IRA was slowly being formed. Guns were secretly sent to them by the Irish government in Dublin on the understanding that they would be used only to protect Catholic lives.

In the meantime, an emergency meeting involving some of the British army’s upper brass and Catholic community leaders was held in Saint Teresa’s parish hall in Belfast. At that meeting, the Brits confessed that they couldn’t guarantee round- the-clock protection for all Belfast Catholics, so it was agreed that, in the event of Protestant / Loyalist attacks, Catholics would be permitted to protect themselves by use of arms in situations where the British army was not able to arrive on time. The Brits’ one stipulation at that emergency meeting was that they should be informed as to the exact location of those arms. The people who owned the weapons were members of the Official IRA, which had been inactive for seven years.

During the following nine or 10 months, events took an alarming turn for Ulster Unionist politicians here. More and more, the British army found themselves protecting Catholics against Loyalists, while the Royal Ulster Constabulary was seen more and more as protecting Protestants from rioting Catholics. This resulted in great resentment on the part of Loyalists and increasing aggression by them toward the army. There was now a real danger of Northern Ireland’s link with England being damaged or even broken by the very Protestant people who most wanted to maintain it.

Fate took a hand, however, when Labour lost power in Westminster and Edward Heath became Conservative and Unionist Prime Minister on June 18, 1970. The date is important because just 15 days later – on the 3rd of July – the British army suddenly raided houses in Balkan Street, Belfast. The trigger for this, according to the British army, was an anonymous phone call from a woman claiming that there were arms and explosives in at least one house on Balkan Street, an exclusively Catholic part of Belfast’s Lower Falls Road. But the houses that the Brits raided were, in fact, those whose addresses had been supplied to them by Official IRA representatives after that momentous meeting in Saint Teresa’s hall the previous August.

This turn of events raised questions. Why did the army carry out such a raid when it was bound to cause untold outrage and dire consequences? (It was, in fact, a tragic turning point in Irish history, the incident that transformed the Provisional IRA from a defensive outfit to the most ruthless and sophisticated guerrilla army on earth and ushered in nearly 30 years of death and destruction, marking the dirtiest war that the British ever waged, while generating spiralling atrocities and reprisals and both mindless and mindful murders on a massive scale.)

The answer lay with a politician called Brian Faulkner, a particularly Machiavellian member of the Northern Ireland government. Faulkner was a twin soul of the newly elected Conservative and Unionist government in Westminster and a natural bedfellow of Edward Heath, just then ensconced in Downing Street. Faulkner saw an opportunity to bring an end to the explosive relations between Loyalists and the British army, which threatened the link with Britain; but, along with this, he hoped to further destabilize the Northern Irish situation and so bring about the resignation of the Northern Ireland Prime Minister, James Chichester-Clark, so that he, Faulkner, could step into his place. (He, in fact, achieved these aims.) For someone of Faulkner’s cunning, it would have been easy to convince Edward Heath that the British army should deal urgently with a situation in which lawless men in John Bull’s other island had easy access to illegal weapons in an already perilous situation.

I am still filled with loathing of what both Downing Street and the Provisional IRA did to Ireland over a period of 30 years. The British government’s sanctioning of mass murder of innocent people, both Catholic and Protestant, cannot be forgiven. They organized these foul deeds mainly through Loyalist murder gangs, the misleadingly named Field Reconnaissance Unit and other deadly undercover operatives that were recruited by the British army, MI5 and the RUC Special Branch. All of these bodies were up to their necks in the lowest forms of criminality. And, as for the IRA, well, words fail me. So I think I should leave the final ones here to a supreme wordsmith, the great Irish poet and Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney. A heart-scorching poem of his – Casualty – centres around the Provisional IRA bombing of a pub to punish its owner and occupants for defying an internal Catholic curfew the Provos had demanded after the Bloody Sunday massacre by British paratroopers in Derry in 1972. An acquaintance of Heaney’s, an elderly fisherman, was among the IRA's victims, "blown to bits" for being "out drinking in a curfew," as the poet puts it. And then Heaney asks:

How culpable was he

That last night when he broke

Our tribe’s complicity?

‘Now, you’re supposed to be

An educated man,’

I hear him say. ‘Puzzle me

The right answer to that one.’


If you liked this piece and would like a free copy 
of my novel The Fabricatorclick here and I'll send it by. 

Thank you for reading. – Colm

Views: 1367

Tags: Belfast, Downing, IRA, Living History, McGuinness, Street, civil, rights

Comment by Colm Herron on May 1, 2017 at 10:30am

Yes, I agree with all of this. There's a scene in Loach's The Wind That Shakes The Barley in which a manipulative British landlord is being led up the hill for execution by Irish Republicans. Before they shoot him he snorts "You people will never get anywhere. You Know why? No education!" 

The last thing Brookeborough wanted was the 11-plus in the 6 Counties - for obvious reasons. It had been introduced in the rest of the UK in 1944 and the Unionists fought hard but in vain to keep it out of their statelet. I was in Duke Street in Oct '68 and again on the PD march at the very beginning of 1969 and was very struck by how articulate, savvy and damned clever most of the marchers were. And they were all of an age to be beneficiaries of the 1947 11-plus of course. (I understand its drawbacks but in this case it was the start of Unionists' plans going awry).

Btw, I deal with the period Oct '68 to June '70 in my latest 2 novels. Paul Webb, screenwriter of Selma, read one of them and said it should be filmed (but he was too busy to do it, damn him!) So if you know about 5000 people who'll buy these books I'll be running round with a spring in my step. Then I'll be unstoppable! That's as long as they don't open the wrong fecking envelope at the Oscars.

There are so many facets to the situation vis-a-vis the present war of words on Brexit between Brexiteers and deriders from the EU that it's becoming a spectator sport. The Maybot doesn't give a monkey's about the economic fate of fate of us in the north but is being forced to look very hard at the border situation.Talk about imponderables! When May goes, as I think she will -and  well before 2022, we'll have a very different situation, God knows exactly what. But half in hope and half in expectation I reckon there'll be a rerun of the referendum within 3 years.

Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on May 1, 2017 at 11:40am

I would like to believe that there will be a re-run of the referendum on Brixit... Now that people are aware of all of the harsh implications , both here in the UK and in Ireland, people would, in my opinion ,vote for the 'remain camp'... What they were voting on in the last referendum , was the issues around  emigration....

And the fact that the' leave camp' fed the British public a lot of  blatant   lying propaganda , about the NHS and how all of our taxes was being spent treating emigrants... that  many billions of pounds would  be spent on the NHS if we voted for the  leave camp  [ lies ; lies and dammed lies] .... Here in the UK,  people fell for the lies , hook , line and stinker........ Will they fall for it again... Watch this space on June 8th 2017  ..

The fact that the Irish people are now very well educated, [ despite all their opposition to the Irish being educated ] is  a hindrance to the British Government; they do not like ' the uneducated Irish ' to have a voice in their own country.. I agree with you Colm Herron.- May does not give a ' fiddlers stick ' about the economics of Northern Ireland , not in fact does she give 'fiddlers stick ' about the ordinary people of the UK....... Lets keep out wealthy croneys  in the lap of luxury while the underprivileged have to use 'food Banks' ... When Andrew Marr question her on why  'Nurse ' are having to use Food Banks'... she stuttered  and stammered.. and then said well there are lots of different people of differing back-grounds who use the 'Food Banks as well '... Shame oh shame.. In a western , civilized wealthy country, that there is 'Food Banks ' for people to access food, is not only a sad indictment of a government that puts the wealthy first- but a  an indictment of their policies, is a blatant attempt to keep the underprivileged and Nurses, to heal..... True Victorian times,...  

Comment by michael dunne on May 1, 2017 at 6:19pm

Brexit and the Ragged Trousered Philantrophists

"argyfying about politics generally ends up with a bloody row and d...

Victorian times ...Orémus.

What started out as a Tory spat has evolved into a major crisis for the people of Britain. It is hardly credible these people want to return to the underside of the Edwardian Twilight, of exploitative employment,when the only safety nets then were charity, the workhouse and the grave....

Extracts from Robert Tressils The Ragged Trousered Philantrophists written over a hundred years ago and still reflecting some of our bigoted views....

"wot do you think of this 'ere fissical policy,Bob?...I dont never worry my 'ed about politics' "Much better left alone,' chimed in old Jack Linden sagely, 'argyfying about politics generally ends up with a bloody row and does no good to nobody.' The 'fissical policy' emanated from the Tory party....Some of them were under the impression they were Conservatives, similarly others saw themselves as Liberals. As a matter of fact most of them were nothing. They knew as much about public affairs of their own country as they did of the condition of affairs in the planet Jupiter.

The 'Obscurer' was a Conservative paper. "Well I dont go in for politics much either, but if whats in this 'ere paper is true, it seems to me as we oughter take some interest in it, when the country is being ruined by foreigners.'....They're able to sell their goods 'ere because they dont have to pay no dooty, but they takes care to put 'eavy dooties on our goods to keep them out of their countries; and I say its about time it was stopped.'

Owen who was tiring of this conversation went on "As things are now,' instead of enjoying the advantages of civilization we are really worse off than slaves, for if we were slaves, our owners in their own interests would see to it we always had food and  - '

Oh I dont see that, roughly interrupted old Linden who had evidently been listening with anger and impatience. You can speak for yourself , but I dont put myself  down as a slave.'

As Owen thought of his childs future there sprung up within him a feeling of hatred and fury against the majority of his fellow workmen. They were the enemy. Those who not only quietly submitted like so many cattle to the existing state of things, but defended it and opposed and ridiculed any suggestion to alter it. 

They were the real oppressors- the men who spoke of themselves as 'The likes of us,' who, having lived in poverty and degradation all their lives, considered that what had been good enough for them was good enough for the children they had been the cause of bringing into existence.'

Tressil died  and was buried in a paupers grave without getting the answers to why 'Fat Cats' get richer when you dont? He offers a part solution in "The Great Money Trick" and the 'Philantrophy of an unenlightened workforce, who give away their rights and aspirations to a decent life so freely. The social policies of the EU are after improving the living standards of their citizens in so many fields. There are sinister forces of a global dimension who would like the collapse of these institutions. There are also individual politicians in pursuit of power at all costs. I believe Robert Tressil would have seen the EU as a positive development in the interests of humanity.  I dont believe the British people are that easily led and I do believe a clear majority will see this campaign for what it is.

EU structures were set up I believe for the noblest reasons and its citizens have benefited accordingly. Politicians, political parties, international organizations as well as the individual may have selfish reasons for attempting to destroy the EU. Some of these international bodies like for instance the USA helped set up the EU many years ago. After World War Two, the Marshal Plan was an aid to US and European trade and expansion. Todays global village and shrinking spheres of influence may mean a conflict of interests as each cultural economy strives for a share of the global market. But the man in the streets of Britain should be careful about what he votes for. If Britain thinks it can shake down EU structures for a 'better deal' they should consider the headace that would create for the EU as other member states will try on the same antics/ tactics.

Comment by michael dunne on May 1, 2017 at 6:27pm

It is sad that the common people did not see through this and are now plunging headlong into an abyss. Few would have predicted this unknown outcome. We are now in a state of bewilderment, fumbling through this unknown but mark it there are more unknown unknowns on the horizon. Sadly militarism and bullying will be one of the old reliables.

Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on May 2, 2017 at 7:22am

michael dunne.. thank you for that piece by Robert Tressils ... It is indeed  a wonderful lessons in 'history repeating itself.' 

 I honestly do hope that the British people will see through this the Tory Party.. and vote for a  government  that will govern for all the people, not just the few..  Ireland will also be greatly effected by Brixit, and I cannot see how the Unionists would willing allow  a united Ireland because of Border controls ... It is dangerous time we are living through again.. 

Comment by Colm Herron on May 3, 2017 at 7:07am

To: That's Just How It Was

Mary, I agree with most of what you say but I think it will be years before the harsh realisation re Brexit permeates most of their skulls. More than 80 of the British media is owned by big business - the shower of leeches who financed Brexit. And the BBC is a disgrace, always flowing with the effluent and affluent tide.

Unless there is a massive bolt from the blue between now and 8 June the Tories , in my opinion, will walk the election. Notice that election day is plumb in the middle of big State exams in the UK, involving the very people who could make a dent in May's vote.

As for Corbyn, he's been badly advised. He still has time to change tack and take the Liberal Party's line on Brexit. But I can't see hi doing it. He'll never get anywhere by being Tory-lite.

To Michael:

"It is hardly credible these people want to return to the underside of the Edwardian Twilight, of exploitative employment,when the only safety nets then were charity, the workhouse and the grave...." So true Michael, but the Tory media currently has them in a stranglehold - and of course the Tories have all the tricks to get under their skin. Money makes money and success makes success. It's awful.

The Ragged Trousered Philantrophists is reminiscent of Swift. Tressils was a voice in the wilderness and a wilderness is what faces the Brits - and unfortunately all of Ireland now. The way ahead is desperately unclear. May wants only to make her mark on history; she doesn't care much how. This is important because, no matter about this "strong mandate" that she claims to need, she will go with the flow and the flow is controlled by the mogul-owned media.

"I dont believe the British people are that easily led and I do believe a clear majority will see this campaign for what it is." Michael, I wish you were right but I fear they may not. Not unless there is the bolt from the blue that I referred to in my reply to Mary. This could take any one of a variety of forms. It may be wishful thinking on my part that May will go before 2022 and that there will be a rerun of the referendum but those two possibilities are our only hope.

Comment by michael dunne on May 3, 2017 at 6:19pm

Hello Mary and Colin. Thank you.

That summary after the Tressil extract was written pre Brexit and I though, like most,  that the remain camp was reasonably safe. The voting pattern and the general dissatisfaction with the status quo in the UK appears to be coming from the older age group, who, after having a reasonable quality of life thanks to the EU, have pulled up the ladder on the younger citizens ignoring the inferior quality of life now looming. If they were truly analytical the public should be the first to realize that the EU funding they received was squandered or helped the affluent sections of UK to be even more so. Poor government decisions led the UK citizens to this sorry state not the EU. I hope Corbyn gives himself a shake and takes the fight to the Conservatives. Even Heseltine stated that Labour has it in its power to win any general election. At least he appears to be of the people and there is still a sizeable Labour alternative there unlike Ireland. Cad a thárla leo?

Comment by Colm Herron on May 4, 2017 at 4:20am

Michael, the way I see Irish (RoI) politics is this. The civil war divisions segued into a form of tribalism between Tweedledum and Tweedledee and this state of affairs went a long way to snuffing out real socialism. That said, I have great respect for Joe Higgins and now for the Socialist Party/Solidarity alliance which is starting to make inroads. Sinn Fein pose selectively as some kind of socialist party but if they do finally take power- in coalition or otherwise - with a rainbow mishmash, I think they will be exposed as charlatans. Remember that old Smirnoff TV ad where the revolutionaries marched into the president's office and took over and almost immediately began sampling from the drinks cabinet. Soon the door crashes open and the new revolutionaries take over .... and so on and so on. Cue for last paragraph of Animal Farm!

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which.  

Comment by michael dunne on May 4, 2017 at 5:24am

A bleak but honest outlook Colm. Tweedledum and Tweedledee are representative of the general public. This adds further to the bleakness as a combination of material considerations. Irish conservatism and the opposition of the Catholic Church, were powerful enemies to a Labour government. I think the biggest stumbling blocks were the unhealthy relationship between Labour and the Trade Union Movement and the elitist politics of their Labour candidates. It should be incumbent on any socialist minded people aspiring to politics, to read the Ragged Trousered Philantrophists, The Stars Look Down,  The Grapes of Wrath, Rousseau's Treatise on Inequality and the Social Contract and of course Animal Farm. 

Comment by Colm Herron on May 5, 2017 at 10:13am

You've brought back memories Michael, especially of The Stars Look Down. I read that when I was 19 and it got to me, influenced me in important ways.

I see British Labour got a drubbing in the local elections. A dry chastening run. I was glad to see that because it should give them pause for serious thought. If they don't change direction from their present Brexit strategy - if you can call that incoherence a strategy - then real bad times lie ahead.


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