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Internment - A Chronology of the Main Events

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Text and Research: Martin Melaugh
Material is added to this site on a regular basis - information on this page may change

This is a draft (v1) of the chronology for internment between the years 1971 and 1975.


Friday 12 March 1971
Thousands of Belfast shipyard workers took part in a march demanding the introduction of Internment for members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Monday 9 August 1971
In a series of raids across Northern Ireland, 342 people were arrested and taken to makeshift camps. There was an immediate upsurge of violence and 17 people were killed during the next 48 hours. Of these 10 were Catholic civilians who were shot dead by the British Army. Hugh Mullan (38) was the first Catholic priest to be killed in the conflict when he was shot dead by the British Army as he was giving the last rites to a wounded man. Winston Donnell (22) became the first Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) solider to die in 'the Troubles' when he was shot by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) near Clady, County Tyrone. [There were more arrests in the following days and months. Internment was to continue until 5 December 1975. During that time 1,981 people were detained; 1,874 were Catholic / Republican, while 107 were Protestant / Loyalist. Internment had been proposed by Unionist politicians as the solution to the security situation in Northern Ireland but was to lead to a very high level of violence over the next few years and to increased support for the IRA. Even members of the security forces remarked on the drawbacks of internment.]

Tuesday 10 August 1971
During the 9 August 1971 and the early hours of the 10 August Northern Ireland experienced the worst violence since August 1969. [Over the following days thousands of people (estimated at 7,000), the majority of them Catholics, were forced to flee their homes. Many Catholic 'refugees' moved to the Republic of Ireland, and have never returned to Northern Ireland.]

Wednesday 11 August 1971
Four people were shot dead in separate incidents in Belfast, three of them by the British Army, as violence continued following the introduction of Internment.

Sunday 15 August 1971
The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) announced that it was starting a campaign of civil disobedience in response to the introduction of Internment. The SDLP also withdrew their representatives from a number of public bodies.

Monday 16 August 1971
Over 8,000 workers went on strike in Derry in protest at Internment. Joe Cahill, then Chief of Staff of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), held a press conference during which he claimed that only 30 IRA men had been interned.

Sunday 22 August 1971
Approximately 130 non-Unionist councillors announced their withdrawal from participation on district councils across Northern Ireland in protest against Internment.

Tuesday 31 August 1971
An inquiry into allegations of brutality by the security forces against those interned without trial was announced. [The report of the inquiry, the Compton Report was published on 16 November 1971.]

Sunday 12 September 1971
A statement on Internment, violence and the ill-treatment of detainees was released by the William Conway, then Catholic Cardinal of Ireland, and six Bishops. In a statement Cardinal Conway asked, 'Who wanted to bomb one million Protestants into a United Ireland?'

Sunday 26 September 1971
David Bleakley resigned as Minister of Community Relations in protest over the introduction of Internment and the lack of any new political initiatives by the Northern Ireland government.

Sunday 17 October 1971
It was estimated that approximately 16,000 households were withholding rent and rates for council houses as part of the campaign of civil disobedience organised by the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). The campaign was in protest against Internment and had begun on 15 August 1971.

Tuesday 19 October 1971
A group of five Northern Ireland Members of Parliament (MPs) began a 48 hour hunger strike against Internment. The protest took place near to 10 Downing Street in London. Among those taking part were John Hume, Austin Currie, and Bernadette Devlin.

Tuesday 16 November 1971
The report of the Compton inquiry was published. Report of the enquiry into allegations against the security forces of physical brutality in Northern Ireland arising out of events on the 9th August, 1971. (November 1971; Cmnd. 4832). The report acknowledged that there had been ill-treatment of internees (what was termed 'in-depth interrogation) but rejected claims of systematic brutality or torture.

Tuesday 30 November 1971
The government of the Republic of Ireland stated that it would take the allegations of brutality against the security forces in Northern Ireland to the European Court of Human Rights.


Sunday 2 January 1972
There was an anti-internment rally in Belfast.

Monday 17 January 1972
Seven men who were being held as internees escaped from the prison ship HMS Maidstone in Belfast Lough.

Saturday 22 January 1972
An anti-internment march was held at Magilligan strand, County Derry, with several thousand people taking part. As the march neared the internment camp it was stopped by members of the Green Jackets and the Parachute Regiment of the British Army, who used barbed wire to close off the beach. When it appeared that the marchers were going to go around the wire, the army then fired rubber bullets and CS gas at close range into the crowd. A number of witnesses claimed that the paratroopers (who had been bused from Belfast to police the march) severely beat protesters and had to be physically restrained by their own officers. John Hume accused the soldiers of "beating, brutalising and terrorising the demonstrators".
There was also an anti-internment parade in Armagh, County Armagh.

Monday 24 January 1972
Frank Lagan, then Chief Superintendent of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) notified Andrew MacLellan, then Commander 8 Infantry Brigade, of his contact with the Civil Rights Association, and informed him of their intention to hold a non-violent demonstration protesting against Internment on 30 January 1972. He also asked that the march be allowed to take place without military intervention. MacLellan agreed to recommend this approach to General Ford, then Commander of Land Forces in Northern Ireland. However Ford had placed Derek Wilford, Commander of 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment, in charge of the proposed arrest operation. [The broad decision to carry out arrests was probably discussed by the Northern Ireland Committee of the British Cabinet. Edward Heath, then British Prime Minister, confirmed on 19 April 1972 that the plan was known to British government Ministers.]

Sunday 30 January 1972
'Bloody Sunday'
The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association march against internment was meant to start at 2.00pm from the Creggan. The march left, late (2.50pm approximately) , from Central Drive in the Creggan Estate and took an indirect route towards the Bogside area of the city. People joined the march along its entire route. At approximately 3.25pm The march passed the 'Bogside Inn' and turned up Westland Street before going down William Street. Estimates of the number of marchers at this point vary. Some observers put the number as high as 20,000 whereas the Widgery Report estimated the number at between 3,000 and 5,000. Around 3.45pm most of the marchers followed the organisers instructions and turned right into Rossville Street to hold a meeting at 'Free Derry Corner'. However a section of the crowd continued along William Street to the British Army barricade. A riot developed. (Confrontations between the Catholic youth of Derry and the British Army had become a common feature of life in the city and many observers reported that the rioting was not particularly intense.
At approximately 3.55pm, away from the riot and also out of sight of the meeting, soldiers in a derelict building opened fire (shooting 5 rounds) and injured Damien Donaghy (15) and John Johnston (59). Both were treated for injuries and were taken to hospital. John Johnston died on 16 June 1972. Also around this time (about 3.55pm) as the riot in William Street was breaking up, Paratroopers requested permission to begin an arrest operation. By about 4.05pm most people had moved to 'Free Derry Corner' to attend the meeting.
4.07pm (approximately) An order was given for a 'sub unit' (Support Company) of the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment to move into William Street to begin an arrest operation directed at any remaining rioters. The order authorising the arrest operation specifically stated that the soldiers were "not to conduct running battle down Rossville Street" (Official Brigade Log). The soldiers of Support Company were under the command of Ted Loden, then a Major in the Parachute Regiment (and were the only soldiers to fire at the crowd from street level).
At approximately 4.10pm soldiers of the Support Company of the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment began to open fire on the marchers in the Rossville Street area. By about 4.40pm the shooting ended with 13 people dead and a further 13 injured from gunshots.
[Most of the basic facts are agreed, however what remains in dispute is whether or not the soldiers came under fire first. The soldiers claimed to have come under sustained attack by gunfire and nailbomb. None of the eyewitness accounts of those shot saw any gun or bomb being used. No soldiers were injured in the operation, no guns or bombs were recovered at the scene of the shooting.]

Wednesday 2 February 1972
The funerals of 11 of the dead of 'Bloody Sunday' took place in the Creggan area of Derry. Tens of thousands attended the funeral including clergy, politicians from North and South, and thousands of friends and neighbours. Throughout the rest of Ireland prayer services were held to coincide with the time of the funerals. In Dublin over 90 per cent of workers stopped work in respect of those who had died, and approximately 30,000 - 100,000 people turned out to march to the British Embassy. They carried 13 coffins and black flags. Later a crowd attacked the Embassy with stones and bottles, then petrol bombs, and the building was burnt to the ground.

Wednesday 9 February 1972
A report (Cmnd. 4901) was published by a committee headed by Lord Parker on the methods used by the security forces in to interogate those interned. The methods included: 'in-depth interrogation', hooding, food deprivation, use of 'white noise' to cause disorientation and sleep deprivation, and being forced to stand for long periods leaning against a wall with their finger-tips. Two members of the committee, including Lord Parker, held that the techniques were justified. Lord Gardiner disagreed.

Friday 24 March 1972
Edward Heath, then British Prime Minister, announced that the Stormont Parliament was to be prorogued, and 'Direct Rule' from Westminster imposed on Northern Ireland on 30 March 1972. The announcement was greeted with outrage from Brian Faulkner and Unionist politicians. Edward Heath, then British Prime Minister, made that announcement. The main reason for the suspension of Stormont was the refusal of Unionist government to accept the loss of law and order powers to Westminster.
[The legislation responsible for direct rule was the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act. Under the legislation a new Northern Ireland Office (NIO) was established at Stormont which was supervised by a new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw.]
[Whitelaw eases internment, gives political status to prisoners because of Billy McKee's hunger strike.]

Monday 31 July 1972
'Operation Motorman'
4,000 extra troops were brought into Northern Ireland to take part in the dismantling of barricades on the boundaries of 'no-go' areas. It turned out to be the biggest British military operation since the Suez crisis. 12,000 British troops supported by tanks and bulldozers smashed through the barricades. Two people, a Catholic teenager and a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), were shot by the British Army during the operation in Derry. [The number of house searches and the number of Catholics interned were to increase over the coming months.]

Wednesday 9 August 1972
There was widespread and severe rioting in Nationalist areas on the anniversary of the introduction of Internment.

Monday 25 - Thursday 28 September 1972
A conference was held at Darlington, England on the issue of devolution with power-sharing. The Darlington meeting consisted of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP), the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland (APNI), and William Whitelaw, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) refused to attend because of the continuing operation of Internment. Some hard-line Unionists also refused to attend. [There was no agreement on the shape of any future Northern Ireland government.]
Jack Lynch, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), met Edward Heath, then British Prime Minister.

Wednesday 20 December 1972
The report of the Diplock Committee was published. The Committee had been looking at possible changes to the legal procedures used in cases arising out the conflict. The report recommended that such cases should be heard by a Judge of the High Court, or a County Court Judge, sitting alone with no jury. [These recommendations were included in the 1973 Emergency Powers Act.]


Saturday 3 February 1973
A member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and 3 Catholic civilians were shot dead by members of the British Army in Belfast. Two Loyalists were detained, and then subsequently interned (5 February 1973), because of their alleged involvement in the killing of an innocent Catholic man. Following their arrest a crowd of approximately 2,000 marched in protest to the Castlereagh Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) station to demand the release of the two men.

Monday 5 February 1973
Following a decision to intern two Loyalists, suspected of the murder of a Catholic man, there was a call for a general strike under the auspices of the United Loyalist Council (ULC) . [Although Internment had been introduced on Monday 9 August 1971 and hundreds of Catholics / Nationalists had been arrested and interned, this was the first time that Protestants had been held under the Detention of Terrorists Order. This decision was to lead to a strike by Loyalists and an upsurge in Loyalist violence.]

Tuesday 6 February 1973
Although a number of 'moderate' Unionist politicians called on people not to heed the call by the United Loyalist Council (ULC) for a region wide strike, by the evening cuts in the electricity supply began to affect Belfast. [The ULC strike officially began on 7 February 1973.]


Thursday 4 April 1974
Merlyn Rees, then Secretary of Sate for Northern Ireland, announces that he will de-proscribe (remove the illegal status from) the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Sinn Féin (SF), and also phase out Internment.

Thursday 2 May 1974
The Irish government brought a case of torture against the British government to the European Commission on Human Rights. The case related to the treatment of Internees held in Northern Ireland.

Wednesday 3 July 1974
Máire Drumm, then Vice-President of Sinn Féin (SF), said that SF was ready to talk with representatives of the Ulster Workers' Council (UWC). This statement followed an offer by Andy Tyrie, then leader of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), to be involved in negotiations with the Irish Republican Army (IRA). [At this time there were a number of areas of common interest between Loyalist and Republican paramilitary groups including the issues of Internment and prisoners.]

Tuesday 9 July 1974
Merlyn Rees, then Secretary of Sate for Northern Ireland, announced at Westminster that Internment would be gradually phased out.


Thursday 24 July 1975
Merlyn Rees, then Secretary of Sate for Northern Ireland, announced that all those interned without trial would be released by Christmas.

Friday 5 December 1975
End of Internment
The last 46 people who had been interned without trial were released. The end of Internment was announced by Merlyn Rees, then Secretary of Sate for Northern Ireland, who said that those found guilty of crimes would be brought before the courts. [During the period of Internment, 9 August 1971 to 5 December 1975, 1,981 people were detained; 1,874 were Catholic / Republican, while 107 were Protestant / Loyalist.]

This chronology has been compiled from a number of sources. Anyone seeking additional information should consult the following (see the CAIN Bibliography for full citations):
Bew, P., and Gillespie, G. (1993), Northern Ireland A chronology of the Troubles 1968-1993
Flackes, W.D., and Elliott, S. (1980), Northern Ireland A Political Directory 1968-1993
Sutton, M. (1994), An Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland 1969-1993
Fortnight Magazine's monthly chronology of 'the Troubles'

Each entry contains information, where relevant, on the following topic areas:
Major security incidents
Political developments
Policy initiatives
Economic matters
Other relevant items

Any piece of information which is followed by a question mark in parenthesis (?) is a best estimate while awaiting an update. Any piece of information which is followed by a double question mark in parenthesis (??) is doubtful and is awaiting an update.

CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.

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