'The British Army' by Niall Ó Dochartaigh
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The following chapter has been contributed by the author Niall Ó Dochartaigh with the permission of the publisher, Cork University Press. (The author can be contacted by email at: Niall.ODochartaigh@nuigalway.ie) The views expressed in this chapter do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.
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This chapter is from the book:
FROM CIVIL RIGHTS TO ARMALITES:
Cover photograph by Eamon Melaugh
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This chapter is copyright Niall Ó Dochartaigh (1997) and is included on the CAIN site by permission of Cork University Press and the author. You may not edit, adapt, or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use without the express written permission of Cork University Press. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.
August 1969 - April 1970
British troops had been on the streets of Derry for only four days when the army GOC in Northern Ireland, Lt Gen., Sir Ian Freeland, said that he suspected that the 'honeymoon' period would be short-lived, that it had probably already reached its peak and that the army could soon become an object of both Protestant and Catholic hostility.
In Derry, some in the Catholic community had opposed welcoming the army from the outset. A few days after they arrived, the army searched two Catholic farms near Derry in a joint operation with the RUC under the Special Powers Act. Derry Labour party radicals stated that ‘No further proof is needed that the troops, whatever they are here for, are certainly not here to protect us from the excesses of unionism’. In addition, both radical and traditionalist Republicans began to prepare for an armed campaign immediately after the arrival of the troops. They naturally were opposed to the army presence.
However, the Labour left and both brands of Republicanism were still on the margins of political opinion in the Catholic community. A broad swathe of Catholic opinion, from the Catholic church and the Nationalist party through to the Independent Organisation accepted the presence of the army. They saw it as necessary, as much for the restoration of law and order and some form of 'policing', as for the 'defence' of Catholic areas in Derry. Initially there was a great deal of goodwill towards the army and there was what one Republican later described as a ‘pathetic love relationship’ between the army and people in the Bogside. Apprehension in the Catholic community was centred, not around how the army's role would develop but on ‘what will happen when they are withdrawn’. Even a Labour radical such as Eamonn McCann could argue at one point, that the Free Derry barricades should remain because otherwise the troops might leave and they would be left again at the mercy of Stormont.
The troops were seen as a temporary measure, not as a permanent fixture. Over the following months this goodwill towards the army gradually dissipated. Most analysis of the end of the 'honeymoon' focuses on rioting in Belfast in the spring of 1970, and two distinct factors are seen as crucial: the role of the army in escorting controversial Orange marches past Catholic areasand a Provisional Republican ‘policy of alienating Catholics from the army by forcing soldiers to react vigorously in Catholic areas’.
However, in Derry, relations between the army and sections of the Catholic community began to break down within weeks of the army's arrival. This was principally because of the new operational role which the army adopted after the barricades around Free Derry came down. This breakdown was facilitated by a number of other factors: by the continued prosecution of people arrested for rioting before the army arrived, by the lack of concerted liaison between the army and the Catholic community after the dissolution of the DCDA, and by the growth of Irish nationalist sentiment and Republican sympathies among Catholic youths. However, probably the most important factor was the way in which the army became embedded in the life of the city and became involved in policing and controlling the Catholic population at a time when there was no sense of political resolution, no sense of an end to the confrontation with the Unionist government.
While they were negotiating the removal of the barricades the army had recognised forces within the Catholic community as an alternative focus of power. Afterwards, they seem to have been reluctant to go back to such a situation of dual authority in any form. They began to 'police' Derry on their own authority, in co-operation only with the RUC and without reference to forces in the Catholic community.
On 23 September 1969, the DCDA removed the last of the barricades around the Bogside. The following day, by a grim coincidence, the first serious rioting since the arrival of the troops took place. It began when a fight broke out between a few Catholic and Protestant teenagers leaving the technical college on the Strand Road. The college had been a focus for sectarian tension in recent months as one of the few places where young Catholics and Protestants mixed. The fight developed into a running battle and as the youths ran into the city centre, groups of Protestants came out of the Fountain to help the Protestant youths. Groups of Catholic youths began to move into the city centre and before long several hundred people were confronting each other around the Diamond. At this point troops appeared on the scene and separated the crowds by clearing Ferryquay Street and sealing either end of it with barbed wire. However, the army had a poor grasp of local sectarian geography and, as they cleared this street, part of the Protestant crowd were pushed up or rushed up a side street which led on to Bishop Street, where Catholic crowds were still gathered. Clashes broke out and by the time the troops intervened, William King, a middle-aged Protestant from the Fountain, was dead. He had suffered a heart attack while being beaten. His death had much the same effect on Derry Protestants as the death of Sammy Devenney had had on Catholics, and increased their sense of fear. His funeral too was understood in political terms and prominent local Unionists were among the 2,000 people who walked in the funeral procession along streets lined with people.
The death of William King brought local Protestant anger over the Army's 'softly-softly' approach to Free Derry, to a head. Protestants had expected the army to crush Free Derry not to negotiate with it. Now it appeared that, on top of the failure to do that, the army was allowing free rein to ‘the brutality of the Roman Catholic mob’, as the Waterside Young Unionists put it. They called now for the army to ‘rule with an iron fist’. The army responded to the riot in which William King died, and to the fact that Catholic youths had taken to casually stoning RUC men and cars where the edge of the Bogside met the city centre, by erecting a peace line in the city. It shortly became what the army described as a 'peace-ring'.
The peace-ring in Derry was utterly different from the 'peace-lines' which had been erected by the army to separate Catholic and Protestant areas in Belfast after the severe sectarian rioting of August 1969. The Derry 'peace-ring', made up of army barriers and checkpoints, virtually encircled the Bogside and Creggan, cutting them off not just from the Protestant Fountain area but from the city centre and the rest of Derry.
The army now imposed what was described as a 'near-curfew' on the area. From 8 p.m. until 6 a.m. each night every road into the Bogside but one, was closed to vehicle traffic. The one road which was left open was in the far south of the area, where Free Derry met the countryside, far from the city centre. Even emergency vehicles had to abide by the restrictions and ambulances now experienced significant delays in answering emergency calls in the area. In addition, most roads into or out of the Bogside were also closed to pedestrians during these hours, in particular the roads into the city centre. According to one source, people going from the Bogside into the city centre had to pass through army tents where some at least had to write down their name, address and destination when they left the area. To a great extent this cut Bogsiders off from the city centre after dark and, as a result, a Catholic hall in the city centre cancelled all public functions until further notice. St. Eugene's Catholic Cathedral, on the edge of Free Derry was obliged to alter the times of its evening masses as people could no longer pass through the necessary checkpoints after 8 p.m.
The peace-ring was a dramatic and characteristically military response to the recent rioting in the city centre. The army suddenly did not appear in a benevolent light. The army had wanted the Free Derry barricades removed in order that normality should be restored. The Army's peace-ring created a situation which was anything but normal. It maintained the isolation and separation of Free Derry without any of the benefits of its limited autonomy.
The 'honeymoon' had been possible because the troops had not been involved in 'controlling' the Catholic population. Now the army were treating Catholics as a problematic population. As the army took on these new functions it changed the way it interacted with people on the street, particularly with young males, and created conditions for tension and confrontation.
These restrictions were apparently imposed without consultation with any forces in the Catholic community, least of all the DCDA. However the fact that the Catholic church and Catholic conservative voices were raised in defence of these measures hint that perhaps the army had in fact consulted the church as it was doing in Belfast. The restrictions may also in part have been intended to pressurise the DCDA into agreeing to allow the army to patrol the Bogside without restriction as it began to do, in any case, shortly after this. It is a mark of the faith which many still had in the intentions of the British government and army that despite the lack of consultation, there was little initial objection to the restrictions. The Catholic Bishop of Derry, Neil Farren, made a public call for people to accept the restrictions as did 'Onlooker', the conservative columnist in the Derry Journal, on the grounds that they ‘prevented violence’.
However, nobody could prevent the inevitable friction when young British soldiers refused to allow young Derry people to walk home along a certain street after 8 p.m. In the first week after the restrictions were introduced, six men were charged with disorderly behaviour at different checkpoints around the Bogside. All had objected to being denied passage through a checkpoint or to having their car searched. None had used violence and the strongest action most of them were accused of was ‘using fairly strong language’ or ‘speaking in an aggressive manner’. All of them were convicted. While the army might not be 'ruling with an iron fist', it was certainly using a heavy hand.
The severity of the restrictions fluctuated over the following weeks and months and criticism of them gradually grew to include those conservative Catholics who had originally urged acceptance and also the Nationalist party and the Independent Organisation. The restrictions also annoyed William Street traders who had seen a disastrous fall-off in trade as a result of the restrictions. They sent a letter of protest to Jim Callaghan calling the restrictions ‘petty and unnecessary.’ Even those groups who had been most accepting of the army presence were of the opinion that the army now seemed to be encircling the Bogside and Creggan rather than protecting them. If this was disquieting to the most cautious elements in the Catholic community, reaction on the street, among local teenagers, was likely to be far stronger.
It has been said that a 'military security' approach to policing tends to be 'more cavalier' than the police approach. However, initial army responses to civil unrest in Derry seem to draw, not on a slightly different military approach to 'policing', but on the army's recent experiences of dealing with civil unrest. This had been gained almost exclusively in colonial situations in the course of 'counter-insurgency' campaigns. These campaigns had often focused on the control and monitoring of suspect populations rather than on dealing with specific incidents. Many of the British officers posted to Northern Ireland had experienced dealing with civil unrest and conflict only in such colonial campaigns. Brigadier Peter Leng, for example, the Commander of the British troops in Derry, had been a battalion CO in Aden from 1964 to 1966, when the British withdrew. It is hardly surprising that such officers should draw on their colonial experiences, in Aden, Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus or Oman, when dealing with the situation in Derry. While it was a matter of dispute whether Northern Ireland was more accurately characterised as a region of the UK or as a British colony, the British army which came to Northern Ireland in August 1969 was very much a colonial army, experienced in colonial campaigns. It was therefore inclined to treat the situation as a colonial one.
As an IRA campaign began in 1970, the army would begin a counter-insurgency campaign which it quite openly regarded as the latest in a long series of colonial campaigns. However, even before that, the influence of their colonial experience was evident in their focus, not on responding to specific incidents but on controlling the movement of people from one community. The restrictions which they put on movement into and out of the Free Derry area demonstrated that it was the Catholic community which the army saw as the 'problematic' population. Such crude measures were ultimately alienating and tended to unite 'extremists' and 'moderates' in resentful complaint. In the absence of a political resolution, such an approach might easily degenerate into the permanent control and repression of the dissident population.
To a great extent, the erection of the peace-ring and the imposition of such restrictions ended the 'honeymoon' in Derry. It would continue, in some form, for another 18 months but already in October 1969, the sort of innocent welcome the soldiers had initially received as symbols of Stormont's demise, had begun to unravel.
In early October 1969 British military police and troops established a base between Bogside and Creggan and began to patrol the area in jeeps. In theory the RUC was to take over such policing duties after the Hunt reforms had made the force 'acceptable' in these areas. That did not happen and even in late 1969 it must have seemed quite clear it was not going to happen in The army was clearly not suited for such duties (as the Derry Journal noted at an early stage) but it was undertaking them in quite a high-profile way. It seems plausible that the army, which had seen its responsibilities contract dramatically over the previous two decades as the British Empire shrank rapidly, welcomed this new role which increased the Army's importance, raised its profile and gave it a sense of purpose. Over the following months, army commanders in Northern Ireland would become important figures in their own right and the army itself would influence the political direction of events.
The army was taking on 'policing' duties it was plainly not suited for. This deferred the need for the sort of drastic changes to Northern Ireland's security services which Catholics had demanded. It also kept the army on the streets where it would inevitably become involved in the conflict. It is not that there was no alternative to this. The alternative was to make dramatic changes to the way Northern Ireland was run and the way Catholic areas were policed. Whether it was possible to make such changes and keep the state intact is another matter. Certainly the British government, which was very concerned not to alienate Protestants by making changes which were too drastic, was not about to take this chance.
At the end of October 1969, after the publication of the Hunt Report and at a time when army restrictions in Derry had become more relaxed, a small group of Protestants, mostly women and teenagers, staged a sit-down protest on Craigavon Bridge. It was the second such protest they had staged against the Hunt Report and, on this occasion, a group of about forty Catholic youths responded by staging a sit-down of their own, nearby on Foyle Road. The RUC tended to be tolerant of loyalist sit-downs and did not attempt to move the protestors. The RUC then decided to move the Catholic youths. When both groups of protesters began to disperse, stone-throwing broke out between them and clashes spread towards the Diamond as crowds gathered. Troops were called out and separated the two groups by pushing a chanting Catholic crowd back towards Waterloo Place on the edge of the Bogside.
Some of the crowd gathered outside the RUC station on the Strand Road to protest at the RUC actions in dispersing the sit-down by Catholic youths. They resisted calls by Seán Keenan to move on. As the crowds pushed a bus into another bus, soldiers drew batons and charged the crowd, forcing them back into the Bogside. It is notable that at this stage the RUC and not the army were still the object of the crowd's hostility, but it was the first time the army had come into direct confrontation with a Catholic crowd as opposed to simply separating Catholics and Protestants. In the course of the trouble soldiers arrested three youths, one of them a 19 year old called Martin McGuinness. Accused of shouting abuse at soldiers he was later bound over to keep the peace for two years. This was also the first occasion on which people were convicted on the basis of long-distance identifications by British troops; in this case, by a soldier watching through binoculars from a rooftop post on the Embassy Ballroom above the scene of the riot.
A few days later there was further trouble in Waterloo
Place as crowds came out of a cinema. Once again armed soldiers were called
in, this time to break up relatively minor fighting which did not appear
to have sectarian undertones. The army was becoming deeply involved
in the day-to-day maintenance of order in the city.
In the wake of the Hunt Report, Protestant hostility to the army reached a peak but even lthough, on at least one occasion, a Protestant crowd in Derry stoned troops, the relationship between Protestants and the army was fundamentally different to that between Catholics and the army. Protestants were far more likely to complain about the 'softly-softly' approach of the army towards the Catholics than about the army's treatment of Protestants. Protestants consistently called for more troops, and more military activity, not less. They held out the constant hope that the army would come to realise that the 'real' threat came from the Catholics and the IRA. As the months went by and this hope was realised somewhat, Protestant relations with the army became warmer.
Derry Protestants had experienced the events of August 1969 in a totally different way than Catholics had. They did not experience it as a time of excitement and change as many in Creggan and the Bogside did. While Catholics were hurling petrol-bombs at the RUC on the edge of the Bogside, Protestants were bringing them tea and sandwiches. While the Bogside peace-corps was building and defending barricades, members of the Apprentice Boys of Derry were patrolling as vigilantes within Derry city walls, watching out for attacks on the buildings associated with the Protestant community and the state.
While Free Derry was seen as a 'liberated' area by many Catholics, Unionists claimed that Protestants behind the barricades were being intimidated and forced out of their homes. There were some cases of intimidation in the area. Threatening phone calls were made to a Protestant family; petrol was sprayed on a street where Protestants lived; and, just before the barricades were erected, sectarian graffiti was written on the doors of a few Protestant houses. However, there was no sudden mass exodus of Protestants from the area. In Belfast, by contrast, the violence of August 1969 sparked off large-scale population movements. One report calculated that in the summer of 1969 1,820 families were forced to flee their homes in Belfast. 82.7 per cent of the families were Catholic and they represented 5.3 per cent of Catholic households in Belfast. 0.4 per cent of Protestant households had been forced to flee.
In August 1969, Protestants put up barricades at the edge of the Fountain, in protest at the continued existence of the Free Derry barricades. They put up barricades again, for defence after the death of William King. Large-scale sectarian rioting in July and August 1969 had aroused Protestant fears and when the army came in they did not seem to have the same commitment to defending Protestant areas which the B-Specials and the RUC had had. There was a fear, which remained constant over the following few years, that a sectarian riot in Bishop Street could easily turn into an 'invasion' of the Fountain by Catholic rioters.
However, unlike the barricades in Catholic areas, such Protestant defiance of the law was almost always designed solely to force the army to take tougher measures against Catholics. It was not intended to challenge the state or the army, but to pressurise them. Although one barricade looked much like the other, they served entirely different purposes for the two communities. Sectarian clashes in Derry in late 1969 led to a contraction of Protestant 'territory' in the city as parts of the city centre began to be seen as 'unsafe'. The Protestant character of public housing estates on the mostly Catholic west bank, such as the Glen and Northland, became diluted as the sectarian housing allocation policy of the Corporation ended and Catholics began to be housed in these estates. These estates were too isolated to maintain their Protestant character in an organised way and, although they had strong unionist and loyalist traditions they did not become a focus for sectarian violence or later, a focus for loyalist paramilitaries.
It is constantly stressed that sectarian bigotry has not been strong in Derry. However, in late 1969, sectarian violence was endemic in Derry and Protestants could easily feel that the outbreaks of sectarian fighting in the city centre, and on the edge of the Fountain, represented a major sectarian threat to them. Parts of the city centre began to seem unsafe for some Protestant youths and an alienation of Protestants from the city began. Sectarian conflict in Derry, which had first appeared on a small scale in late 1968 faded in significance in early 1970 but only because it was displaced by the conflict between the army and Catholic youths. Sectarianism was an integral part of the conflict in Derry and the crowds of Catholic youths who rioted on the edge of the Fountain, who charged at army lines shouting 'up Celtic', in support of a Glasgow soccer team identified with Irish Catholics or who stoned visiting Protestant soccer supporters from Portadown with little provocation, were seen as sectarian mobs by many Protestants.
After 1970 the conflict in Derry became very much a confrontation between
two forces, the army and the Catholic community. The Protestant community
became marginalised and in many respects detached from the conflict, in
which they apparently had no role to play. This was due in large part to
the sidelining of the RUC through whom information about rioting in Catholic
areas had filtered back to Protestants. Now, as the role of the army expanded,
Protestants had less and less contact with and knowledge of the conflict
in the city. While this ensured that the conflict did not have such a strong
sectarian component, it also served to distance the Protestant community
further from the experience of the Catholic community.
By late 1969 relations between the army and the Catholic community were deteriorating and, in November, the army in Derry launched a 'hearts and minds' campaign by which it ‘hoped to restore confidence in its impartiality and good intentions’. However, at the same time as this campaign was being launched, one issue in particular was reuniting Catholic opinion in Derry against Stormont and its law and order policies.
The Unionist government had decided to prosecute Bernadette Devlin for her role in the Battle of the Bogside. If she could be prosecuted, there were many more prominent people and thousands of others who could also face jail terms for actions which even Catholic moderates had applauded. Around the same time the courts were hearing cases connected with the July 1969 riots and gradually more cases from August 1969. There was a perception among Catholics that the courts were quick to convict simply on the word of an RUC man.
As the prosecutions continued, Paddy Doherty and Seán Keenan who had headed the DCDA, called for a unified approach to the issue on the Catholic side. It was felt that moderates who had tacitly supported or accepted Free Derry were standing back now as Stormont punished some of those involved. The Derry Nationalist party spoke of a ‘growing disquiet about the attitude of the police and the judiciary in Derry’ and met Sir Arthur Young to voice this concern. The Independent Organisation also met Young and questioned him over the summonsing of people for offences committed in August 1969. Prosecutions served to renew tension. They were also the clearest demonstration that, despite British intervention, Stormont was still in control. It was not a big step from that to the realisation that the British army was maintaining the conditions for that continued control.
The 'hearts and minds' campaign was in part a response to this growing distrust and disquiet over the reassertion of Stormont's authority. However, it was also a move which served to embed the army in the life of the city, something the army seemed to want but which did not necessarily reduce tension. If the peace-ring had displayed a military mind-set, drawing on recent responses to colonial situations, the phrase 'hearts and minds' was straight out of the lexicon of colonial counter-insurgency campaigns, and awoke unfortunate echoes of American efforts in Vietnam. Once again, army commanders appeared to be deepening their local involvement without strict governmental direction or control and apparently on the initiative of military and not political leaders. For military tacticians a counter-insurgency campaign required the co-ordination of effort by the civil and military wings of the state. This was based on the proposition that guerilla war is a total war and that a government must counter it in the same terms and as Evelegh suggests, ‘manage the efforts of the whole of society as a co-ordinated campaign against insurgency’. However, given the army's constant complaints about political direction from above, what seems to be meant by this is that the civil administration should operate in line with army requirements, that in a conflict situation, civil authority should defer to the military. Looked at from a non-military perspective, this appears like a proposal that the army be free to make essentially political decisions on the basis of operational requirements.
In Derry it appears it was the army itself which was largely deciding what role it should take, and these decisions affected and changed the shape of the conflict. 'Hearts and minds', for example, was good for army morale and built some ties with the community but it probably caused more harm than good. Anything which embedded the military in the life of the city made the quick introduction of civil policing less likely. It also increased the possibilities for army-civilian contact which, for a variety of reasons, social and political, could too easily turn into conflict.
'Hearts and minds' was designed to get young Catholic males off the streets in Derry where they might cause trouble and to build up personal links between them and British soldiers. It also seems to have been designed to improve the morale of the troops by providing an outlet for their energies and by bringing them into contact with local young women. It was a measure of the continued widespread acceptance of the army and the weakness of the Republicans that there was no public opposition to 'hearts and minds' and that soldiers were able to make friendly contact with several hundred local youths and build connections with a wide range of local youth clubs and schools.
The army set up two boys' clubs, although there were already a number of well-attended boys' clubs in the city. One of the army’s boys’ clubs, based at an army barracks in the Waterside, an area where Protestants were in a majority, was attended weekly by up to 250 boys. The other, at the military police base between Bogside and Creggan, had a notably smaller attendance of about eighty boys, twice a week, even though there was a far larger youth population in this area. The RUC was involved in running these clubs. The army also co-operated with local youth clubs, boys' clubs and schools, bringing children hiking and canoeing, and running 'keep-fit' sessions for them.
While younger children were involved in these activities, the teenagers who had been out fighting the RUC and had already experienced their first confrontations with the soldiers, were not really involved. The fact that the campaign also involved activities such as an indoor soccer match between soldiers and a girls' team from the Bogside, or local girls giving Christmas gifts to soldiers from the back of a lorry, or even the free New Year's dance for 500 soldiers serving in the city, only increased tension between soldiers and local youths. Such 'competition' between young males was inevitably a cause of tension whether in Derry or in any garrison town in England.
The army also took other steps to improve their image, like landing a soldier dressed as Santa Claus on to the roof of a city centre department store from an army helicopter, helping with Meals on Wheels and visiting patients in the local mental hospital. Before leaving Derry in December 1969, Lt Col. Milmann, CO of the 1st Battalion of the Queen's Own Regiment, announced that every soldier in the battalion was donating a day's special allowance to local churches for charity. He also thanked the Derry people for their kindness. Local women in the Rossville flats gave the troops a gift of 1,000 cigarettes and a Christmas card before they left.
The 'hearts and minds' campaign reached a sort of pinnacle in New Year 1970 as the first wedding of a soldier to a local girl took place. The bride came from a village near Derry but across the international border, in Co. Donegal. The wedding took place in Co. Donegal with the groom in full uniform. As if to emphasise how much the troops had integrated into the local Catholic community, the soldier converted to Catholicism before the marriage.
However, for all of the imagery, 'hearts and minds' does not appear to have kindled widespread enthusiasm among Catholics. On two occasions the Independent Organisation discussed it at meetings and there was 'protracted discussion' on the subject a phrase which does not suggest total ease with the army's programme. The low attendance at the army's Creggan/Bogside Boys' Club suggests less enthusiasm there than in the Waterside. The campaign was also in part directed towards improving relationships with the Protestant community. To the cynical eye it might have seemed noteworthy that, at the same time as the army was teaching Bogside children how to keep-fit and to canoe, it was giving weapons and radio instruction to the schoolboy cadet force in Foyle College, a local Protestant school.
When the Queen's Own Regiment troops had arrived in Derry in August
1969, the warm response they received had determined their attitudes to
the Catholic community. The 1st battalion the Gloucestershire Regiment,
the 'Glosters' who replaced them and began a four month tour in December
1969, had no such link. No troops after the Queen's Own would feel such
a link with the local Catholic community and even the Queen's Own had become
involved in confrontation and clashes.
The Commanding Officer of the Glosters, Lt Col. Streather, MBE, never developed a public profile as his predecessor, Lt Col. Millman, had done. Brigadier Peter Leng, who remained in overall command in Derry, also now adopted a much lower profile.
Derry had been peaceful for some weeks before Christmas and restrictions on movement had been eased a great deal. However, in the first days of January 1970 the Glosters were involved in their first clashes. When a fight broke out after a New Year's dance in the Bogside, military police came to break it up. Some of the crowd turned on the military police and troops were called in to break up the crowd. As the troops pushed the crowd back, stones and bottles were thrown, two army vehicles were badly damaged and the fighting didn't die out until 5 a.m. The troops made no arrests and there were no claims of army brutality. The army had lost its 'charmed status', its associations with the 'relief' of the Bogside now that a new regiment had arrived. It seems likely that the changes of personnel helped to loosen inhibitions about attacking the army, although one Republican at least believed that troops were rotated out after four months lest they develop too much sympathy with Catholic grievances. It is notable that the crowd felt free to fight the army as they had fought the RUC. It was also the first time that the troops had been involved in clashes with Catholic youths without the prelude of sectarian clashes.
The army now had to worry not just about sectarian trouble but also about dealing with Catholic crowds late at night in any situation. The Army announced that late night movie showings would not be allowed in the city centre for at least three months, after which it would review the situation. It was an attempt to prevent crowds gathering but again it was a classically military response, a broad sweeping measure which altered an aspect of life for large numbers in the city and which was probably counter-productive. While the army was setting up clubs for young children, older teenagers whose access to the city centre had been restricted, who had been cut off from the busy late night cafés in William Street when the army sealed the street, who could now no longer go to a late-night movie at a time when cinema was still a major form of entertainment, experienced the Army's presence as a limiting of possibilities. At the end of January 1970, there were major day-time riots in Derry city centre which it appears some Republicans helped to provoke. In early 1970 Derry Republicans, selling the United Irishman in defiance of a continuing ban under the Special Powers Act, complained that British soldiers were taking photographs of the paper sellers on behalf of the RUC. The Republicans declared they would publicly defy the ban on the last Saturday in January. Word then spread that there was to be a sit-down protest against this ban, in the city centre. When 200 teenagers gathered, expecting to take part in a sit-down, there was no-one present to organise it. A confrontation developed between this crowd and a Protestant crowd on the edge of the Fountain. The army, this time interspersed with RUC men, separated the crowds. As an army helicopter circled overhead, the Catholic crowd, singing the Irish national anthem and republican songs such as 'Seán South', were pushed back towards the Bogside. Stones and insults were hurled at the army and the RUC and the army made three arrests. Trouble did not develop further and even now there was a certain measure of restraint in the crowd's attitude to the army.
A local NICRA leader, Eamon Melaugh, tried to get the crowd to disperse. He had long been a Republican and still co-operated closely with Republicans and Labour radicals. After the riots he said that a number of 'irresponsible' local Republicans had asked NICRA to announce the sit-down protest, unknown to most local Republicans. The Republicans denied organising a sit-down. It seems that some Republicans were acting to provoke a riot. As the Provisionals would establish a Republican Club in Derry a few weeks later, finally formalising the split in Derry, it is tempting to ascribe this to 'Provisional' elements who were just about to break away. However this is ultimately only speculation and Republicanism was becoming so splintered in Derry at this time that it would be wiser to ascribe it to Republican elements wishing to force the pace, who could have been affiliated to either faction or equally to none, than to the Provisionals as a group. What does not seem in doubt is that some Republicans were glad to see the army become unpopular. The Derry Republicans said the rioting was a ‘reflection of anger that the British army now seems to have filled the boots of the RUC in implementing repressive legislation’. This was overstating the importance of the Special Powers Act but the soldiers had certainly replaced the RUC as agents of control.
The Derry Journal however, continued to regard the army as an essentially benevolent force and condemned the rioting and the taunting of soldiers. But 'moderate' opinion was now more critical of the role of the army and both John Hume and Ivan Cooper condemned the re-introduction of restrictions on movement in and out of the Bogside, after this riot, as an over-reaction. Ivan Cooper warned that Derry was now facing the danger of ‘an Englishman versus Irishman kind of confrontation’.
Moderate support for the army was waning, principally because Stormont was still seen to be in control. As clashes began to intensify, the army did not have the support even in the Catholic establishment to allow them to take severe measures. Nonetheless there was widespread bemusement among Derry Catholics that local youths had begun to treat the army as an enemy. This shift can not simply be attributed to the actions of the army and it would be wrong to deal with the crowds of Catholic youths as a purely reactive force, turning against the army only because of 'army brutality'. The fact was that deference to any form of authority had been eroded among Derry youths over the past year of conflict with the RUC, and these youths were not happy to recognise the authority of the army. Also, more youths were being drawn to republicanism and nationalism and were hostile to the army on these grounds. In addition the wider political climate in 1970 did not produce sufficient pressure on them to refrain from rioting.
In early 1970, Catholic moderates believed Stormont was stalling and backpedalling on reforms as right-wing Unionists gained in strength. When charges were dropped, in January 1970, against 16 RUC men in connection with offences from January 1969, John Hume condemned it as ‘scandalous’. ‘The announcement stinks of appeasement’ (of the Unionist right-wing) Ivan Cooper declared, while on the other hand, William Craig proclaimed himself delighted. The right-wing Londonderry Unionist Association issued a rare statement praising the government. Around the same time, Chichester-Clark brought a noted right-winger into his cabinet and reintroduced the Public Order Bill. The British government appeared to be letting political control slip back to Stormont and the Derry Journal which had been the voice in Catholic Derry most consistently accepting of British government intentions was now scornful of the idea that a transformation of Northern Ireland through reform was taking place.
In this atmosphere a small scale civil-rights campaign was re-launched in Northern Ireland by left-wing groups including People’s Democracy which now, for the first time, established a branch in Derry and held a protest meeting attended by 300 people, mostly teenagers. This new campaign, coming at a time when many street-gatherings ended in disorder was organised solely by the left who began to be condemned in increasingly strident terms by conservative Catholics in Derry as rioting continued. However, there was no trouble at this meeting.
Right-wing Unionism was on the rise in early 1970 and when Ian Paisley came to address a meeting in the Guildhall on Friday evening, 6 February a group of about 100 Catholic youths gathered outside, faced by an army cordon. The youths resisted appeals to disperse from Eamonn McCann and Eamon Melaugh. As a youth in the crowd waved an Irish flag, troops moved forward and arrested him. Rioting then broke out during which, according to Eamon Melaugh, three soldiers in particular ‘went berserk and beat young people for no apparent reason.’ According to Eamonn McCann there would have been no riot but for ‘the offensive attitude and behaviour of the troops’. A Derry source, writing in Voice of the North, claimed many of the soldiers showed ‘obvious hostility’ to the youths even at ‘the early stages of the incident’.
The riot produced the first accusations of brutal behaviour by troops in Derry and marked yet another shift in relations. The army was beginning to collect more and more baggage, building up a bad reputation, and was becoming very much part of the conflict. The seizure of the Irish flag also pointed out the flaws in claims of army neutrality. It showed that the army could hardly remain neutral between British Loyalism and Irish Republicanism.
The army developed the delusion that it was a neutral force on the basis that neither side was happy with it. However, Protestants were generally unhappy because the army was not firm enough with the Catholic community, while Catholics were unhappy because the army was being too firm with them. The army was in the middle perhaps, but not exactly in a classically neutral position. After this riot the conduct of the Glosters was raised at a meeting of the Independent Organisation for the first time.
This riot culminated in baton charges, and an ‘invasion of the Bogside’ by troops, carrying out what was by now a standard strategy of pushing all riots back into William Street away from the city centre shops. The army had also now decided to make arrests during each ‘military operation’ which necessarily involved ‘invading the Bogside’. It was also a source of complaint that arrests were carried out, not in the course of clashes but by 'snatch-squads', which rushed into the Bogside, batons drawn, to lift people out of the crowd and take them away. This time there were nine arrests. Among the four who were later sent to jail was 20 year old Seán Keenan, a son of the veteran Republican. He was not alleged to have used violence but only to have refused to move on, saying ‘no bastardin' British troops will move me.’
This gives a glimpse into Republican connections with these early riots. Although there were only a few dozen of the young Republicans and the Labour radicals who co-operated with them, that was a significant number at any demonstration which was only 100 or even 300 strong. It is not to suggest that they fomented riot or organised it, but they were active and the presence of these young activists gave a certain character to such gatherings at which now a tricolour was invariably produced.
By early March 1970, clashes between troops and Catholic youths had become endemic. Older people, although dissatisfied with progress on the political front were prepared to reluctantly accept army restrictions. Younger people were not. The Bogside was not in danger of attack now that the RUC were disarmed and the B-Specials disbanded. Now younger people said there was ‘ . . no need for all these stupid patrols and barricades. All this strutting about in bullet-proof vests and steel helmets with batons [which] impresses only school weans’. Entrance to the city centre from the Bogside was still restricted, and as a Republican paper put it, 'we shall overcome' had been replaced as an anthem by 'Don't fence me in'.
There were further riots in late March and it was said at least one incident erupted over the recent victory of Dana, a Derry singer, representing the Republic of Ireland in the Eurovision song contest. Soldiers taunted youths that it was really a win for Britain, since she was from Derry, which was in Britain. These riots were extensive, did not originate with any march or demonstration and seemed particularly meaningless and gratuitous to Catholic conservatives and moderates. For the first time in recent months Independent Organisation members went out on the streets to try and prevent rioting. There was a long-delayed backlash against the rioters in the Catholic community. The Derry Journal said it was ‘time for plain speaking’ and condemned the rioting as ‘sheer rowdyism and vandalism’. It was also condemned by the Independent Organisation and by Eddie McAteer, who described it as ‘mindless violence’. Up to now, the memory of the August 1969 riots had inhibited such critics but now they came out strongly against the rioters. None of this implied a contentment with the role of the army, however, and the tide could easily turn again.
As the Republican Easter parades approached in April, the only certainty
appeared to be that there would be continued rioting.
In early 1970 the Republican movement in Ireland split into two separate factions. That Easter two separate Republican parades were held in Derry and, while the Provisionals confined theirs to the Free Derry area, the Officials marched into the city centre.
A crowd of a few thousand, less than had marched the previous year, took part in the Official Republican parade, but only a few hundred of them made it to see Tomás MacGiolla speaking from the platform outside the Guildhall. From the RUC station on the Strand Road a Union Jack was flying. The last time it had been flown, it was said, was on St. Patrick's Day. The RUC later said the flag had been flown because it was a public holiday. By contrast, the Development Commission, which flew the Union Jack from the top of the Guildhall every day, did not fly it on this day. John Hume later said the flying of the flag had been ‘particularly insensitive and even provocative’. The Derry Nationalists said it had caused a wave of resentment. As the parade passed by the RUC barracks, members of the crowd threw stones at the barracks and when a man from the crowd climbed up to try and remove the flag, people inside the station, presumably RUC men, fired stones at him and, allegedly, out at the crowd. This led to an increase in the tension.
The fact that conflict began over the British flag emphasises both the increase in popular nationalist feeling in Derry, increased resentment at the symbols of British rule, and the fact that the reformed RUC was still happy to identify itself as actively opposed to Irish nationalism. The incident which began with the flying of the flag also illustrates how the British army, which could hardly be expected to stop the flying of the Union Jack, could not remain neutral between two communities, one 'loyal' to Britain, the other 'disloyal'.
Troops were called out to try and clear the crowd away from the RUC barracks. The troops pushed the crowds back into the Bogside as was their usual practice. They then sent in snatch squads to grab people from the crowd. There were incidents of alleged brutality and Eamon Melaugh, who had been prominent in trying to halt recent riots, asked an officer for the name of a soldier who he said had just assaulted a march steward. When the officer refused, Melaugh attempted to photograph the soldier. At that point Melaugh was arrested by troops.
Among the early arrests were those of two teenage sisters who were brought, or 'dragged', down Waterloo Street ‘crying and protesting’ by soldiers. Local youths also claimed that soldiers who had charged into the Bogside had terrorised local residents. When Father Anthony Mulvey appealed to youths later that evening to disperse, they told him (as Mulvey put it) that ‘the army were as bad today as the police were in August and they will get the same treatment from us as the police did then’. By now the army had definitely brought an end to any 'softly-softly' approach. They were looking to make arrests (arresting seventeen people that day) and was taking a much more organised approach to riot duty. That evening, for example, with William Street in darkness because all the street lights were smashed, the army brought in jeeps with searchlights mounted on them to light up the street. In one sense these riots were certainly not organised. Barricades were not erected, there were no stores of petrol bombs and it seems few petrol bombs were thrown. From the point of view of Catholic youths, there had been no preparation for riot and when a little stone-throwing had broken out, the army had responded punitively. The sending in of the 'snatch-squads' to rush at crowds, wielding long batons was seen as retributive, not designed in any way to end a riot but simply to take large numbers of people into custody. In the coming months, the snatch-squads would become ever more arbitrary as the young learned to evade them and they would arrest more and more middle-aged men, teenage girls and bystanders, most of whom the compliant courts would convict and jail. Their actions were also seen as an invasion of the Bogside.
These riots with their large number of arrests and an ever more obvious army policy of using harsh tactics, demolished finally any inhibitions young rioters had about treating the army as a target as they had done the RUC. In future riots, they would attack the army from the outset with alacrity and without inhibition as the local representatives of the Stormont government.
But, if many more young rioters had finally turned completely against the army, these riots provoked more and more conservative Catholics to condemn the youthful rioters in the strongest terms. Letter-writers from the Bogside condemned the youths as ‘trash’ and ‘thugs’, were ‘disgusted’ at their foul language and asked ‘why did the elders not knock hell out of the young brats.’ John Hume said of the rioters ‘unless it is stopped now, they will destroy the whole city and everything we have stood for’.
This backlash was prompted partly by the fact that the rioting was disrupting life for residents of the Bogside who saw no sense in it. But although there were those in the Bogside who still saw the army as a force which had ‘saved us from massacre by police and Paisleyites’ and worthy of medals, most others, while harshly critical of the rioters, did not feel warmth towards the army. Opposition to the rioters by no means implied a willingness to support army action particularly as the army were held partly responsible for this imposition on Bogside residents. The army always pushed crowds into the Bogside and although the crowds were not 'outsiders' in Derry city centre, they were 'outsiders' in the Bogside. For example, of the seventeen people who appeared in court in connection with these riots, only four came from the Bogside, with seven from other areas within 'Free Derry,' such as Creggan and six from other parts of the city and surrounding countryside, including one traveller woman. Bogsiders saw no logic in such a crowd being always pushed towards them. This tactic provoked complaints from John Hume.
The violence was condemned as ‘a sorry sight’ by the Derry Journal and as ‘senseless’ by John Hume but both Hume and Eddie McAteer noted the flag incident and placed some blame on the RUC while McAteer suggested that the British army was beginning to look like the RUC in August 1969. Hume suggested the riots would delight only right-wing Unionists and ‘the hooligan element in the RUC.’
Pressure from the Catholic community on the rioters was impelled principally by the desire to lead a quiet life. It did not imply acceptance of 'snatch-squads' or baton-charges and certainly not of army measures such as the use of CS gas and the treatment of the Bogside as a giant 'holding-pen' for rioters, which only increased disruption. It was notable that those Bogside residents who made a public appeal for parents to keep their children in to prevent them rioting, did not accept that the return of the RUC could provide a solution. It was obvious that the army, with its military tactics, could not do so either.
At this stage too, it had recently been announced that Scotland Yard detectives would take over the investigation into the death of Sammy Devenney. This, to a small extent, renewed the faith of some Catholic moderates in British intentions.
The harsh local criticism of the rioting youth opened up a gap in the Catholic community in attitudes to the army, a gap, as McCann described it, which had as much to do with age as with politics. Conservative Catholics, the Nationalists and moderates were all condemning the young rioters who were now being characterised, especially by the army, as 'hooligans'. The Labour left, condemned ‘reckless trouble makers.’ However, they also defended the youth, and argued that they had been left leaderless by the people who had brought them on to the streets eighteen months before and who had praised their rioting skills only six months before.
A few days after these riots the Derry Labour party set up what it called a 'Young Hooligans Association' and began a concerted effort to politicise the youth away from rioting and into left wing politics. They were joined in this by the Official Republicans. Their aim was not just to stop the riots but to divert the energy of the rioters politically into a socialist struggle. One of their favourite points was that rioting simply allowed ‘fascist pigs’ to put young Derry people in jail. Young people were not only most affected by restrictions on movement but were also more likely to be stopped by soldiers because of their age and because they spent more time on the streets than older people. They were being stopped by boys their own age and contact between young British soldiers and local young men, whether it be in an English garrison town like Colchester, in a German city such as Berlin or in an Irish town like Derry, was always a likely source of tension. In England fights regularly broke out in pubs between groups of soldiers from different regiments. Soldiers in the early 1970s could ‘regard casual brutality as simply part and parcel of army life at the time.’ There was clearly great potential for conflict with local youths wherever soldiers were posted. In a situation like the one in Derry where British soldiers restricted movement and patrolled the streets, the possibilities for conflict were limitless, on the basis of social tensions alone. It was heightened by the fact that there was, in Derry, a strong Irish nationalist tradition which looked on such soldiers as a foreign army of occupation. Relations were not improved by the fact that the British soldiers had to endure sub-standard living conditions and the relationship between soldiers and local girls was a perennial source of tension, especially when they took to arresting some of these girls.
Discussion of the end of the Army's ‘honeymoon’ has focused on riots in Ballymurphy, in West Belfast at the beginning of April 1970, at around the same time as the Easter riots took place in Derry. The rioting in Belfast has been seen as inspired or organised by the Provisional IRA in a deliberate attempt to disrupt relations between the army and civilians. At its most blunt it is said that the Provisionals ‘engineered’ a confrontation, that they deliberately ‘provoked a weekend of trouble luring the army into tough action that caused their 'brutality' to be criticised’.
An examination of events in Derry shows that by April 1970 there had been a long series of confrontations with the army. In Derry at least, it would be foolish to see riots around this time in isolation, as being deliberately provoked by the Provisionals as they gathered strength and prepared for an armed campaign. Ryder suggests that 'tough' army behaviour was deliberately provoked by the Provisionals in April 1970 when, in fact, in Derry the army had deliberately adopted 'tougher' tactics some time before this, probably as early as January 1970.
In Derry, rioting in Easter 1970 broke out at a parade by the Official Republicans. At this time the Derry Provisionals were newly-formed and led by middle-aged and elderly men. There were certainly some younger people who were inclined towards the Provisionals but it was the Officials and their Labour party allies who had the strongest contacts with the young rioters and they generally opposed the rioting.
Whatever the experience in Belfast research on the period (and more is needed), in Derry such explanations of the breakdown are utterly nonsensical. This is not to say that Republicans were not a part of these events but it attributes power to the Provisionals which, certainly in Derry, they did not have at that time. Furthermore it absolves the British army from any responsibility for the descent into chaos. The view which sees all British army tactics, from movement restriction to 'snatch-squads' and threats to shoot petrol bombers, as essentially a 'defensive' or 'peace-keeping' reaction to riots robs the army of motive and sees it as an essentially apolitical force taking decisions simply on the basis of operational requirements. In fact, the army began to see the Catholic community as the 'problematic population' at a very early stage and operated in accordance with this highly 'political' view of the situation.
There were clearly some Republicans who wanted to riot and there is a question mark over the attitude to rioting of the Official Republicans who now worked with Labour to stop youth riots but had not tried to stop them during previous months. However to attribute riots to Republican organisations is to diminish the importance of the process by which hundreds of youths had become hostile, firstly to the RUC and now to the army over the previous 18 months. Republicans had little need to organise them for riots. The evidence in Derry suggests that a Provisional or indeed any Republican plan to end the honeymoon was not in any meaningful sense the 'cause' of these riots. This is not to say there was no truth in claims such as that by the Waterside Young Unionists who said ‘we believe that these young people are being organised by Republican youth movements and put on the streets with the specific purpose of causing disruption to the state’. The Independent Organisation also believed that some group was manipulating the rioters although they were probably more likely to join conservative Catholics in pointing the finger to the alliance of Labour and Republican radicals than at the Provisionals, who had a far more 'respectable' leadership.
The evidence of the occasional conviction of young Republicans, of the ubiquitous presence of the Irish flag and the singing of Republican songs, suggests that young Republicans and radicals were usually present in demonstrations which turned to violence. This is not to suggest that they 'organised' riots but when rioting broke out young Republicans would riot ‘as a team’ and as one former activist put it ‘we were actually dedicated rioters.’ They were prominent among those who were willing to confront the army, by staging pickets, sit-downs or by marching. At the same time, both Republican wings were rapidly expanding their youth sections, the Fianna Éireann, and if the organisations were drawing new recruits from among young rioters then, ipso facto, Fianna members were taking part in the riots and in a more organised way than the bulk of rioters. The Officials, like the Provisionals, were now expanding their military structures in Derry, both IRA and Fianna, and were preparing for a military campaign. While not encouraging riots they could easily see political contact with and education of the young rioters as an opportunity to win their support and thus gain recruits for the Republican cause and ultimately for the Official IRA. According to a former member, the Official IRA at least ‘Occasionally... gave out Molotov cocktails’ during riots in late 1970.
If there was some ambivalence in the attitudes of the Official Republicans to the riots, the Provisionals took an unequivocal attitude to those youths who were condemned as 'hooligans' by so many Derry Catholics. ‘We believe’, the elderly Provisional Republican Neil Gillespie said, ‘that very many of the young lads give vent to a deep sense of frustration because Ireland is still denied nationhood and unity’.
The Provisionals probably did not have the numbers or the influence to 'organise' rioting but their younger members were among the most active and organised rioters and, by such statements, they were opening their ranks to those many youths who had developed a deep hostility to the army through confrontation. The Provisionals would provide a welcome and a spiritual home for many of the young rioters, and an ideology which assimilated their hostility to the army in terms of a long struggle for Irish political independence.
By spring 1970 the British army had adopted a 'get tough' policy and when Lt Gen. Sir Ian Freeland stated on television that the army might shoot live rounds at petrol bombers, it once again raised the stakes as far as young rioters were concerned. Once again the army was responding as an army, an organisation designed to fight wars, promising measures which were crude and ultimately impractical. The British government publicly backed Freeland's statement and now began to act as though a political solution had been reached, that any further disruption was illegitimate, not a matter for negotiation but for repression. In many respects the initiative passed to the army. By mid 1970 the British army had decided it would need to stay in Northern Ireland for at least another three years.
It was a recognition that 'normal' policing could not be restored for some years. In the meantime, however, how was the army proposing to operate? It seems that, as Republicans re-organised in 1970 the army was preparing to wage a long-term counter-insurgency campaign against the Provisional and Official IRAs and was not thinking at all about how normal policing might be restored in Catholic areas.
The Falls Road curfew in Belfast, in July 1970, when the army placed
the area under curfew for 36 hours after a bout of rioting, conducted a
house to house search and shot dead three civilians, demonstrated that
the army was no longer inclined to deal with unrest and political dissatisfaction
in the Catholic community through negotiation. The army was no longer behaving
as a temporary police force. In Belfast it was openly waging a counter-insurgency
campaign and was busily burning the bridges to the Catholic community in
Derry and Belfast which had been built through negotiation in the first
weeks after their arrival.
Discussion of the end of the 'honeymoon' has focused heavily on the Ballymurphy riots in Belfast in Spring 1970, which have even been described as the first clashes between Catholics and the army. However, in Derry at least, the ending of the 'honeymoon' was a cumulative process, beginning within a few weeks of the arrival of the troops. The honeymoon ended as the army became involved in policing Catholic areas in a military way and as the army became involved in clashes in which it responded with what Ryder calls ‘tough action’ and others called ‘brutality’.
The central fact of the Army's presence was that, as the reform programme was diluted and the authority of Stormont was restored, ‘ . . . it would only be a matter of time before the Catholics had their worst fears confirmed: that it was not themselves who were being protected, but the Unionist government’. The fact that the army tended to adopt drastic military solutions which, 'denormalised' life in the city, served to increase tension and created a sense of permanent confrontation.
For Catholics, the reforms had not been successful and there was no sense of political resolution. They would continue to protest against and be hostile to the state. In protecting the state, the army could not expect the whole-hearted support of dissatisfied and alienated Catholic moderates and the levels of repression they used were unacceptable to moderates.
Other factors also played a major role in the end of the 'honeymoon', factors such as the growing sense of Irish nationalism, the growth of the two wings of the Republican movement, (largely a product of confrontation with the RUC and the state), the social tensions created by the presence of the army, the reduced respect for any form of authority among Catholic youths and the army's decision in early 1970 to 'get tough' with rioters.
In the absence of any acceptable policing force the army took over responsibility
for policing Catholic areas in Derry after abolishing the authority of
the DCDA. Given that there was no sense of a political resolution and there
was continued active Catholic hostility to the Unionist government, the
army would become essentially an agent for the control of the Catholic
population. As one former British CO in West Belfast put it, ‘Ultimately
these Catholic areas could only be governed by the British by the methods,
however mollified, that all occupying nations use to hold down all occupied
territories.’ This would only gradually become clear.
 DJ, 19/8/69, p.1.
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