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Violence and Civil Disturbances in Northern Ireland in 1969: Report of Tribunal of Inquiry

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Government of Northern Ireland
Violence and Civil Disturbances
in Northern Ireland in 1969
Report of Tribunal of Inquiry

Chairman: The Hon. Mr. Justice Scarman

Presented to Parliament by Command of His Excellency
the Governor of Northern Ireland
April, 1972

Published in Belfast by,

SBN 337 10566 9
Cmd. 566

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Chapter 1 - The course of events
Chapter 2 - Origin and nature of the disturbances
Chapter 3 - The RUC and the USC
Chapter 4 - The attacks
Chapter 5 - Responsibility
Chapter 6 - Belfast: May-July
Chapter 7 - Londonderry: Mid-July disturbances
Chapter 8 - Dungiven: June and July
Chapter 9 - Belfast: Early August
Chapter 10 - Londonderry: 15 July - 10 August
Chapter 11 - Londonderry: 11 and 12 August
Chapter 12 - Londonderry: 13 and 14 August
Chapter 13 - Political pressures on 13 August
Chapter 14 - Dungannon and Coalisland ...
Chapter 15 - Newry
Chapter 16 - Dungiven
Chapter 17 - Ardoyne and Crumlin Road
Chapter 18 - West Belfast
Chapter 19 - Official discussions about deployment of the Army in early August
Chapter 20 - Constitutional implications of calling in Army
Chapter 21 - The West Belfast riots: Principal features
Section 1 - Introduction
Section 2 - Trouble in Divis Street
Section 3 - Dover Street up to the death of Herbert Roy
Section 4 - Percy Street up to about I a m
Section 5 - Dover Street and Divis Street: Deaths of Patrick Rooney and
Hugh McCabe
Section 6 - Conway Street and Cupar Street
Section 7 - Percy Street after 1 a m
Section 8 - The burning of Conway Street
Section 9 - Detailed consideration of the death of Patrick Rooney
Section 10 - Detailed consideration of the death of Hugh McCabe
Section 11 - Police use of Browning guns in the Divis Street Falls Road area
Chapter 22 - Crumlin Road and Ardoyne riots: Principal features
Section 1 - Preliminary: 5 p m - 10 30 p m
Section 2 - The Hooker street riot
Section 3 - The riot in Herbert Street: the death of Samuel McLarnon
Section 4 - The riot in Butler Street: the death of Michael Lynch
Section 5 - General
Chapter 23 - Divis Street/Lower Falls
Chapter 24 - Decisions of the police and the Army
Chapter 25 - Clonard
Chapter 26 - Ardoync and Crumlin Road: 15 August
Chapter 27 - Ardoyne and Crumlin Road: 16 August
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Section 1 - Deaths
Section 2 - Personal injuries
Section 3 - Damage to property
Section 4 - Damage to licensed premises
Section 5- Intimidation
Section 6 - Displacement of persons

To His Excellency
Baron Grey of Naunton, GCMG, KCVO

Governor of Northern Ireland

1. On 27 August 1969 both Houses of Parliament of Northern Ireland resolved that it was expedient that a Tribunal be established for inquiring into a definite matter of urgent public importance: that is to say, the acts of violence and civil disturbance which occurred

    (1) during the month of March 1969 at the electricity substation, Castlereagh;
    (2) during the month of April 1969 at Kilmore, Co Armagh; Silent Valley, and Annalong, Co Down, and Clady, Co Antrim;
    (3) during the month of April 1969 at or near ten Post Offices in the City of Belfast;
    (4) during the months of July and August 1969 in the cities of Londonderry and Belfast;
    (5) during the months of July and August 1969 in the town of Dungiven;
    (6) during the month of August 1969 in the City of Armagh and in the towns of Coalisland, Dungannon and Newry; and
    (7) during the 17, 18 August 1969 at Crossmaglen, Co Armagh;
and resulted in loss of life, personal injury or damage to property.

2. By Warrant of Appointment, also dated 27 August 1969, Your Excellency , appointed the three signatories to this Report to be a Tribunal for the purposes of the inquiry mentioned in the Resolution of the two Houses of Parliament, and further appointed the first signatory to this Report as chairman of the Tribunal. The Warrant provided that the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 should apply to the Tribunal.

3. By a further Warrant given on the I I December 1970 Your Excellency varied the terms of the Warrant of Appointment of 27 August 1969 by revoking the appointment of Mr Lavery and Mr Marshall in so far as their appointment related to the acts of violence and civil disturbance which occurred-

    (1) during the month of March 1969 at the electricity substation, Castlereagh;
    (2) during the month of April 1969 at Kilmore, Co Armagh; Silent Valley, and Annalong, Co Down, and Clady, Co Antrim;
    (3) during the month of April 1969 at or near ten Post Offices in the City of Belfast;
    (4) during the months of July and August 1969 in the town of Dungiven;
    (5) during the month of August 1969 in the towns of Coalisland, Dungannon and Newry; and
    (6) during the 17, 18 August 1969 at Crossmaglen, Co Armagh;
but not further or otherwise and by declaring that in relation to the acts specified above the Tribunal should consist of the Chairman alone.

4. The effect of the Resolutions of the two Houses of Parliament and the two Warrants of Appointment is, therefore, as follows. A Tribunal consisting of all three of us has been established to inquire into the acts of violence and the civil disturbance which occurred in 1969 during the months of July and August in the Cities of Londonderry and Belfast and during the month of August in the City of Armagh. Our Chairman, sitting alone, has been the Tribunal established for inquiring into all the other acts of violence and civil disturbance listed in the Resolutions of the two Houses of Parliament.

5. Accordingly, the inquiry into the disturbances in Londonderry, Belfast and Armagh has been conducted by all three signatories to this report. The inquiry into the other matters has been conducted by our Chairman alone. Nevertheless, for the sake of clarity and continuity of exposition, we have incorporated the findings of these two inquiries into one report. In so far as the report deals with the acts of violence and civil disturbance occurring in Londonderry, Belfast and Armagh, it is the report of all three of us and the findings are those of the Tribunal of three. In so far as the report deals with the Other matters, the report and its findings are the responsibility of our Chairman.

6. The application to our proceedings of the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 meant that our inquiry was to be judicial in character. We were given thereby powers, rights and privileges vested in the High Court in respect of the enforcing of the attendance of witnesses, examining them on oath and the compelling of the production of documents. We came under an obligation not to refuse to allow the public to be present at our proceedings, unless in our opinion it was in the public interest expedient to sit in private for reasons connected with the subject-matter of the inquiry or the nature of the evidence. We were given power to authorise representation by counsel, solicitor, or otherwise of persons appearing to be interested in our proceedings. Witnesses called before us were entitled to the immunities and privileges of a witness before the High Court.

7. A number of procedural problems of varying importance had to be resolved by the Tribunal and some of them are discussed in Appendix 1. But we would emphasise that throughout our inquiry we have borne in mind the judicial and public character conferred upon our proceedings by the application of the Act of 1921. In particular, we were concerned to ensure that persons, whose conduct was criticised in written statements furnished by those whom the Tribunal proposed to call as witnesses, should be given notice of the allegations against them and have a full opportunity, with the aid of legal representation if necessary, of dealing with them

8. The Parliamentary Resolutions do not in terms require us to make any report, But Your Excellency's Warrant of Appointment empowered us to make reports from time to time as we judge expedient. We have decided to make only one report. It will be observed that on some, but not all, of the matters referred to us we have made findings. We would emphasise that we have considered ourselves entitled to make findings only in those instances in which we have felt sure that we know the truth. We have been at pains to indicate those matters on which we have made positive findings.

9. We first sat in Belfast on 5 September 1969. We conducted hearings in Londonderry in the months of September to December 1969. To hear witnesses concerned with the Armagh and Newry disturbances, and the Crossmaglen incident, we sat in Armagh. All other hearings were conducted in the Royal Courts of Justice, Belfast, where we sat, though not continuously, from January 1970 to the end of June 1971. The Tribunal inspected the scene of each disturbance covered by the report. The details of the hearings and the witnesses called are set out in Appendix IV.

10. The Tribunal was greatly assisted in its work by both solicitors and counsel instructed to appear before it. But for the skilled and sustained work of both counsel and solicitors instructed on behalf of the Tribunal, an investigation as complex and detailed as this inquiry proved to be could never have been completed. We are equally indebted to counsel and solicitors who appeared for those to whom we gave leave to be represented: their thorough cross-examination of witnesses and well prepared final submissions illumined much that was obscure, and ensured that a full hearing was given to all persons affected by the inquiry. The list of representations is to be found in Appendix VII.

11. We wish to record the admiiration and appreciation that we feel for the work of our Secretary, Mr. A. J. Green, our Assistant Secretary, Mr. W. T. McCrory, our legal assistant, Mr. J. A. W. Strachan of the English Bar, and the administrative and clerical staff. Their dedicated work over a period exceeding two years calls for more than the personal thanks of the three of us: it needs to be recognised as a public service of outstanding merit. The best tribute, however, is quite simply to place on public record that our staff have consistently and often under severe pressure devoted to the work of the Tribunal the zeal and intelligence that we, citizens of the United Kingdom, have come to expect of our civil service.

12. Copies of the record of our proceedings, which includes the evidence, the exhibits and the final submissions of counsel, together with a detailed chronology prepared by the secretariat for the use of the Tribunal, have been deposited with the British Museum, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Queen's University, Belfast, New University of Ulster, and the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London.

W T McCRORY (Assistant Secretary) WILLIAM MARSHALL
4 February 1972



Terms and abbreviations

1.1 A few remarks are needed about terms. We have not been able to avoid describing groups as Catholic or Protestant. These terms are used only as labels indicating well understood community identifications. No more meaning should be given to the terms than that.

Members of the RUC and USC are referred to in the report by their titles during the disturbances.

At that time the basic RUC ranks were Constable, Sergeant, Head Constable, District Inspector, and County Inspector. The RUC was headed by the Inspector ,General, assisted by the Deputy Inspector General. The Belfast force was controlled by the Commissioner for Belfast, and a Deputy Commissioner. In the report we normally abbreviate basic titles to Const, Sgt, HC, DI, and Cl. We sometimes refer to the IG, DIG and D/Commissioner.

The basic ranks in the USC were Special Constable, Special Sergeant, Sub-District Commandant, District Commandant and County Commandant. In the report we normally abbreviate these titles to S/Const, S/Sgt, SDC, DC and CC. There were also full-time Sergeant Instructors. These are normally described as Sgt/Instructors.


Antecedent events

1.2 An accurate assessment of the 1969 disturbances requires some knowledge of events in the province since unrest developed in 1968. These initial events have been described in the Report of the Cameron Commission[1], and we feel we can deal with them briefly.

1.3 In June 1968 the local Member of Parliainent (N1), exposed a case of house allocation in Caledon in which there was discrimination in favour of an unmarried Protestant girl. The agitation which started over this case caught the imagination of the non-Unionist minority in the Province and greatly increased the standing and influence of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association.[2] Events elsewhere in the world, particularly perhaps the student riots in France in the early summer of that year, encouraged the belief that a policy of street demonstrations at critical places and times could achieve results, if only because they would attract the attention of the mass media. The Government of Northern Ireland felt the pressures that NICRA and others were able to create, and responded first by outright resistance, and then by concessions. Thus Mr Craig, the then Minister of Home Affairs (NI), banned a demonstration scheduled to take place in Londonderry on 5 October. The ban was defied and a violent clash between police and demonstrators occurred. Further unrest followed in Londonderry. Then a reform programme was announced by the Government in November; but it was regarded as inadequate by the minority, and did not efface or diminish their feeling that the police would be used as a partisan force to suppress the political demonstrations of those opposed to the Northern Ireland Government.

1.4 Undoubtedly, the Government was faced with a familiar dilemma. If it stood firm it attracted violent opposition. Yet to promise reform after threats to law and order was a recipe to encourage further demonstrations and counter demonstrations, and to increase rather than diminish the risk of confrontations between minority groups and the police. In 1969 this dilemma of the Government became more pronounced.

1.5 "The Peoples Democracy" (the origins of which are described in Cameron, chapter 5) staged a march from Belfast to Londonderry. It reached Londonderry on 4 January after harassment and violence at Burntollet Bridge. A riot followed in Londonderry, which gave rise to allegations of police violence and partiality. The police were excluded from the Bogside area of the city for a few days because of the high feeling against them. The Government announced an inquiry by County Inspector Baillie into the allegations against the police, but the announcement did little to assuage feeling. The investigation was held in private and the report was not published. But there is no doubt that some breakdown of police discipline did occur on 4/5 January.

1.6 The reform programme had left opposition activists dissatisfied, but at the same time it had evoked hostility from some Protestants. Of their counter-demonstrations the most notable was one organised by Dr Paisley and others in Armagh on 30 November 1968. Later he and Major Bunting were convicted of unlawful assembly for their part in this affair and sentenced to three months' imprisonment. Their appeal was heard on 26 March 1969 and dismissed.

1.7 There had been a Stormont general election in February, after which Captain O'Neill remained Prime Minister, although in his own constituency he had defeated Dr Paisley only by a narrow majority. There were serious Catholic riots in Londonderry on 19 and 20 April, in which a Mr Devenny was seriously injured.[3] Again there were prima facie grounds for supposing that some police indiscipline had occurred. There were also some consequential disturbances in Belfast.

1.8 While the Catholic minority was developing confidence in its power, a feeling of insecurity was affecting the Protestants. They became the more determined to hold their traditional summer parades, particularly those in Londonderry and Belfast. In these circumstances sectarian conflict was to be expected, unless the police were strong enough to prevent it.

1.9 But the police were not strong enough. The overall strength of the RUC was approximately 3,200. It included a Reserve Force of 8 platoons which was used for riot control. Each of these platoons had about 30 members. In addition to the RUC there was available the USC, whose total strength was about 8,500. Of the USC some 300 had been fully mobilised for duties with the RUC. The rest were part-time volunteers, who, for reasons to which we refer later, could not be effectively used in the event of sectarian conflict. No other police were available: in particular, in 1969, it was not, in practice, possible to reinforce the RUC from other police forces in the UK.

1.10 Behind the police stood the Army. While in the last resort the Army is available to support the civil power, its use creates as many problems as it solves. Moreover, in Northern Ireland there is the added problem that, while law and order are the responsibility of the Northern Ireland government,[4] the operational control of the Army has always remained with the UK government.

1.11 Thus, when sectarian disturbances erupted in 1969, the only effective instrument of control available to the Northern Ireland government was the RUC. If they called out the USC, they ran the risk of deepening the conflict: if they called for the aid of the Army, they had to submit to the operational control of Whitehall. We are satisfied that these difficulties were present in the minds of the Minister for Home Affairs (NI) and his police advisers and influenced their decisions in July and August.

Outline of the disturbances

1.12 The "definite matter of urgent public importance" which the Tribunal was established to investigate might appear to include all the acts of violence and civil disturbance occurring between March and August 1969. Any such interpretation of the two resolutions would be false. Serious disturbances did occur during this period which are not included in the resolutions. To mention three instances, serious disturbances occurred in Londonderry during April, in Lurgan and Strabane during August, but are excluded from our inquiry.

1.13 On the last day of March and during the month of April there occurred a number of explosions at electricity and water installations in the Province. We are satisfied that, though the perpetrators of these outrages cannot, with one exception, be identified, they were the work of Protestant extremists who were anxious to undermine confidence in the government of Captain O'Neill. At the time it was widely thought that the explosions were the work of the IRA, though it is quite clear now that they were not. On 28 April Captain O'Neill resigned and on 1 May was succeeded by Major Chichester Clark. One of the new Prime Minister's first acts was to announce an amnesty for all offences connected with demonstrations since 5 October 1968, one consequence of which was to release Dr Paisley and Major Bunting from gaol. On 8 May the Civil Rights Association announced the suspension of its civil disobedience campaign in view of the amnesty.

1.14 Although for a time the Province enjoyed a more peaceful atmosphere, tension was still high, particularly in areas where Republican feeling ran strongly-Londonderry and the Ardoyne district of Belfast. In May, there were some disturbances in the Ardoyne near Hooker Street, and on the 29th of that month there was a meeting between the Ardoyne Citizens' Action Committee and senior police officers.

1.15 Meanwhile, the Protestant community was determined, notwithstanding the agitation of the minority groups, to hold its traditional summer ceremonies. The danger of the situation was that, as a result of recent events, the minority was not inclined to let the marches go by without protest. This feeling was naturally more acute in certain areas where there was a difficult local situation. Thus, in June there were troubles associated with an Orange church parade and a ceremony of unfurling a new banner at the Orange Hall in Dungiven, a predominantly Catholic town. But the situation did not become serious in the Province as a whole until July, when the approach of the traditional marches of the 12th heightened tension everywhere. Disturbances which arose by way of minority response to Protestant marches occurred on 12 July in Londonderry, Dungiven, and in Belfast in the neighbourhood of Unity Flats and in the Ardoyne.

1.16 The full consequences of these disturbances were not understood at the time but only emerged in the course of evidence before the Tribunal. In Londonderry, where the disturbances had been particularly severe, the Derry Citizens' Action Committee,[5] which was associated with, but not part of, NICRA, and had been the focal point of the expression of minority views and actions, was superseded by a more aggressive body known as the Derry Citizens' Defence Association. This body took over the function of "defence" of the Bogside.

1.17 Protestants too were becoming more turbulent. Angry Protestant crowds had with difficulty been dissuaded from entering Dungiven on 12 and 13 July to protect the Orange Hall. In Belfast there was high feeling, out of all proportion to the incident itself, as a result of a minor injury to a boy in the procession that passed Unity Flats on 12 July. At the same time the Shankill Defence Association, a body recently formed and previously of no great influence, began to emerge on the streets under the leadership of Mr McKeague. This body was active in assisting Protestant families to move out of Hooker Street and there is evidence which we accept that it encouraged Catholic families to move out of Protestant streets south of the Ardoyne. This movement constituted a retreat into their own areas by outlying members of the two communities, for the sake of security.

1.18 There was serious rioting by Protestants on the Shankill Road near Unity Flats in the early days of August. In the course of these riots, the Protestant mobs made a determined attempt to invade Unity Flats, and also appeared in force on the Crumlin Road. They were successfully resisted by the sustained efforts of the police, who incurred the anger of some sections of Protestant opinion by their baton charges up the Shankill Road. It is significant that during these Protestant riots of early August two senior policemen, the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner for Belfast, concluded that the police were unable any longer to control serious disturbances in the City of Belfast. Both these officers felt the time had come to call the Army to the aid of the civil power.

1.19 On 12 August the traditional Apprentice Boys' Parade was due to take place in Londonderry. The Minister of Home Affairs and his senior police advisers had to decide whether or not to ban it. Believing that all sections of responsible opinion in Londonderry were anxious to keep the peace and that, in particular, the Apprentice Boys on one side, and the Bogside leaders on the other had made detailed arrangements for stewarding, the Minister decided not to intervene, but to allow the parade to proceed. The parade itself was well controlled and orderly but, as it passed through Waterloo Place, some stones were thrown out of William Street in the direction of the police and the parade. The stone-throwers were young hooligans, but their actions released the strong feeling of the Bogside to an extent that the few stewards available were quite unable to control. From this small beginning developed not only three days of disturbance in Londonderry, but the many disturbances elsewhere, including in particular the very serious disorders in Belfast.

1.20 It must be remembered that people were influenced not only by such major events as the Londonderry riot, but also by their own local situations. For instance, the Civil Rights Association had been picketing the Local Authority Offices in Dungannon for many months. On 11 August they were forestalled by the Protestants. Later that evening, after a meeting of the Civil Rights Association, a Catholic riot developed which was dispersed only after baton charges by the police down Irish Street. There were allegations of police brutality and there is no doubt that these allegations disturbed not only the Catholic population of Dungannon, but also the people living in the neighbouring village of Coalisland. On 12 August there was a serious riot in Coalisland, while on the 13th rioting again broke out in Dungannon.

1.21 On the l3th the disturbances spread to other centres.Therewasserious trouble in the Falls Road area of Belfast. At the same time there were riots in Dungannon, Dungiven, Newry and Armagh. The scale of the riots in Londonderry was such that they were beyond the ability of the police to suppress or control. It became clear to those in authority that the aid of the Army would have to be sought. At five o'clock on 14 August the Army entered Londonderry.

1.22 We are satisfied that the spread of the disturbances owed much to a deliberate decision by some minority groups to relieve police pressure on the rioters in Londonderry. Amongst these groups must be included NICRA, whose executive decided to organise demonstrations in the Province so as to prevent reinforcement of the police in Londonderry. We were told that they intended to exclude Belfast from their plans; but we have no doubt that some activists, so far from accepting the decision, did co-operate with some in Londonderry to call for demonstrations in Belfast. There is clear evidence of such a call being made in Divis Street on the 13th.

1.23 On the night of the 14th, the worst violence of the 1969 disturbances occurred in Belfast, notably in the Ardoyne and on the Falls Road. The police, who believed by now that they were facing an armed uprising, used guns, including Browning machine-guns mounted on Shorland armoured vehicles. Four Catholics were shot dead by police fire: one Protestant was killed by a shot fired by a rioter in Divis Street. Catholic houses were burnt by Protestants, especially in the Conway Street area. The only clear evidence of direct IRA participation in these riots occurred at the St. Comgall's School in Divis Street, where automatic fire was directed against the police. On the same night there was a riot in Armagh, as a result of which a Catholic man was killed by USC fire.

1.24 By the morning of I5 August the police were exhausted. They failed to control the violence which broke out that day on the Crumlin Road and in the Clonard area of the city. Nor did they prevent the burning of factories by Catholics and public houses by Protestants. It has to be admitted that the police were no longer in control of the city. On the evening of the 15th, the Army entered the Falls Road, but not the Crumlin Road, which was the scene of a serious confrontation between Protestants and Catholics. Two people - one Protestant and one Catholic-died by civilian shooting in Belfast on 15 August. Catholic houses were burnt that night by Protestants at Bombay Street (Falls Road area) and Brookfield Street (Crumlin Road). On the evening of 16 August, the Army entered the Crumlin Road and thereafter the disturbances died away. In some riot areas barricades remained. Defence committees began to exercise de facto authority in several Catholic areas. So far as the Falls Road district is concerned we are satisfied that the disturbances produced the committees rather than the committees the disturbances.


2.1 It is possible to reach some general conclusions as to the origin and nature of the riots and other disorders which disturbed the Province in the spring and summer of 1969. At the time both the Prime Minister (NI) and Cardinal Conway[6] issued public statements. On 14 August the Prime Minister declared in the House of Commons:-

    "This is not the agitation of a minority seeking by lawful means the assertion of political rights. It is the conspiracy of forces seeking to overthrow a Government democratically elected by a large majority. What the teenage hooligans seek beyond cheap kicks I do not know. But of this I am quite certain - they are being manipulated and encouraged by those who seek to discredit and overthrow this Government".[7]

On 23 August the Cardinal, together with the Bishops of Derry, Clogher, Dromore, Kilmore, and Down and Connor, issued a statement which included the following.-

    "The fact is that on Thursday and Friday of last week the Catholic districts of Falls and Ardoyne were invaded by mobs equipped with machine-guns and other firearms. A community which was virtually defenceless was swept by gunfire and streets of Catholic homes were systematically set on fire.
    We entirely reject the hypothesis that the origin of last week's tragedy was an armed insurrection".[8]

The conspiracy theory
2.2 In our judgment there was no plot to overthrow the Government or to mount an armed insurrection. But, although there was no conspiracy in the sense in which that term is normally used (for it is not possible to identify any group or groups of persons deliberately planning the riots of 1969), yet it would be the height of naivety to deny that the teenage hooligans, who almost invariably threw the first stones, were manipulated and encouraged by persons seeking to discredit the Government. While accepting that the major riots that occurred in Londonderry, Belfast, Armagh and Dungannon were not deliberately planned, we are satisfied that, once the disturbances started, they were continued by an element that also found expression in bodies more or less loosely organised, such as the People's Democracy, and various local Defence Associations, and in associating themselves with bodies such as NICRA and the several Action Comniittees. The public impact of the activities of this element was tremendously enhanced by the coverage given by the mass media of communication.

2.3 The matters remitted to us do, however, include some acts of violence which were planned. The explosions at the public utility installations in March and April resulted from the criminal conspiracy of certain extreme Protestants concerned to undermine confidence in Captain O'Neill's administration. It is highly probable, though direct evidence is lacking, that the bomb attacks on the Belfast post offices in April were planned by Republican elements as a diversionary tactic to relieve the Bogside where heavy rioting was in progress. Finally, the attack on the Crossmaglen police station in August was an IRA operation planned and carried out from a base in the Republic.

2.4 But the riots are a different matter. Neither the IRA nor any Protestant organisation nor anybody else planned a campaign of riots. They were communal disturbances arising from a complex political, social and economic situation. More often than not they arose from slight beginnings: but the communal tensions were such that, once begun, they could not be controlled. Young men threw a few stones at some policemen or at an Orange procession: there followed a confrontation between police and stone-throwers now backed by a sympathetic crowd. On one side people saw themselves, never "the others", charged by a police force which they regarded as partisan: on the other side, police and people saw a violent challenge to the authority of the State. These attitudes were the creature of recent events. Their own interpretations of the events of 1968 and early 1969 had encouraged the belief amongst the minority that demonstrations did secure concessions, and that the police were their enemy and the main obstacle to a continuing programme of demonstrations, while the same events had convinced a large number of Protestants that a determined attempt, already gaining a measure of success, was being made to undermine the constitutional position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. In so tense a situation it needed very little to set going a major disturbance.

2.5 Undoubtedly there was an IRA influence at work in the DCDA in Londonderry, in the Ardoyne and Falls Road areas of Belfast, and in Newry. But they did not start the riots, or plan them: indeed, the evidence is that the IRA was taken by surprise[9] and did less than many of their supporters thought they should have done.

2.6 The IRA had, we were assured, a plan for subversion[10] : no doubt, it always has had: but, in so far as it participated in the disturbances under reviews, its members joined in after they had begun. The incident of the shooting from St. Comgall's School, in its timing and its uniqueness, illustrates the point: as do the violent and futile actions of the IRA in Newry and Crossmaglen.

2.7 There is evidence, however, of preparations for "defence" by the DCDA in Londonderry, a body which certainly included some IRA members. But, as our review of the Londonderry disturbances reveals, the basic pattern was reaction to, and not the initiating of, the course of events. The DCDA did not organise the disturbances: but it made quite elaborate preparations to keep the police out of the Bogside, if necessary by violence, in the event of disturbances erupting on the streets. The true difference between the IRA in Belfast and the DCDA in Londonderry was that the DCDA was ready, while the IRA was not.

2.8 The NICRA did not plan the rioting but it did help to spread the disturbances on 13 August. Several of its prominent members were Republicans and there were various links with IRA personalities. We accept the statements of Mr Kevin Boyle and Mr Frank Gogarty[11] that they regarded the August disturbances as disastrous. When Mr Boyle was asked whether they provided an opportunity which might be exploited to attain his ends, he said:-

    "No, quite the reverse. I am quite convinced that the events in August 1969 put back my ideals much further than they put back the Unionist Government's."

But equally we accept Mr Gogarty's own assessment of his Association's responsibility for the Protestant backlash of 14 and 15 August: -

    "In this matter I am afraid that we all on the Executive under-estimated the strength of militant Unionism at this time, and had we foreseen the holocaust which did occur in mid-August we most certainly would not have entered on such an enterprise as we did, but ... we underestimated the influence which possibly many right-wing Unionist politicians had when they slandered our Association as subversive. We did not really believe that this slander would have been believed as strongly by many Protestants as it seems it was."

In that sense NICRA bears a heavy, albeit indirect, responsibility for the horrors that occurred on 14 August.

Politicians of the opposition
2.9 There is no evidence to implicate the leaders of th e political opposition. Men like Mr Hume, Mr Ivan Cooper, Mr G Fitt, however strong their words on a political platform, consistently opposed violence. The political feeling they engendered no doubt played a part in the build-up of the tension which gave rise to the disturbances, but, where speech is free, this is a danger that has to be accepted. Miss Bernadette Devlin was, however, an exception. Although her participation was limited, her principal activity being associated with the building and the manning of the Rossville Street barricade in Londonderry, she must bear a degree of responsibility, once the disturbances had begun, for encouraging Bogsiders to resist the police with violence. Yet her role was a minor one, and we have no evidence that she was a party to any plot to subvert the state or stir up insurrection,

The Protestant invasion theory
2.10 Protestant participation in the disorders under review was largely that of violent reaction to disturbances started by Catholics, though there were exceptions.[12] Their reaction was particularly fierce in Belfast in mid-August, when it took the form of violent eruptions into Catholic areas - the Falls, Divis Street, and Hooker Street. These eruptions, the course of which we trace in detail later in the Report, may with some justice be described as "invasions" - given the "ghetto" pattern of so much of Belfast.

2.11 Yet when one looks at the Protestant side of the sectarian divide, it is not very different from the Catholic side. There was no province-wide organisation sponsoring a policy of disturbance. The Orange Order and its lodges were determined to hold their parades and ceremonies, although well aware of the risks of violent reaction. Many Orangemen enjoyed provoking their opponents - just as those opponents enjoyed jeering at and disrupting Orange processions. The opportunities for communal disturbance were plentiful: but, while many Orangemen did little or nothing to reduce them, there was no riot or battle plan.

2.12 The only centre where there was evidence of a Protestant organisation actively participating in the riots was Belfast. Members of the Shankill Defence Association participated in the disturbances on the Crumlin Road and in the Falls, including the Protestant eruptions into Divis Street, Clonard and Brookfield Street, which led to the burning of Catholic homes; but this is not to say that the organisation planned the burnings, and we have no acceptable evidence that it or any other organisation was party to any such plan. The truth, we believe, was simply that, at a time when communal feeling was high, violent events released violent passions which men such as Mr McKeague did nothing to assuage and which proved to be beyond the ability of the people's leaders or the police to control.

2.13 Nevertheless, just as on the other side of the sectarian divide loomed the sinister shadow of the IRA, so among the Protestants there lurked extremists eager to identify themselves with the Ulster Volunteer Force of 1912, the year of the "Ulster Covenant".[13] The evidence suggests that these men really directed their activities against the moderates of the Unionist party, paying little or no attention to the IRA or the political Opposition. Thus, the public utility explosions in April, which the Tribunal is satisfied were the work of these extremists, were directed against the Unionist government of the day.

2.14 Our inquiry and the evidence elicited have not revealed the existence of any "UVF" organisation comparable with the command structure of the IRA. Nevertheless it is to be noted that in 1966 the Government of Northern Ireland placed the UVF on the list of illegal organisations, where it still remains.

2.15 The name of Dr Paisley has been linked with these extremists. A major submission made on behalf of some who were represented before the Tribunal was to the effect that Dr Paisley by his actions and speeches must be held largely responsible for the disturbances. Those who live in a free country must accept as legitimate the powerful expression of views opposed to their own, even if, as often happens, it is accompanied by exaggeration, scurrility, and abuse. Dr Paisley's spoken words were always powerful and must have frequently appeared to some as provocative: his newspaper was such that its style and substance were likely to rouse the enthusiasm of his supporters and the fury of his opponents. We are satisfied that Dr Paisley's role in the events under review was fundamentally similar to that of the political leaders on the other side of the sectarian divide. While his speeches and writings must have been one of the many factors increasing tension in 1969, he neither plotted nor organised the disorders under review and there is no evidence that he was a party to any of the acts of violence investigated by us.

General conclusion

2.16 Thus, a study of the Protestant side of the disturbances reveals the same basic pattern as that of the Catholic - communal disturbances erupting without plan or premeditation during a summer when the traditional Protestant marches and ceremonies, following immediately after the massively publicized and vividly remembered events of the period August 1968 to April 1969, provided a series of occasions for the eruption of violence which neither the political leaders nor the forces available to the NI Government could prevent or suppress.

2.17 One final comment needs to be made. The absence of any sustained heavy shooting by civilians, save for the firing from St. Comgall's school on the night of 14/15 August, was a feature of the disturbances. While weapons were fired on occasions by Protestants and by Catholics the rarity of organised gunfire, which is well evidenced by the very few police casualties attributable to bullet or pellet injury, combines with the other more direct evidence discussed in this chapter to support the conclusion that in 1969 there was no organised campaign of armed insurrection by one side or of armed vengeance by the other.



3.1 In a very real sense our inquiry was an investigation of police conduct. Criticism was directed against the higher direction of the RUC, the manner of their employment on the streets during the disturbances, the use of CS gas, the use of guns, and the behaviour of individual policemen. We deal with these criticisms as they arise for consideration in our detailed discussion of the disturbances. At this stage we direct attention only to criticisms of general importance.

3.2 Undoubtedly mistakes were made and certain individual officers acted wrongly on occasions. But the general case of a partisan force co-operating with Protestant mobs to attack Catholic people is devoid of substance, and we reject it utterly.

3.3 We are satisfied that the great majority of the members of the RUC was concerned to do its duty, which, so far as concerned the disturbances, was to maintain order on the streets, using no more force than was reasonably necessary to suppress rioting and protect life and limb. Inevitably, however, this meant confrontation and on occasions conflict with disorderly mobs. Moreover, since most of the rioting developed from action on the streets started by Catholic crowds, the RUC were more often than not facing Catholics who, as a result, came to feel that the police were always going for thern, baton-charging them -never "the others".

3.4 In fact the RUC faced and, if necessary, charged those who appeared to them to be challenging, defying, or attacking them. We are satisfied that, though they did not expect to be attacked by Protestants, they were ready to deal with them in the same way, if it became necessary. The Shankill riots of the 2/4 August establish beyond doubt the readiness of the police to do their duty against Protestant mobs, when they were the disturbers of the public peace.

3.5 But it is painfully clear from the evidence adduced before us that by July the Catholic minority no longer believed that the RUC was impartial and that Catholic and civil rights activists were publicly asserting this loss of confidence. Understandably these resentments affected the thinking and feeling of the young and the irresponsible, and induced the jeering and throwing of stones which were the small beginnings of most of the disturbances. The effect of this hostility on the RUC themselves was unfortunate. They came to treat as their enemies, and accordingly also as the enemies of the public peace, those who persisted in displaying hostility and distrust towards them.

3.6 Thus there developed the fateful split between the Catholic community and the police. Faced with the distrust of a substantial proportion of the whole population and short of numbers, the RUC had (as some senior officers appreciated) lost the capacity to control a major riot. Their difficulties naturally led them, when the emergency arose, to have recourse to methods such as baton-charges, CS gas and gunfire, which were sure ultimately to stoke even higher the fires of resentment and hatred.

3.7 There were, in our judgment, six occasions in the course of these disturbances when the police, by act or omission, were seriously at fault.
They were:-

    (1) The lack of firm direction in handling the disturbances in Londonderry during the early evening of 12 August. The "Rossville Street incursion" was undertaken as a tactical move by the Reserve Force commander without an understanding of the effect it would have on Bogside attitudes. The County Inspector did understand, but did not prevent it. The incursion was seen by the Bogsiders as a repetition of events in January and April and led many, including moderate men such as Father Mulvey, to think that the police must be resisted.

    (2) The decision by the County Inspector to put USC on riot control duty in the streets of Dungannon on 13 August without disarming them and without ensuring that there was an experienced police officer present and in command.

    (3) The similar decision of the County Inspector in Armagh on 14 August

    (4) The use of Browning machine-guns in Belfast on 14 August and IS August. The weapon was a menace to the innocent as well as the guilty, being heavy and indiscriminate in its fire: and on one occasion (the firing into St Brendan's block of flats where the boy Rooney was killed) its use was wholly unjustifiable.

    (5) The failure to prevent Protestant mobs from burning down Catholic houses:-
    (a) in the Conway Street area on the night of 14/15 August: members of the RUC were present in Conway Street at the time, but failed to take effective action;
    (b) in Brookfield Street on the night of 15/16 August: a police armoured vehicle was in the Crumlin Road when Brookfield Street was set on fire, but made no move.

    (6) The failure to take any effective action to restrain or disperse the mobs or to protect lives and property in the riot areas on 15 August during the hours of daylight and before the arrival of the Army.

3.8 The conduct which we have criticised was due very largely to the belief held at the time by many of the police, including senior officers, that they were dealing with an armed uprising engineered by the IRA. This was what all their experience would have led them to expect: and when, on 13 August, some firing occurred and a grenade was thrown in Leeson Street, Belfast, their expectation seemed to them to have materialised. In dealing with an armed uprising, the usual restraints on police conduct would not be so strong, while more attention would naturally be given to the suppression of the insurgents than to the protection of people's lives and property. In fact, the police appreciation that they had on their hands an armed uprising led by the IRA was incorrect. Direct IRA participation was slight; and there is no credible evidence that the IRA planned or organised the disturbances.

3.9 But there was a more fundamental cause for these failures. Police strength was not sufficient to maintain the public peace but the Inspector-General acted in August as though it was. The Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner for Belfast had learnt the lesson, at the time of the Protestant riots in early August, when they reached the view that, without the aid of the Army, order could not be ensured on the streets of Belfast. But it is clear from the advice given to the Minister of Home Affairs (NI) on the issue whether or not to ban the Apprentice Boys' parade and from his own evidence given to the Tribunal that the Inspector-General did not share this view. It was not until he was confronted with the physical exhaustion of the police in Londonderry on the 14th and in Belfast on the 15th that he was brought to the decision to call in the aid of the Army. Had he correctly appreciated the situation before the outbreak of the mid-August disturbances, it is likely that the Apprentice Boys' parade would not have taken place and the police would have been sufficiently reinforced to prevent disorder arising in the city. Had he correctly appreciated the threat to Belfast that emerged on 13 August, he could have saved the city the tragedy of the 15th. We have no doubt that he was well aware of the existence of political pressures against calling in the Army; but their existence constituted no excuse, as he himself recognised when in evidence he stoutly and honourably asserted that they did not influence his decisions.

3.10 The criticisms we have made should not, however, be allowed to obscure the fact that, overall, the RUC struggled manfully to do their duty in a situation which they could not control. Their courage, as casualties and long hours of stress and strain took their toll, was beyond praise; their ultimate failure to maintain order arose not from their mistakes, nor from any lack of professional skill, but from exhaustion and shortage of numbers. Once large-scale communal disturbances occur they are not susceptible to control by police. Either they must be suppressed by overwhelming force, which, save in the last resort, is not acceptable in our society and was not within the control of the NI Government; or a political solution must be devised. There are limits to the efficiency of the police and the criminal law: confronted with such disturbances the police and the ordinary processes of the criminal law are of no avail.


3.11 There were grave objections, well understood by those in authority, to the use of the USC in communal disturbances. In 1969 the USC contained no Catholics[14] but was a force drawn from the Protestant section of the community. Totally distrusted by the Catholics, who saw them as the strong arm of the Protestant ascendancy, they could not show themselves in a Catholic area without heightening tension. Moreover they were neither trained nor equipped for riot control duty.

3.12 Nevertheless the USC was the only reserve[15] available to the NI Government if events should develop which over-extended the RUC. Accordingly, in July the Minister for Home Affairs (NI) had authorised their use in riot control without firearms, but with batons. After USC protest, he revised the instruction by allowing officers and NC0s to carry arms.

3.13 On 13 August the Prime Minister indicated in a broadcast that USC would not be used for riot control but on the 14th an instruction was issued to the effect that they could be so used, but equipped "where possible" with batons. It was not until the 15th that USC were expressly instructed to report for duty with their firearms.

3.14 The effect of the difficulties and the instructions set out above was that the USC were largely held in reserve in July and only hesitantly committed in August. They were not used at all during the July disturbances in Londonderry but did appear on the streets of Dungiven on 13 July when a party of USC without provocation fired over the heads of a crowd emerging from the Castle ballroom.

3.15 When in early August the Shankill riots exposed the weakness of the police when threatened by Protestant as well as Catholic rioting, the decision was taken to use the USC for patrol duties in the Shankill. They were successful in this predominantly Protestant area at a time when the RUC were not welcome -because of their firm action against the Protestant mobs at the beginning of the month. The USC performed their patrol duties unarmed.

3.16 Until14 August USC were also used in Belfast to protect licensed premises which, being largely Catholic owned and managed, were at risk from Protestant hooligans when communal tension was high. Again, they did the job well-as is evidenced by the destruction of so many public houses as soon as they were withdrawn.

3.17 On 14 August, the day that a broadcast call for their report to duty to their nearest police station went out, USC appeared on the streets of Londonderry, Belfast, Dungannon, Armagh, and Newry.

3.18 In Londonderry they appeared in some numbers at Waterloo Place and Bishop Street. They did not carry firearms. Their arrival in Waterloo Place caused consternation among the Catholics: but, in fact, they did little or nothing. In Bishop Street they were used to restrain a Protestant crowd in the Fountain. There is some evidence of special constables misbehaving themselves in this area by participating in an exchange of petrol bombs and missiles with a Catholic crowd. There is however nothing to justify any general criticism of the USC in the few hours that it performed riot duty on the streets of Londonderry.

3.19 On 13 August USC, who had arrived to assist the hard-pressed police in Coalisland, fired without orders into a riotous crowd but were immediately ordered to stop, which they did. On the 14th in Dungannon and Armagh armed parties of USC opened fire on Catholic crowds, causing casualties, including one death at Armagh.

3.20 In Coalisland there were extenuating circumstances, in as much as the police party was under severe pressure from a riotous mob which heavily out-numbered them. In Armagh, deprived of police leadership, USC personnel panicked, but there was no justification for firing into the crowd. In Dungannon, the Tribunal has been at a loss to find any explanation for the shooting, which it is satisfied was a reckless and irresponsible thing to do. As in Armagh, so also in Dungannon there was an absence of police leadership at the critical time.

3.21 Their employment in Belfast on 14th revealed their helplessness in a communal disturbance. Instructed to hold back Protestants who attempted to penetrate down such streets as Dover and Percy streets into the Falls/Divis district, they failed. Confronted with a small Catholic mob moving up the Catholic end of Dover Street, they fought it back. The scale of the fighting increased, and became a sectarian riot, in which the USC had only an incidental part. In Percy Street some members of the USC and some Protestant civilians co-operated in trying to drive a Catholic crowd back to Divis Street. When eventually Protestants erupted into Divis Street they stood about helplessly while their presence convinced the Catholics that "the Bs" were spearheading the assault.

3.22 There is no evidence that the USC, who were used to hold back Protestants in the Disraeli Street area, participated in the rioting inside the Ardoyne.

3.23 In reviewing the conduct of the USC it is necessary to distinguish between Belfast and the rest of the Province. When USC were used for riot control duty outside Belfast they showed on several occasions a lack of proper discipline, particularly in the use of firearms. But in Belfast on 14 August their presence in Dover Street and Percy Street, while evoking the hostility of the Catholics, was unable to restrain the aggression of the Protestants.

3.24 A little-publicised but important contribution made by the USC to the events under review was by way of the mobilisation of some 300 of them into the RUC. About 80 of them had been mobilized for duty as members of the Reserve Force several months earlier. The Reserve Force led the "Rossville Street incursion" into the Bogside on 12 August and provided the armed Shorlands which were used in the Belfast riots. But there are no grounds for singling out mobilised USC as being guilty of misconduct. The incursion into the Bogside and the use of Browning machine-guns in Belfast were RUC, not USC, responsibilities.

[1] Disturbances in Northern Ireland, Cmd 532. 1969: hereinafter referred to as Cameron.
[2] Hereinafter referred to as NICRA.
[3] He died three months later - We refer to his death and funeral in Chapter 10 at page 64.
[4] Government of Ireland Act 1920. Sections 4 and 8, subject however to the saving in section 75.
[5] Hereinafter referred to as DCAC . The responsible record of this organization is discussed in Cameron.
[6] Catholic Primate and Archbishop of Armagh.
[7] Appendix (A) (i).
[8] Appendix (A) (vi).
[9] A letter from the head Of RUC Special Branch to the Minister of Home Affairs is set out at Appendix V (C).
[10] Appendix V (B).
[11] Mr Gogarty wasChairman of NICRA. Mr Kevin Boyle was Press officer of NICRA, a law Lecturer and prominent member of People's Democracy.
[12] e.g. Belfast 2-4 August.
[13] The graffiti "UVF" appear as frequently on the blank walls of Belfast and other centres as do the graffiti "IRA". But the phenomenon establishes nothing, since on both sides of the sectarian divide there are to be found many to whom the distinction between myth and fact is not always visible.
[14] Report of the Advisory Committee on Police in Northern Ireland, Cmd 535 (the Hunt Report).
[15] Save for the Army, which was not, however, under NI control, See Part VI.

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