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Ulster for Beginners – Part III

A Brief History of Ulster (continued)

During the 1960s a number of complaints were made about Northern Ireland’s government which had been dominated by the Ulster Unionist Party since its inception. The thrust of the allegations was that Unionists had used their power in such a way as to make Catholics second-class citizens. There were a number of specific charges: that local government boundaries had been gerrymandered to the benefit of Unionists, that the local government franchise had not been reformed (again to the advantage of Unionists) and that Unionist local authorities discriminated against Catholics in housing and jobs. Complaints were also levelled at the B-Specials who, it was alleged, were exclusively Protestant. These allegations were denied by Unionists.

In 1967, an organisation calling itself the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was set up to campaign against the alleged abuses of power. It claimed to be a cross-community group: Unionists claimed that it was an IRA front. Whatever the case was the facts are clear enough. The NICRA organised marches which led to conflict with the police and Protestants. After a particularly violent encounter in Londonderry on 5 October 1968, riots became a regular event throughout the province. In August 1969, after the annual (Protestant and unionist) Apprentice Boys’s of Derry parade in Londonderry, there was a riot by Catholics in the Bogside area of the city. Shortly afterwards there was a similar riot in Belfast. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC – the police) lost control and the army was brought in to keep the peace. This was the beginning of the Troubles that continue to this day.

Shortly afterwards the B-Specials were stood down and the RUC were disarmed. The army prevented members of the RUC from patrolling in nationalist areas and allowed the creation of No-Go areas where the “Queen’s writ did not run”.

The IRA used the opportunity to organise. By June 1970 it was making attacks on the Army and in February 1971 it murdered its first soldier. Violence in all its forms appeared to be escalating out of control and, in August 1971, the Stormont government, under Prime Minister Bryan Faulkner, introduced internment or detention without trial. The backlash from the IRA was ferocious. In January 1972, at the end of an illegal march against internment in Londonderry, there was an exchange of gunfire between the army and others resulting in the deaths of 13 civilians.

[I grate at my use of the word “murder”. “Killed” would be better. And when I say “illegal”, “banned” would be better.

The army was absolutely sure it was being fired on. By this time, it was a standard IRA tactic to use rioters as human shields while firing on soldiers. Just as in the killing of Lyra McKee the other day.]

Whatever the facts of the matter, Her Majesty’s Government, moved to abolish Stormont (despite the fact that Stormont had nothing to do with the army action) and established Direct Rule with a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

The abolition of Stormont, seen by many unionists as the only institution they could trust, provoked an immediate and bloody reaction. Recruitment to the UVF (no relation to the UVF of 1912) increased and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) was formed. These groups began a campaign of sectarian murder.

[Hmm there seems to be a bit missing here. I was told on good-ish authority that the formation of the UDA was in response to sectarian violence from republicans. Although after a while it is difficult to tell who is doing the titting and who the tatting.]

Part II
Part IV

Update 10/7/19

Actually there really was a bit missing there – there being differences between the published and electronic versions. The published version says, “Protestant paramilitary groups began a campaign of sectarian murder which in one form or another continued until 1994 when most of them declared a cease-fire following that announced by the IRA. (By the early 1990s Protestant paramilitaries were responsible for more killings than the IRA.)”

13 comments to Ulster for Beginners – Part III

  • I grate at my use of the word “murder”.

    Those soldiers were most certainly not killed lawfully, so murder is a very defensible word, whereas ‘killed’ for the 13 civilians of ‘Bloody Sunday’ is correctly neutral as regards accusation and counter-accusation.

    However if your intent is to keep the emotional tone of the piece low, so it is accessible to various readers arriving at it with various prejudices, then it can be argued that ‘killed’ is not factually wrong and assists that goal.

    It was of course the same Labour government that watched UDI in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, and were humiliated by ‘Mad Mitch’ ignoring their ‘do nothing’ orders in Aden, as allowed the creation of ‘no go’ zones in Northern Ireland – pity the relevant army command was not lead by a Mad Mitch. When the succeeding government (Tory – but not very!) finally nerved itself to end them in mid-72, it was an extremely straightforward operation.

  • These allegations were denied by Unionists.

    The unionist party leader of the 1960s, Terence O’Neill, by calling for reform and by actually making some reforms, and by meeting resistance from his own party for making too many too quickly and in the other party for making too few to slowly, obviously did not deny all merit to all allegations. When I was young, I heard particular accounts from friends of family of the older generation how the strong sectarian feeling in NI could indeed show in favouritism in the dispensing of government favours. The Irish republic, which spent the post-WWII years persecuting in various petty ways those of its citizens who had shamed it by fighting against Hitler, was in no position to comment – but a neutral summary can comment on these things.

    Electorally, each side engaged in the mutually-accepted fraud of voting such of their constituents as had not bothered to vote personally. In the US today, something not wholly unlike it is called ‘ballot harvesting’, but in NI it was at first two-sided and done via “vote early and often”. (A rule limiting who could challenge voter ID to a select group who were never at every polling place resulted in the repeaters finding the ‘unprotected’ polling stations, where the staff would make wearily pointed, “Haven’t I seen you before?” remarks as the same catholic or protestant guy arrived for the 10th time with the story about looking ever so like his nine cousins.)

    The situation came to light when the IRA, during the troubles you describe above, broke the unwritten rules of the prior period and began stealing the votes of electorally inactive protestants, not just catholics – after which steps were taken and I now understand that voter fraud in that province no longer occurs, so, in today’s UK of mass immigration of taught-to-feel-entitled people from areas where the electoral culture is weak, NI has changed from being the only area of the UK where voter fraud was an issue to one of the areas where it is least a problem. (But if anyone knows otherwise about the state today on either side of that question, please feel free to provide information.)

    Compared to some of the computer-generated constituency maps being proposed in the US today, I think the NI gerrymanderers were amateurs, but my understanding was that some favouritism in boundary selection did occur. However the whole issue is complicated by the Irish Nationalist assumption that Northern Ireland itself is one big gerrymander – not the whole of historic Ulster but drawn to ensure a reliable pro-UK majority when it was set up. This makes them apt to allege gerrymandering, while on the other side, the aim of the unionists was indeed to secure and preserve a unionist majority.

  • llamas

    While not denying the careful details of political and social factors at play the Troubles, I think that the writer is under-reporting the elephant in the room, namely, that the political strife was also a useful cover for the resurgence of the always-present religious hatreds that have been at play for 500 years or more, and the roles played by the most disgusting and destructive religious bigots on both sides. The name that springs to mind immediately, of course, is the “Reverend” Ian Paisley, whose hatred and exclusion of the Catholic minority, purely on the grounds of religious difference, amounted to an irrational mania. The fact that this horrible, hate-filled, bile-spewing ignoramus could actually be elected to the Mother of Parliaments, is a particular stain on Ulster politics. A large part of the politics of the time and place revolved about grown and supposedly-intelligent men parsing the most infinite details of the arithmetic of “how many Prods vs how many Teagues”. When the whole fabric of a nation turns on the different ways that people worship an imaginary sky-being, to the point that they’re willing, nay eager, to kill each other over differences in doctrine – mere matters of party politics are very small beer indeed.

    llater,

    llamas

  • llamas (July 10, 2019 at 11:26 am), in the world today, catholics and protestants coexist peacefully in many places and have done so for a long time. If this is not reliably the case in Ireland, then it must be due to specific factors there.

    I’m guessing Patrick’s writing this series is prudential background information just in case new border arrangements either are claimed to have wider ramifications or else actually do so, and therefore he very rightly focusses on Irish specifics. I am optimistic project fear will prove as wrong there as elsewhere, but while they know little and care less about Ireland’s real history as against their current agenda, I see no harm in our being prudentially better informed, so welcome Patrick’s enterprise.

    Jeremy Corbyn has been sent to the UK parliament as leader of a major UK party. Gerry Adams has been elected to parliament (though he never sat there) by the nationalists in Northern Ireland. Supposing, for the sake of argument, that your description of Ian Paisley were wholly just, it would still not be the place of either the nationalists or the UK mainland to suggest any peculiar lack of representative taste in his electors.

  • The argument that “It was all about Catholics versus Protestants” doesn’t quite fit the mark (although the overlap is quite strong).

    My grandfather was one of the few Catholics that worked at Stormont in the period leading up to the dissolution, not as a part of the political side but just an ordinary civil servant.

    Sure, some in the Catholic community would have seen him as a traitor for doing so, but his argument was far simpler – he had seen first hand what Irish Nationalism had done in the South and wanted no part of it, especially the backwardness of “Catholic hand-kissers” like Éamon de Valera whom he considered the very spawn of Satan himself.

    As for his “oppressors” in Stormont, they saw a man who served in the British Army during WW2 and was loyal to the Crown. The building he attended on Sunday morning’s was largely immaterial. He was treated with the same decency and respect as the protestant members of staff.

    …and yes, he had a nice Council house in Newtownards among largely protestant neighbours with no problems at all.

  • Patrick Crozier (Twickenham)

    “Killing” v “murder”. The point here is whether you regard The Troubles as a war or the consequence of ordinary criminality. Without going into the ins and outs of this I regard it as a war which means that “murder” is not really appropriate.

    “It has nothing to do with religion!”, as my mother once angrily said to my (English) grandmother. And it doesn’t. There is nothing about Ulster that cannot be explained by reference to nationality/ethnicity/tribe.

  • Matra

    The name that springs to mind immediately, of course, is the “Reverend” Ian Paisley, whose hatred and exclusion of the Catholic minority, purely on the grounds of religious difference, amounted to an irrational mania.

    Paisley never had the power to exclude Catholics from anything as he never had executive power during the Troubles. He hated the Catholic Church for sure but he made a distinction between the Church and its adherents. Even Gerry Adams accepted that Paisley fairly represented his Catholic constituents when it came to local issues unconnected to the border issue – though few of them would’ve voted for him due to the preeminence of that issue.

    I’ve noticed this tendency in recent years to equate Paisley and his party, the DUP, with IRA/SinnFein. It’s as if mere words that offend are the equivalent of bullets and bombs. When the DUP’s votes kept May’s Tories in power and there were several Muslim terrorist attacks a number of leftists in the MSM and social media played down the importance of the terrorism by pointing to May’s deal with the “ex-terrorist” DUP. That is preposterous. It is also mendacious. Not only were the DUP never involved in terrorism but during the negotiation period leading to the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement relations between Loyalist terrorists – represented by the PUP & UDP – and the DUP were worse than between those same Loyalists and the IRA. Most Loyalist anger at the time was directed at Paisley and company as DUPers were opposing any negotiations with or amnesty for both Loyalist and Republican gunmen.

    Leaving aside whether the DUP were right or wrong at the time lumping them in with Loyalist terrorists as if they were the same is as unfair as connecting John Hume and the SDLP (moderate Catholics who opposed violence) with the IRA just because they supported the same end goal.

  • mickc

    John Galt
    Interesting post, which supports my, probably ill informed, view that the “Irish problem” was basically the extremely religious nature of the Republic.
    It was what the Protestants feared in their opposition to Home Rule prior to the Great War.

  • Paul Marks

    The “Nationalist Community” in Northern Ireland was not driven out in 1921 – and remained to cause trouble later. What happened to the Unionists in the SOUTH – both Protestant and Roman Catholic Unionists? Most of them found that they could not remain in the South – they left, or they died. Certainly there are some Protestants in the South to this day – but they are not Unionist Protestants, and the Roman Catholic Unionists (of which there were quite a few) were not treated any better.

    As for what happened in Ulster in the late 1960s and early 1970s – in spite of the weak leadership of Prime Minister O’Neil and others it was clear that the “Nationalist Community” was LOSING (losing in a fight they-had-started). They lost most fights – so much so that the nickname of the IRA (even in Nationalist areas) became “I Ran Away”.

    The Nationalist “Civil Rights movement” thought they could drive the Unionists from the cities (just as a certain demographic group was doing to another demographic group in American cities in this period) – but they got their arses handed to them in most street fights. It is forgotten now that the British government sent the army into Northern Ireland to SAVE THE NATIONALISTS.

    Yes to SAVE THE NATIONALISTS – the IRA “Civil Rights movement” STARTED a fight to ethically cleanse Unionists from the cities and towns and found that they were LOSING that fight. And the British government sent in the British army to SAVE THE NATIONALISTS.

    How did the IRA “Nationalist Community” reward their saviours the British army – the people who had saved them from being driven out of Belfast (in a fight THEY STARTED) and all the way to Dublin?

    The IRA “Nationalist Community” rewarded their saviours the British army, by SHOOTING THEM IN THE BACK and by PLANTING BOMBS ALL OVER THE PLACE.

    The basic, and horrible, truth is that the British establishment (even before the First World War) has always hated and plotted against Ulster – and even against the British army itself.

    The last thing the British establishment wanted was for the IRA (and so on) to LOSE – on the contrary the British establishment (the “liberals” of all parties) always wanted a “political settlement” to “get shot of Ulster”.

    The intelligence services could have destroyed the IRA the INLA and so on at any time – and in a matter of weeks. Instead they allowed British soldiers (and civilians) to be murdered (in large numbers) year-after-year.

    Norman Tebbit has openly admitted that the British government could have destroyed the IRA (and so on) but that the liberal establishment DID NOT WANT TO destroy the IRA and so on – they wanted their “political settlement” to sell the Unionists out.

    The dealings of the liberal establishment with Ulster for more than a century can be summed up in one word – treachery, and the treachery continues to this day.

    For example, the House of Commons blames the Unionists for the collapse of the “devolved Executive” (when it was IRA Sinn Fein who has actually been boycotting the institutions) – and has voted for “Gay Marriage” (well a marriage ceremony should be a happy event – so gay it is) and abortion as a way to punish the Unionists (both Protestant and Roman Catholic Unionists – for no believing Roman Catholic can welcome such things as abortion).

    Basically the British establishment is saying “we hate you so much we are going to kill these babies, because we hate you – even though the babies themselves have done nothing to us at all”.

    Sadly the Republic of Ireland is also rather “liberal” these days – “liberal” in the sense that it would reduce Prime Minister Gladstone, a real liberal, to tears of rage and grief.

    Someone called Dublin a “Catholic city” to me the other day – in reality Dublin today is about as Catholic as Rome was under the pagan Emperors (such as the Emperor Hadrian – who had a boy’s sexual organs cut off and used him sexually as a girl). Being Roman Catholic is not about waving a green banner and proclaiming a tribal identity – it is about religious belief. And most people in Dublin are not, in any truthful sense, Roman Catholics. They danced in the streets to celebrate abortion – they are not Catholics, Roman Catholics or otherwise.

    By the way the colour of the Roman Catholic Church is not green (if there is a colour associated with the Roman Catholic Church it is yellow – the keys and so on). And the heraldic colour of Ireland is not green either – it is blue.

    Such things as Freedom of Speech and the other principles that Unionism traditionally stood for? Today NEITHER the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland respects such principles as Freedom of Speech.

  • mickc

    Paul Mark’s
    Excellent post.

  • Patrick Crozier

    A couple of points: while the Nationalists got their arses kicked in Belfast they were undefeated in Londonderry.

    As far as treatment of Protestants in the South goes I tend to look at my own family’s experience. Murders, beatings, arson attacks are there none. Well, my grandmother talked of one local family being murdered and a bomb being thrown into her teacher training college.

    Otherwise Protestants knew full well there was no point in applying for jobs in either the civil service or the post office.

    Having said that most of my family left.

    Having said that it is worth pointing out that migration in Ireland is – drum roll – south to north. Even amongst Catholics.

  • Y. Knott

    the different ways that people worship an imaginary sky-being – llamas

    You’re welcome to disbelieve as you will, llamas – rubbing the noses of those who do in the scorn of your disbelief, has caused lots of mayhem and bloodshed over the millennia even before we get onto the endless rancour of all the different flavours of belief.

    – And me? I don’t merely ‘believe’; I know.

  • steve lindsey

    Y.Knott

    To “know” requires more than merely saying so.

    You’re welcome to “believe” what you want and the rest of us are free to point out the ridiculousness of such a stance.