This is the editorial from The Irish Press two days after the mass internment of Catholics on 9th August 1971.
THE MESSAGE FROM BELFAST
Either the British Army has assumed the role of the B Specials or the orders given to the soldiers on the ground in the North do not specify their peacekeeping role. After the last two days, no other explanation is possible for their behaviour which has included easy fraternisation with armed loyalists and armed attacks on Catholic areas which have been defending themselves against loyalist attacks. In a day of trying to assess both the political situation and conditions on the ground, this is by far the most frightening aspect of the present conduct of the war that one can see. An inspection of Monday night’s and Tuesday morning’s battlefield which verified the consistent reports of eye-witnesses confirms that the British Army used wildly indiscriminate and heavy gunfire on the inhabitants in the Moyard Estate, after lorry loads of loyalists had been clearly seen spraying automatic fire from the Springmartin Estate overlooking Moyard, which is above Ballymurphy and New Barnsley. The only conclusion that any observer who has actually travelled round Belfast can come to is that the soldiers have either independently decided after the experience of the last 18 months, that the Catholic areas contain the “enemy”, or that their orders do not include the searching and arrest of all those suspected of or actually seen carrying weapons.
The only other judgment that can be made is that it is the intention of Stormont and Westminster to crush the Catholic areas into submission. Certainly the hitherto bitter split of Provisional and “Officials” has been healed so that both sides are now co-operating in the face of this threat.
The fact that the Stormont Cabinet is “stunned” by the violence of the last two days leaves open the consideration that they may have utterly underestimated the degree of alienation and the capacity for resistance in these areas. If it really is their intention to crush the minority, then they can succeed; because the embattled Catholics haven’t got the ammunition available to the Protestants nor do they have the ability to move what they have from one threatened area to another.
Nor can their food supplies hold out indefinitely. But the price of gaining submission will be a phenomenal death toll, economically unbearable damage, total alienation for at least a generation and a complete change in the nature of Anglo-Irish relations. The position of the Irish Government is also a source of great worry to the threatened community. The scant news from yesterday’s Cabinet meeting and the obscurity of Dr. Hillery’s purpose in visiting London, results in speculation varying from a possible breakthrough to the ultimate betrayal in the form of internment of Republicans in the South.
Journalists from Dublin papers are asked in Belfast what Mr. Lynch is going to do to help, and any suggestion about his sending medical aid as in 1969 are greeted with derision. The more hopeful and the more desperate try to believe that he will inform both London and Belfast that the Irish Army does not simply exist to comfort Irish refugees from a part of Ireland.
These are considerations of the most profound nature in Irish politics, but the crisis is now the most profound since at least 1916, if not before. Talks of reconciliation now, or restoring “normality” reveals utter ignorance of the situation; the political situation is being processed at legal and illegal gun points, and reconciliation cannot even begin until there is a political breakthrough.
The situation today is analogus to that when the British tried to introduce Conscription after 1916. They united all shades of Irish opinion against them. Internment is the modern equivalent of Conscription. The Croppies didn’t lie down then and they won’t lie down now.
The Stormont Government has now extended its options, and Westminster’s scope for initiative is now limited to something in the tripartite arena—assuming, and it might be quite an assumption that the straightforward suppression of the Northern minority is not going to be continued.
The solution which must be sought now, must be sought at least as publicly as the solution being processed in the streets of Belfast. Manoeuvres in the underworld of diplomacy, however well intentioned, or however ultimately successful, only give rise in the Northern situation at present to false hopes or false rumours, and these can be as murderous as any of the weaponry now so horribly visible. Stormont, as we know it, must go, Faulkner must be sacked, the internment decision rescinded and talks must be set in motion to end the whole rotten set-up. This is the minimum formula for a beginning to deal with the present crisis.