“a position paralleled only by continental dictatorships”: the abuses that prompted the Civil Rights campaign

Much of the recent commentary has focused on debating the origins and ‘ownership’ of the civil rights campaign. What has been missing from the discussion has been a timely reminder of the actual abuses that prompted the campaign.

At heart, the civil rights campaign was addressing a fundamental democratic deficit created by Unionists limiting the right to vote. This is starkly visible in comparisons of the registered electorate for Westminster elections at which Unionism had no facility to curtail voting rights, and, Stormont and local government elections at which the qualification to vote could be manipulated and controlled. Taking the 1970 Westminster elections and 1969 Stormont elections into account, the former had a total electorate of 1,017,303 while the latter, only one year earlier, was 784,242. This is a difference of 233,061 votes, or almost 22.9% of the electorate. Qualification for the franchise was rooted in eligibility to pay rates and other restrictions that had long been lifted elsewhere. And economic status was the key to eligibility.

Unionism viewed this issue as explicitly rooted in religious identities. But in the United Kingdom, overt religious discrimination was, and is, only formally permitted at the highest levels (in terms of its monarchy and, technically, political offices such as Prime Minister and Lord Chancellor). So this could not be done in public. Instead, Unionism had to curate and exploit economic barriers to acquiring the right to vote, like employment, access to education and training (Catholic schools only received equality of resource allocation in the 1990s) and housing rights. Irish language rights were entirely suppressed. Conveniently for Unionism, the UK as happens elsewhere, happily tolerates overt income-based discrimination while prohibiting other forms of discriminatory practice.

Unionism wasn’t particularly shy in articulating the relationship between economic status, religion and politics. In 1933, writing in the Northern Whig, the Unionist Party’s Sir Joseph Davison neatly links votes, religion and employment: “…it is time Protestant employers of Northern Ireland realised that whenever a Roman Catholic is brought into their employment it means one Protestant vote less… I suggest the slogan should be ‘Protestants employ Protestants'”. Unionist boasts of ‘a Protestant Government for a Protestant People’ were usually in the context of demanding the employment of Protestants over Catholics (who were described as 99% disloyal) to ensure continuation of that same government.

And Unionist language on the issue could be brutal, with little fear of public rebuke. “The Nationalist majority in the county, i.e., Fermanagh … stands at 3,684. We must ultimately reduce and liquidate that majority. This county, I think it can be safely said, is a Unionist county. The atmosphere is Unionist. The Boards and properties are nearly all controlled by Unionists. But there is still this millstone [the Nationalist majority] around our necks.”, this was said by the Unionist MP for Enniskillen, Erne Ferguson, in 1948. Ferguson later resigned as an MP to take up the role of Crown Solicitor for Fermanagh.

When the British government appointed Sir John Cameron, a Scottish judge, to look at the violence that had been used against the early civil rights campaign, he stated (in his 1969 report, Disturbances in Northern Ireland) that: “We are satisfied that all these Unionist controlled councils have used and use their power to make appointments in a way which benefited Protestants. In the figures available for October 1968 only thirty per cent of Londonderry Corporations administrative, clerical and technical employees were Catholics. Out of the ten best-paid posts only one was held by a Catholic. In Dungannon Urban District none of the Council’s administrative, clerical and technical employees was a Catholic. In County Fermanagh no senior council posts (and relatively few others) were held by Catholics: this was rationalised by reference to ‘proven loyalty’ as a necessary test for local authority appointments. In that County, among about seventy-five drivers of school buses, at most seven were Catholics. This would appear to be a very clear case of sectarian and political discrimination. Armagh Urban District employed very few Catholics in its salaried posts, but did not appear to discriminate at lower levels. Omagh Urban District showed no clear-cut pattern of discrimination, though we have seen what would appear to be undoubted evidence of employment discrimination by Tyrone County Council.”
As well as the economic measures, the civil rights campaign also addressed inequities and inequalities in the administration of justice. Back in April 1922, the Unionists had enacted supposedly temporary measures in the Civil Authorities (Special Powers Act) which was intended to ‘restore order’. But the Act was continually renewed until it was just made permanent. It contained provisions to intern individuals without a charge, a trial or a release date. Hundreds were interned from 1922-24, 1938-45 and 1956-62 with smaller groups interned on other, lesser known, occasions (such as 1925 and 1951). Sentencing policy varied relative to your political background. An identical firearms offence attracting a £2-£5 fine for a Protestant would become a ten year penal servitude sentence (possibly including 10 strokes of the whip) for a republican. Habeus Corpus could be suspended, meaning, among other things, that it was possible to take and hold prisoners and refuse to admit they were being held prisoner.

Other measures were continually used to suppress opposition political activity. Public meetings and assemblies could be, and were repeatedly, banned. Individuals could be expelled from the north if they refused to abide by a restriction making them live in either Limavady if they were a republican or Clogher if they were a communist [Ed – No, I’ve no idea why Limavady and Clogher]. Publications including posters could be banned. Anything the Unionists’ deemed seditious, including concerts, memorials, publications, emblems and flags could be banned, seized and the owner prosecuted. In practice, under the Special Powers Act, individuals were detained and held for up to 7-8 weeks without charges or any form of hearing. The RUC could even deny holding them. Nor was there any form of redress once released if they weren’t charged or interned.

After the first ten years of operation of the Act, there were a series of unemployment protests in Britain, culminating in the hunger marches and rally in Hyde Park which was broken up by the police, injuring 75 people. This coincided with the Outdoor Relief riots in Belfast. The long term impact of the hunger marches was the formation of the British National Council for Civil Liberties in 1934. It’s focus was on abuses by the state including the suppression of political opposition, the use of police, and the promotion of democratic norms. After thousands of Catholics were attacked and forced from their homes and jobs in Belfast in the summer of 1935, the Council for Civil Liberties created a commission to report on the use of emergency powers and draconian legislation by the Unionists. It delivered its report on 23rd May 1936 and the main conclusions were:—

  • Firstly, that through the operation of the Special Powers Acts contempt has been begotten for the representative institutions of Government.
  • Secondly, that through the use of special powers individual liberty is no longer protected by law, but is at the arbitrary disposition of the Executive. This abrogation of the rule of law has been so practised as to bring the freedom of the subject into contempt.
  • Thirdly, that the Northern Irish Government has used special powers towards securing the domination of one particular political faction and, at the same time, towards curtailing the lawful activities of its opponents.
  • Fourthly, that the Northern Irish Government, despite its assurances that special powers are intended for use only against law-breakers, has frequently employed them against innocent and law-abiding people, often in humble circumstances, whose injuries, inflicted without cause or justification, have gone unrecompensed and disregarded.

It believed that the Unionists were “…in a position paralleled only by continental dictatorships…”.

With no sense of irony, the Belfast Newsletter (25 May 1936) dismissed the report as ‘bitter attacks on Ulster’. It then followed the Commission’s conclusions with a response from the County Grand Master of Belfast Orangemen, Sir Joseph Davison (same as above), who stated that “…to the best of his knowledge responsible members of the Protestant community did not give evidence at the inquiry which could, therefore, scarcely be impartial. ‘I have not made a careful study of the report of the Commission,’ he said, ‘but it is clearly very one-sided.’”

The British National Council for Civil Liberties report was regularly cited for the next twenty years in reference to the failures of Unionism to administer justice. None of the political groupings in the north initially embraced any form of rights-based campaign. Certainly individual issues were cited by the likes of the Nationalists and various Labour political factions. Republicans, politically disengaged from the structures of the northern state, highlighted the nature of the administration of justice. As republican meetings, commemorations and publications were regularly banned and led to arrests, the mere act of protest often was restricted by the Unionists’ use of the Special Powers Act. This included campaigning for political status for prisoners and the release of internees and political prisoners. Campaigns to release internees and sentenced prisoners took place from around 1944 to 1950 and again from 1957 to 1962. The end of the latter campaign saw republicans co-operate with the British National Council for Civil Liberties to highlight the Unionists’ use of the Special Powers Act.

In 1950, Geoffrey Bing, a Belfast born Labour MP for Hornchurch who was associated with the Council for Civil Liberties, published a 24 page pamphlet called John Bull’s OtherIrelandhighlighting what he saw as the abuses the Tories enabled Unionism to perpetrate.  He wrote that “The outward and visible manifestation of Tory policy in Northern Ireland is sectarianism. The Catholics are, like the Jews under Hitler, to blame for everything. A politician has only to wave the Orange flag and there is no need for him to concern himself with tiresome questions of national welfare.” Several million copies of Bings’ pamphlet were sold. He concluded that “…the creation of Northern Ireland was the greatest of all gerrymanders.” and that the British government and parliament, ultimately, was enabling the Unionists to carry on in this way and needed to take the lead in forcing change to take place.

Later, in the 1960s, at the preliminary meeting in Belfast that agreed on the need to found the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, a Dublin-based lawyer, Ciaran McAnally, identified the range of civil rights that should be upheld by society (as reported in the Irish Democrat, January 1967):

  1. The right to personal liberty and freedom of movement. This should only be forfeited following conviction in a fair trial on known charges;
  2. The right to freedom of expression in speech, writing or publication subjects to the norms of truth and justice. In other words, this right should not be used to the (legal) injury of others;
  3. The right to freedom of conscience to hold and change religious beliefs, and the right to proselytise;
  4. The right to assembly. This right is implicit in the right to free expression and personal liberty;
  5. The right to form associations that not harmful to society. This follows from the right of assembly;
  6. The right of access to courts of law to obtain the enforcement of the aforesaid rights. This entailed the provision of legal aid to people who otherwise would be prevented from having access to the courts;
  7. The right to protection against discrimination in public employment and fair and impartial access to the public services, housing, social security and the other facilities provided today by central and local government authorities.
  8. The right to freedom from conscription for conscientious objectors.

The initial press releases from the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association concentrated mainly on the administration of justice, rather than the socio-economic issues. These were: to defend the basic freedom of all citizens; to protest the rights of the individual; to highlight all possible abuses of power; to demand guarantees for freedom of speech, assembly and association; to inform the public of their lawful rights.

But as the civil rights campaign developed, the socioeconomic issues began to be equally stressed drawing together what was to form the two most recognizable strands of the civil rights campaign.

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A history of NICRA by its first treasurer, Fred Heatley, published in Fortnight in 1974

Fred Heatley, who was for a number of years an executive member of NICRA, wrote a series of articles on the growth and development of the Association which were published across five issues of the magazine Fortnight in 1974, starting with issue 80 on 22nd March with the last instalment in issue 84 on 7th June.

NICRA

I had recently posted on the Wolfe Tone Societies and their antecedents, the civil liberties and republican prisoner release groups, as being part of the formative learning that fed into the thinking behind the formation of NICRA. Heatley describes the Wolfe Tone Societies as ‘an autonomous adjunct’ of the republican movement. Tracing its engagement with other civil liberties groups, he states that it was decided to stop using the ‘Wolfe Tone Society’ name in November 1966 and the name Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was adopted in January 1967. Heatley records how invitations were sent out to the various groups who then joined NICRA, the development of the NICRA officer board and how its strategies evolved.

In terms of IRA involvement, Heatley notes that while some of those involved in both wings of the IRA in 1970 had been involved in NICRA, only those who later were involved in the Official IRA had been on the officer board. This appears consistent with the divisions among republicans in the 1960s, with those supporting Goulding’s strategies remaining in leadership positions (and taking on roles in NICRA) while those that were disaffected left, only rejoining the Provisionals when the link with Goulding and those around him was broken. By the time his account of NICRA was written in the spring of 1974, Heatley claims it had been taken over by the Officials and Communists (dating the takeover from around 1970).

In terms of the involvement of various other groups, Heatley sets out a rough chronology below. The diverse range of groups that were invited to participate, or coalesced with NICRA at some point, is probably one source of the competing claims to the origins of the NICRA. A more useful exercise might actually be to remind people of the civil rights abuses NICRA sought to address and apply the same energy to countering civil rights abuses today.

Here are Heatley’s articles on the growth and development of NICRA compiled into one single article.

 

THE BEGINNING 1964 – FEB. 1968.

Millions of words have been written as to how the ‘troubles’ began, and the instant-history writers have flooded the market with their views. Most of these historians date everything back to the Derry Civil Rights march of October 5th 1968, or to that of a few months later which led to the ambush at Burntollet Bridge. Few have even attempted to trace the civil rights campaign beyond those dates and it is this writer’s intention to put on record something of what had taken place prior to then.

THE WOLFE TONE SOCIETIES

Theobald Wolfe Tone, a middle class radical Protestant who, many years after his death became the father figure of Irish Republicanism, was born in 1763. In the bicentenary year of his birth a number of committees were set up to commemorate that event including one in Belfast, a place which Tone knew well. The Belfast Bicentenary Committee drew support from across the religious divide and a special commemorative newspaper that was published had a two-and-two editorial body. By mid-1964 the commemorations had finished and it was decided by some of those involved to stay together and form what became Wolfe Tone societies, the strongest of which were in Dublin and Belfast. They were small groupings. Belfast never had any more than a dozen members and their aims were to foster republicanism by educating the masses in their cultural and political heritage. To that end they sponsored the commemorations for the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Belfast Presbyterian United Irishman, Henry Joy McCracken; and in the following year they were responsible for the ceremonies connected with the centenary of the birth of James Connolly. It should be emphasised that the Belfast Wolfe Tone Society was not controlled by either the IRA or Sinn Fein but was an autonomous adjunct of the republican movement.

FOUNDING OF NICRA

During the weekend 13th/14th August 1966 at a joint meeting of all Wolfe Tone societies held in Maghera a decision was taken to launch a civil rights body in Belfast. The initial moves for this were made by the Belfast society and the Queen’s Hall of the War Memorial Building in Belfast’s Waring Street was booked for a meeting on November 28th under their auspices, but following some discussion with other non-WTS members drawn into the ad hoc civil rights grouping as we had now become it was decided to drop the Wolfe Tone Society title from any future correspondence.

At the meeting, which was better attended than we had hoped, John D. Stewart took the chair. He was not a member of the Wolfe Tone Society and neither, to my knowledge, were the two speakers, Kader Asmal and Ciaran Mac an Aili. The former was a South African Indian, President of the Irish anti-apartheid movement, and a lecturer in International Law at Trinity College, Dublin. Mac an Aili was President of the Irish Pacifist Association, a member of the International Federation of Jurists and a well-known Dublin solicitor, although a Derry man by birth. Asmal spoke on “Human Rights: an International Perspective” and Mac an Aili on “Civil Liberty in Ireland Today”.

At the conclusion of the meeting it was agreed that another should be called when it could be expected that a Northern Ireland civil rights body would be formed. Invitations were once again sent out to all the political parties then active in Northern Ireland, to many of the cultural and trade union organisations, and to prominent people whom it was thought might be interested, and on January 29th 1967 this meeting took place in the International Hotel, Belfast. Tony Smythe and James Shepherd of the British National Council for Civil Liberties flew over, and Senator Nelson Elder of the Unionist Party attended (although he walked out before the meeting had concluded). It was however very successful and the large attendance accepted with some small modification the proposed constitution drawn up by the ad hoc committee and based on that of the NCCL. A 13-person steering committee was elected which on February 6th selected its officer board as follows: Chairman, Robin Harris (DATA); vice-chairman, Dr Conn McCluskey (Campaign for Social Justice); secretary, Derek O’B Peters (Northern Ireland Communist Party); treasurer, Fred Heatley (Wolfe Tone Society); PRO,  Jack Bennett (Wolfe Tone Society). Other members were Liam McMillen (Republican), Betty Sinclair (Belfast Trades Council), John G Quinn (Liberal Party), Michael Dolley (National Democrats), Joe Sherrie (Republican Labour), Jim Andrews (Ardoyne Tenants’ Association), Tony McGettigan (no affiliation) and Paddy Devlin (Northern Ireland Labour Party). Within a few days Robin Cole, former chairman of the Queen’s University Young Unionists, was co-opted onto this steering body thus giving representation for all seven political parties in Northern Ireland. No such grouping had ever before appeared in the North and it was hoped that with such a widespread interest reform could be achieved fairly quickly.

A five-points outline of the broad objectives of the newly fledged body was issued and given mention in all the local newspapers; it was:

  1. To defend the basic freedom of all citizens.
  2. To protest the rights of the individual.
  3. To highlight all possible abuses of power.
  4. To demand guarantees for freedom of speech, assembly and association.
  5. To inform die public of their lawful rights.

There was nothing outstandingly controversial about any of these and it was hoped they would be implemented with little delay. In the meantime the steering committee had to report back to the membership, and on April 9th 1967 another gathering was held in the International Hotel. At this the amended constitution was accepted and the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association formally inaugurated. There were some changes in the new (first official) executive council with Ken Banks (DATA), Kevin Agnew (Republican) and Terence A O’Brien (Derry, no affiliation) replacing Andrews, McMillen and McGettigan.

CSJ AND OTHERS

Although we were now active in the sphere of civil liberties we were not the only such group. In 1963 the Campaign for Social Justice, based mainly at Dungannon under the leadership of Dr. Conn McCluskey and his wife, Patricia, had been founded. Over the years they had applied themselves diligently to amassing figures on employment, housing and electoral boundaries which showed, irrefutably, evidence of discrimination and gerrymandering. Their material was sent to MPs at Westminster, to leading people farther afield and to newspapers. But the CSJ was seen as being middle class socially, as being too cautious politically, and as being somewhat pan-Catholic in outlook. These, of course, were snap judgements and may not have stood up to an authentic research. The CSJ did not appeal to the mass, so the attempt to form a body which did. The McCluskeys were invited to send representatives, which they did, and Dr Conn McCluskey was elected to both the steering and to the first official committee of NICRA. The trade unions also had been showing an increasing awareness in the lack of basic rights at home and in early 1967 they published-in conjunction with the Parliamentary Labour Party, a “Joint Memorandum on Citizens’ Rights in Northern Ireland” which was addressed to the then Prime Minister, Terence O’Neill. Also at this time the British NCCL was seriously considering setting up a branch in Belfast.

THE FIRST 18 MONTHS

The NICRA went straight into action with a condemnation of the ban on Republican Clubs. At a meeting in Newry on April 15th, the first time NICRA was on the streets, we also dealt with the issue of the itinerants who were making news by squatting on the Shore Road and the scheduled abattoir site. There were also numerous cases of harassment of republicans or republican sympathisers by the RUC Special Branch, particularly those based in Hastings Street Station. I recall on one occasion when investigating a complaint, being accused in front of witnesses, of being a tout for the RUC. This was a non-too-subtle attempt to discredit both myself and NIGRA. That first eighteen months was a time of frustration. William Craig, to whom most of our complaints were directed, usually delayed in replying. When he did he denied that the complaints were justified even when a civil rights officer (myself) was physically thrown out of Hastings Street Station! Yet we did detect an easing off in harassment both of republicans and of itinerants.

But the most annoying aspect of the early period was the lack of real interest shown by our first council members at times we couldn’t muster up the required six members for a quorum at the monthly meetings. Not that the disputes about gerrymandering etc were not recognised, for even the News Letter, during early 1968, serialised a thesis by an assistant professor at Oakland University entitled “Ulster Under Fire”, detailing some of the abuses.

In November 1964 The Scotsman had printed an article “Backwash in Belfast”. Other similar tirades were “Vested Interests Keep Bigotry Alive” (Belfast Telegraph, 9/11/63), “A Nasty Smell from Ulster” (New Statesman, 3/1/64), “John Bull’s Political Slum” (Sunday Times, 3/7/66), “The Ulster Rump” (New Statesman, 27/1/67), “Ulster’s Second-class Citizens” (The Times, 24/4/67), and “John Bull’s White Ghettos” (The Observer, 6/10/68). But the Ulster Unionists turned a deaf ear. Terence O’Neill had begun his ‘meet the people’ tours and his ‘civic weeks’, yet nothing had actually changed except perhaps the ordinary folk were then more kindly disposed towards each other than before … or since. The Divis Street riots had been a blot on the copybook and there had been many similar incidents often associated with rallies of the Rev Ian Paisley, but most of the harassment and discrimination had become so subtle that only those directly involved could see them.

In February 1968 the second executive council of NICRA was elected and there were a few new faces on it. John McAnerney (CSJ), Frank Campbell (Republican), Peter Morris (no affiliation), Jim Quinn (no affiliation), Frank Gogarty (Wolfe Tone Society), and Rebecca McGlade (Republican) replaced the outgoing Bennett, Harris, Banks, O’Brien, Dolley and Devlin. Robin Cole, although re-elected with the highest total number of votes later resigned from the executive because of some words used by the outgoing secretary, Derek Peters. Betty Sinclair became new chairman; John Quinn, vice-chairman; John McAnerney, secretary; Rebecca McGlade, assistant secretary; Frank Gogarty, PRO; whilst I retained my post as treasurer. That year began quietly enough with a capitulation to Paisley over the Easter Annual Republican Parade in Armagh. There was a spate of meetings held in protest. I represented NICRA at all of these (Armagh, April 20th, Newry, April 27th, and back in Armagh, May 18th). All of the Stormont opposition parties had speakers on these platforms and NICRA, by being invited to share with them, was at last gaining some recognition although only by the non-Union action of the community.

THE FIRST MARCHES

In the spring of 1968 there was much rethinking within the CRA leadership; the tactics of Martin Luther King in America had been absorbed inasmuch that it was felt by some that only by public marches could we really draw world attention to what we were trying to achieve by normal democratic means. But we had members who either didn’t relish the trouble this could create or were too constitutional in their thinking. However, the Caledon incident when the local council granted a house to a young unmarried Protestant girl next door to one where a Catholic family with young children had been evicted for squatting gave us the opportunity to have our way. Austin Currie phoned me and asked if I would address a protest meeting on the following Saturday night (June 22nd 1968) at Dungannon. John McAnerney drove me down on a night of torrential rain and although soaked to the skin, I had the satisfaction in pledging the NICRA to a policy of civil disobedience. The following month, back in Maghera where the CRA had first materialised, plans were formulated for Ireland’s first-ever civil rights march. We had all along been of the opinion that Derry should be the venue for this it being an obvious choice but the availability of a well-organised local group to do the ground work for us and the smart of the Caledon housing farce led us to choose a walk from Coalisland to Dungannon.

That evening of August 24th 1968 was one of magnificent weather and the thousands who turned up for the march enjoyed their stroll as well as protesting against injustice. We had taken no chances against violence by, or against, any of the marchers by providing a ring of march stewards. At one stage the police attempted to issue us with summonses but they were brushed aside and everything went quietly until we came close to Dungannon town centre where a crowd of Paisleyites awaited us. The RUC requested that we should detour. The alternative route they opened for us was through a Catholic ghetto area which we refused arguing that the town centre was neutral and that we were not coat-trailing but insisting on our right to go that way. We had no wish to be seen as a purely Catholic agitationary group so we refused to confine ourselves to a strictly Catholic locale whilst neutral ground was available. Our protests were in vain and our stewards did magnificent work in holding back the hot-heads within our ranks as the editorial of the Belfast Telegraph put it “The extremist element in the minority is controllable, and on the other side it is not.” It was not quite accurate in this line of thinking as extremists on either side could be controlled if the desire to do so was strong enough.

An incident about that march worth clarifying: Betty Sinclair was quoted in some newspapers as shouting to our young hot heads to “join the IRA”; she didn’t use that expression. I was standing right next to the woman who did.

DERRY OCTOBER 5th 1968

Derry was the next venue for a demonstration, for October 5th, 1968. We liaised with the Derry Housing Action Committee, the Londonderry Labour Party, the James Connolly Republican Club and the older men of the Derry Nationalist Party. Everything was going swimmingly until about a week before the scheduled march when we had a letter from Eddie McAteer, the Nationalist leader, informing us that he and his party were pulling out from the event. Three of the Executive, Betty Sinclair, John McAnerney and myself, went to his home and asked for his reason, the gist of which was that he didn’t care for the company we were keeping! We asked him to reconsider his decision, knowing that it would be political suicide for him and his party should they not support us. Eddie obviously came around to our way of thinking eventually as he was.

The Dungannon march, and the one scheduled for Derry, brought the world’s press. The Unionist Government was taking quite a beating, intensified when William Craig ordered a ban on the October 5th parade. Notice of the ban was delivered to John McAnerney on Thursday, October 3rd and he immediately called a meeting of the NICRA executive. After some talk we phoned Derry asking them to call a meeting of all interested parties for the next night. In the City Hotel, following a three hour debate, which was at times very stormy indeed, the unanimous decision was to defy Craig’s ban. At midnight the waiting press were informed of our decision. On Saturday morning Fergus Pyle of The Irish Times wrote of an interview he had with Craig in which the Home Affairs Minister said: “Strict instructions have been given. We intend to make sure there will be no more Armaghs”. Pyle goes on: “This reference was to the Republican parade at Easter which marched along a route banned by the Ministry. It was not interfered with by police but several arrests were made afterwards”. Reading that we knew that we could expect a rough time in Derry.

Betty Sinclair, John McAnerney, Frank Gogarty and myself travelled by car arriving in the Waterside shortly after the march had moved off. Upon seeing this I started sprinting for the head of it not then realising that our route had been slightly altered. When but a few paces from the police lines in Duke Street I reached the front ranks of the marchers, was almost immediately kneed in the groin by a constable, was dragged behind the RUC lines and was ordered into a Black Maria. I was, I believe, the first demonstrator arrested, and on reflection the inside of a “Paddy wagon” was possibly the safest place in Duke Street that Saturday. (Incidentally, the next man thrown in beside me was Martin Meehan who achieved notoriety later as a Provisional IRA leader.) I was brought to Victoria Police Station on Strand Road where I was well enough treated and released later at about eleven o’clock that night. Some weeks after I was issued with three summonses arising from my participation in the parade.

Whatever indignities we suffered, Terence O’Neill and his party suffered more. Television cameras recorded for world consumption the actions of the police in their water-hosing and batoning of men and women. O’Neill’s efforts to cool things were not helped by Craig’s bullish statements implying IRA control, etc. His famous declaration that his police had photographs of IRA boss, Cathal Goulding, at the march fell flat when Goulding was able to prove that he had never left County Wicklow on that day. And the excuse that he had to ban the NICRA demonstration because it was clashing with the prior-arranged Apprentice Boys was also proved ridiculous when the top man of the local Apprentice Boys admitted to the press and TV that he knew of no march by his organisation for that afternoon. That night rioting broke out in the streets of Derry and developed in intensity as the week moved on. So frightening did this become that the Lord Mayor of the city, William Beatty, agreed to meet with NICRA executive members, Miss Sinclair and John McAnerney in an attempt to calm the situation. They met at Portballintrae on October 11th and the meeting caused a little disagreement within NICRA as neither “delegate” had consulted the Executive beforehand.

November 13th brought a ban by William Craig prohibiting all marches within the walls of Derry, but three days later this was scorned when some 20,000 people followed the intended route of October 5th and marched from the Waterside, across Craigavon Bridge and into the Diamond where various speakers addressed them.

ARMAGH

Exactly a fortnight afterwards the NICRA was back into the fray with a demonstration in Armagh. Early that morning the Rev. Paisley and Major Bunting had organised hundreds of supporters who, armed with an assortment of weapons, announced that they would stop any march in the city. Upon arrival in Armagh it was found that access to the starting-off point was rather difficult as we were not permitted to proceed by car any further than The Mall, which is on the Belfast side of the city. For some time we paraded along The Mall where we were watched over by dozens of club-carrying Paisleyites. Then a Special Branch officer led us across the mud of the new ring road to meet up with the marchers who had already started off. Upon reaching Thomas Street we saw a line of police blocking our way and some distance behind them Paisley and his men.

At this point County Inspector Sam Sherrard requested permission to be let speak from the civil rights platform. He announced that he couldn’t offer any protection to us; this was pure capitulation to the men of violence. At this some of our supporters were naturally incensed but our stewards prevented what could have been a blood bath by hemming in the potential trouble makers. By now we had a good idea as to tactics and a knowledge as to whom to watch amongst our marchers. I remember one very prominent civil rights member arguing with me in the middle of the street that we should let the people go on – he obviously couldn’t see that we had once more proved beyond doubt that the reactionaries were the extreme Unionists. I felt then, as I feel even stronger today, that violence only begets counter-violence. And that seemingly was the attitude of the liberal home and world news media who, by speaking out strongly against the use of the police, drew more sympathy to our cause.

On November 22nd he had offered a five-point package of reform but it was a case of too little too late. When he asked for a cooling-off period we accepted it for two reasons. Those of us who had been active all along were beginning to feel the strain of continuously organising and travelling up and down the country; and we knew that to keep pushing could well show us as being unwilling to accept compromise. Also, we needed space to consolidate our gains and during the weeks of “truce” we set up branches in various smaller towns within the province. Our idea was, if reform was not implemented, to organise a series of monthly marches beginning in the early spring. The People’s Democracy put paid to that.

THE PEOPLE’S DEMOCRACY

They had come into existence on October 9th, a few days after the Duke Street batoning. An amorphous body whose leaders were principally from the Young Socialist Alliance, they purported to believe in true democracy; anything with an officer board or recognised leadership was to them bureaucracy. They were young, idealistic, and with the inexperience of youth inclined to see things only in tones of black and white. To them there were no shades of grey. They began by hitting out at the injustice of Derry; then the injustices of the Unionist overlords; then the overlords of the Irish Republic; and ended by attacking the whole capitalist system. As their knowledge increased their revolutionary potential developed, but they had by then lost the bulk of their membership and the halo of ‘student martyrs’ began to dissipate. We of the NICRA were called by them right-wingers, pan-Catholics, and other names of scorn. We were ridiculed for not extending our area of operation to the southern Republic and they refused to listen to our arguments why we did not. They would not accept that we were the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, and they probably didn’t know that in November 1968 I had travelled to Dublin to explain to a selected group of trade unionists, budding politicians and others the best way in which we thought they could assist us.

It was explained to this audience that condemnation of the Unionist Government by people resident south of the Border was hypocritical unless they made the attempt to clean up the mess in their own backyard. They too had a ruling clique every bit as corrupt as that in Stormont; they too had repressive legislation just as obnoxious as we had; they had a constitution which discriminated against those of the Protestant faith. These were some of the points raised and they were advised to treat the North calmly. Already they had two civil rights bodies in the Dublin district the Irish Association of Civil Liberties and the Civil Liberties League both of which were worse than useless. From that visit south later emerged a group known (if my memory serves me right) as Citizens for Civil Liberties.

HUMAN RIGHTS YEAR

Nineteen hundred and sixty eight was designated throughout the world as Human Rights Year. A Northern Ireland Committee for Human Rights Year was established, its Hon. Presidents being drawn from the leaders of the various political parties including the Prime Minister, Terence O’Neill, the heads of the main religions, and the Mayor of Derry. Its Chairman was Sir Robin Kinahan, and its vice chairmen Brian McGuigan and Brian Walker. The NICRA were one of the first organisations to affiliate with this Human Rights Year Committee but they were sadly disillusioned if they expected any real progress from them. The banning of the Republican parade at Easter had been referred to them as we argued that the banning contravened something like 20 of the 30 articles of the Human Rights Charter; we never learnt of any action taken or protest lodged by this Committee. By mid-summer John McAnerney wrote to Tony Smythe of the NCCL and asked him to assist in urging the Human Rights Year’s body to do something. To quote from John’s letter: “The last meeting of the full Committee was on 8th May, the previous one on 27th November, and when the next will be, God only knows…”.

“At the May meeting the Education Committee reported the sole result of six months’ work a competition for the production of children’s scrapbooks. This revolutionary proposition was not past the planning stage. For adult education they did not even seem to have plans: there was no mention of any public meetings or lectures, nor any indication that such were to be held …”

“The Research Committee’s solitary brainchild seemed, at first glance, quite promising. It was a piece of research to be undertaken by Queen’s University into some aspect of Human Rights in Northern Ireland. The project was going to cost £5000: Human Rights Year would be history long before the project got started: the project would then take two years to complete: if and when completed it would not make any recommendations”.

MEANWHILE BACK ON THE STREETS

Events were to overtake whatever good, if any, really existed within the Committee. Arising out of the October 5th Derry march 66 summonses were served on 45 people and the trial of these opened in Derry on November 18th, 1968. After a couple of days the cases were adjourned till December 4th. On the 10th D.I. Ross McGimpsey took the stand, and in his evidence declared that he had first received notice of the parade on September 29th, i.e. just one week prior to its taking place. This seemed an odd statement since it had been on 8th September that we served notice of our intentions. When I learned of D.I. McGimpsey’s statement I phoned John McAnerney pointing out that there was clearly a case for us to contest. At that time we were convinced that all telephones belonging to prominent members of the CRA were tapped and it came as no surprise when on the 16th the Attorney-General agreed to postpone all cases arising from the Derry march. Although they were officially only being put back until the following May we knew that an amnesty was likely to be offered. When Chichester-Clark became Prime Minister a general pardon to all those charged with events connected with civil rights demonstrations was offered (May 6th, 1969).

BURNTOLLET

The PD Long March left Belfast’s City Hall and despite doubts by some of the NICRA we did grant them £25 of our meagre funds to help them on their way. We also issued a press release calling on all our supporters to succour them in whatever way they could. As tension mounted day by day, and Major Bunting and his supporters continued to harass the marchers, we decided to walk the last stretch with them. On the Friday night Frank Gogarty, John McAnerney and I drove up to Claudy, the marchers last stopping place, and then into Derry where we spent the night.

In the morning we returned to Claudy to join the march. As we neared Burntollet John and I were near the end of the line so had a good view of what happened. Following a warning from the police that there “might be some stone throwing” we had moved forward again. A posse of constables in ordinary uniform strode in file up the hilly ground on the right-hand side of the road towards the groups of men and youths standing there. In front of our parade was a bunch of police in full riot gear. The first section of the march got through reasonably easily, watched by the mob who waited to see how the police were going to act. When they saw the indifference shown them, they opened up. Of some 800 people in that march I would estimate that about 60 were students, the rest being mainly local County Derry men, women, boys and girls. It was the latter who took the brunt of the broadside aimed at us. Frank Gogarty took a terrible beating; he rushed back to try and retrieve the NICRA blue banner which had been dropped by its carriers and I saw him being beaten by the ambushers on one side and by two policemen on the other. Major Bunting was standing grinning like a Cheshire car at his strategy and as I approached him he held out a hand in welcome. I was wearing an orange-coloured sweater and he obviously thought that I was one of his thugs. As I argued with him he insisted that his men were non-violent and I in my anger asked him if “he was bloody sane” just as two petrol bombs were thrown at the parade, which was already in some confusion.

Police approached as we argued and I left Bunting and went to try to assist those still struggling. One young constable who had guarded the Black Maria in which I was kept on October 5th recognised me and asked me to “clear the road, Mr Heatley, as we want to get at those bastards” pointing towards the ambushers; I still doubt that he meant I it.

The marchers straggled into Derry greatly strengthened in numbers. When word had filtered back into the city there was a mass exodus of young men to our aid. Frank Gogarty had been driven to Altnagelvin Hospital and I was honestly surprised to see him standing outside the gate there waiting to rejoin the parade on its way in, his head swathed in bandages. As we crossed Craigavon Bridge word drifted through to us that Ann Devlin, student daughter of Paddy Devlin, had been killed and this put the crowd in worse anger. Fortunately she was not as seriously hurt as first reported but no-one could honestly blame the Bogsiders and Cregganites for the rioting that occurred before that terrible day was past.

I remember sitting on the stairs of the City Hotel with two later-to-be Stormont MPs discussing heatedly the formation of a citizen guard for future marches. We may have disagreed with the holding of the long walk and the foolhardiness in undertaking it, but in retrospect it was one of the major turning points of the whole civil rights campaign. It snowed once again the partiality of the police and the directors of law and order and it drew untold publicity to our cause. Billy Craig with his ham-fistedness was proving a fantastic help to us and we joked about presenting him with a plaque of honour.

The PD were however still a thorn in our side. I was told in Derry the day of Burntollet that an offer of stewards had been made to the PD as escort from Claudy into the city. The offer was turned down and one wonders that if it had been accepted there would not have been as many innocent people hurt on that day. This refusal to agree to stewarding their marches led on January 11th, 1969 in Newry to ‘evidence’ being manufactured to ‘prove’ the violent character of the civil rights movement. On that day several police tenders were offered as bait and the lack of stewarding let the bait be taken. The tenders were set on fire and the Unionist press worked overtime to spread the story to the world. We had suffered a setback through some of the more questioning I reporters wondered why so many policemen had stood idly by and allowed a mob to destroy their vehicles. It didn’t make sense, especially when one realises that the area in which they were left was a comparatively easy one to defend and, at that time (Jan. 1969) the only guns and bomb being used were by Loyalist extremists.

We had, by the date of the Newry near-disaster, co-opted two PD members on to the NICRA executive, and in a further attempt to gain co-ordination between their organisation, the recently formed Derry Citizens’ Action Committee and ourselves we held a joint meeting at Toomebridge on January 16th, 1969. This proved of little value as only one of the Derry members was able to attend and the PD proved unable to agree to anything as they insisted that every motion would have to be referred back to their total membership for ratification. Ten days later we returned to Toomebridge for another round of talks which ended with a similar lack of success although the DCAC were willing for co-operation at any level.

Present at these second talks were all the then big names of the civil rights struggle including (from Derry) John Hume, Michael Canavan, Eamon McLaughlin; (from the PD), Bernadette Devlin, Mike Farrell, Kevin Boyle, Loudan Seth; (from NICRA), John McAnerney, Frank Gogarty, Betty Sinclair. At the close of the first meeting I was asked by Kevin Boyle as to Mike Farrell’s chances as candidate in the pending Mid-Ulster bye-election. My reply was a negative one. History now records how Bernadette Devlin went forward on behalf of the People’s Democracy and was elected by the unity shown by all the anti-Unionist groups in the constituency. Tensions were by now mounting up within the forces for civil rights; the PD by their militancy had gained support and within NICRA there was unease at our apparent lack of activity. Some members felt that we were losing the initiative whilst others thought that the PD were pressurising us into making rash moves. There was collusion between some of our executive and the People’s Democracy.

The first open sign was shown at the February NICRA annual general meeting when Frank Gogarty inadvertently proposed Mike Farrell for the post of treasurer. This post, according to our constitution was the only one on the officer board which was appointed by the vote of all the membership, the rest of the positions on the board being filled at a further meeting of those selected to the 14-person executive. When Frank realised his mistake he withdrew his proposal. I was, for the third time, elected unopposed as treasurer, and Frank then again proposed Farrell’s name for the executive. Kevin Boyle was also elected and it was obvious from the voting pattern that although there were nominally only two PD men on the 1969 NICRA controlling body, they were not without strong support.

THE PD MARCH

Yet I believe the majority of our members were surprised when they read on the front pages of the Irish News of March 7th the following: “A march from the centre of Belfast to Stormont is being planned by the Civil Rights Association and the People’s Democracy for the end of the month, to protest against the passing of the new amendments to the Public Order Act and against the attitude of the Unionist Government generally. This was disclosed by Miss Bernadette Devlin of the P.D., when she spoke at the formation of a Civil Rights branch for South Derry in Gulladuff last night. Miss Devlin said it was hoped that this would be the biggest Civil Rights demonstration to date.

We will see if the Government closes the gates of Stormont against the people who elected them, she said. “Most of us on the executive had no prior knowledge of this Gulladuff meeting and Bernadette, of course, had no authority to commit us to a joint parade of which we knew nothing. When this was raised at a NICRA executive meeting a couple of nights later both Farrell and Boyle disclaimed any responsibility for what Miss Devlin had said but on March 14th a formal proposal was made that we join forces for this march. During that night there were three proposals on CR issues put forward by either Farrell or Boyle. On each occasion the vote split seven-seven with our chairman, Frank Gogarty, using his casting vote each time in favour of the parade to Stormont. Betty Sinclair, John McAnerney, Raymond Shearer, some others and myself opposed this. We were convinced that it was lunacy to lead people in a civil rights protest through East Belfast in what would be interpreted as an exercise in coat-trailing. For hours the argument dragged on during which Erskine Holmes, then a member of NICRA executive, walked out in disgust exclaiming that we four in particular were only being obstructive.

The upshot was that at 1 a.m. on March 15th, 1969 the four of us announced our resignations from the council. We acted on impulse as it became clear that the CRA strategy of proper marshalling of demonstrations and the actual independence of NICRA was being sacrificed to placate PD demands. They had contested the Northern Ireland elections the previous month as a political party and our constitution (which had been approved at the inauguration of the association) declared us to be non-party political. Two members were all that the PD had on our executive but it was obvious that they wielded power beyond their numerical strength and that in collusion with others of our executive the march to Stormont had been prearranged.

BOYLE’S LAW

On St. Patrick’s Night I appeared on Ulster Television with Kevin Boyle to discuss the dispute. My principal argument was that that the PD were a political party and as such NICRA could not organise any demonstration with them as we were non-party political. Kevin’s reply was that his organisation was NOT political. As with most TV debates it ended without any definite conclusions.

Prior to facing the cameras and later when having a meal together, Kevin candidly admitted that the PD was a political party. This confirmed my belief that he was, and was to remain for some time, the strategist of the People’s Democracy. He was never as flamboyant or as openly courageous as Mike Farrell whose recklessness one could condemn yet still admire. Kevin was training, and has since qualified, in law, and without doubt this made him the more cautious of the two. He was seldom seen in the same light as his comrade. Looking back on it I now feel that our resignations were both foolish and unnecessary sentiments with which some months before his death John McAnerney agreed. But on that night in March 1969 there was anger and frustration at what we saw as infiltration of NICRA by a body more intent on socialist revolution than on the attainment of civil rights. Some of us as individuals may ourselves have been socialists, but we knew, that our strength was in forging a unity of purpose with clearly defined targets rather than on chasing a doctrinaire political belief. Because of that unity of purpose we had been able to weld together as an effective unit conservatives, labourites, communists, republicans, Northern Irelanders, liberal Catholics and liberal Protestants. Our aim was a charter of human rights for Northern Ireland. That, basically, was what was most lacking in the country and without it a person could be, and was, discriminated against on account of religious or political beliefs.

Everyone in the long term suffered because of discrimination: the employer who could never employ the best qualified person for the job on offer, the employee who was made redundant through the mismanagement of their firm; the Protestant who thought his squalid little house on the Shankill was superior to that of the Catholic on the Falls; the worker who produced more and was paid less for his efforts than his British-mainland counterpart through the exploitation of the divisions within the working population; the child who lost his cultural heritage because that heritage was told to be “evil Catholicism” or “evil Protestantism”.

THE DEVELOPING SPLIT

Our resignations had been followed by, for the same reason, those of eight of the Omagh CRA leadership, and was to lead to a wide split within the movement. An emergency general meeting of NICRA was called for March 23rd and held in the Wellington Park Hotel, Belfast. Following a long, acrimonious and confused debate, one of two motions put forward by the remaining NICRA executive was defeated and another left suspended. We had won the day. Had we demanded a similar emergency meeting on March 14th instead of resigning in disgust and anger, I am confident we would have obtained the same result. At 1.30 in the morning of March 25th the Chairman of NICRA phoned me to reconsider my decision and told me that the treasurer’s job was still mine. He refused to comment on the readmission to their posts of the three who had resigned with me, so I declined his offer on the basis of what was fair for one was fair for all. The next day I received in writing official notification from NICRA that my resignation was accepted, later replying to this and reiterating my stand of March 25th. Betty Sinclair and John McAnerney continued to fight within the association. I cut completely with it, feeling unable to support it any longer as an active member.

TENSIONS WITHIN THE CRA

Our departure had heralded the first outward division of opinion within NICRA. The proposed march to Stormont which had led to the split was postponed, and then forgotten about. But the entire civil rights movement was in a state of crisis. Statements were issued of ‘complete unity’ within the ranks but behind the scenes the truth gave lie to this. The CSJ circulated to members and to close friends, bulletins expressing fears of a leftwing takeover. The Young Socialist section of the PD became more bold in their pronouncements of what their hold on the CRA would mean. In America, Australia and England, the support groups for Irish human liberties began squabbling. A NICRA branch was hurriedly set up in Belfast but the council elected to run it was declared void by the executive council and another election held. There were stormy meetings of the executive and on at least one public platform accusations were made by speakers against other speakers. There were allegations of money going astray. And thirteen cases pending before the European Commission of Human Rights at Strasbourg were let go by default.

In place of James C. Heaney (an American lawyer who was representing the civil rights movement) Ciaran Mac an Aili who addressed the Queen’s Hall meeting back in 1966 was brought in. He had the support of the McCluskeys’ CSJ and seemingly of NICRA, yet the cases were allowed to lapse.

While the internal crisis was going on in NICRA there were more dramatic and frightening happenings on the streets of Derry and Belfast. It began with stones and petrol but finalised with guns and explosives. In August of 1969 the chairman of NICRA convened a meeting of his executive to discuss ways of taking the pressure from Berry’s beleaguered Bogside. A decision was taken to hold demonstrations throughout the North excluding Belfast. Something went wrong, a meeting was held on the Falls which preceded the killings and destruction in the area during the next few days. During all this “civil rights” were forgotten. The more immediate need was for defence.

The IRA which had been dormant, rapidly built up its strength, and in January 1970 the Provisionals came into existence. The Republicans had split and this too had its effect on NICRA. Along with his fears of a Marxist socialist takeover of the Association, Dr. McCluskey was now expressing fears of a joint Marxist Republican coup d’etat. At the 1970 Annual General Meeting he and his supporters withdrew from membership of NICRA, and, ironically, so did the People’s Democracy who had been the original cause of the split in the civil rights movement. Of the Republicans those now identified with the ‘Official’ wing retained membership whilst those connected with the Provisionals eschewed theirs. It is though, a point worth remembering that of the two sections of the Republican movement the Provisional element never had many of its members-to-be in NICRA. Offhand I can think of only about half a dozen, and none held executive posts. Those now connected with the Official Republicans have a long and steady record of membership. It was at the 1970 AGM that they first gained any real control and today, with the withering of politically neutral support they, with the assistance of the Northern Ireland end of the Communist Party, seem to hold most of the top positions.

INFLUENCES ON POLICY

This raises the question as to what was the Republican or Communist influence behind the civil rights movement. Well in the start, the Campaign for Social Justice could never have been identified with either. But the Wolfe Tone Society who initiated the moves which led to the formation of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was, as I have written in the first part of this story, a believer in a united country. Most of their members would, I think, be classed now as ‘moderate’ in that they did not believe in force to obtain their aims. The Society as such faded away as their activists became more and more enmeshed with the CRA. The last meeting of the Wolfe Tone Society I can recall attending was in March 1969 on the night after the emergency general meeting of NICRA. I know there was a meeting in 1970 and late last year I read a press release given by a Belfast Wolfe Tone Society (who is behind this body I have never bothered to find out).

The members of NICRA’s steering committee and of its first two executive committees are listed here with their political affiliations, if any. It is then up to readers to consider for themselves whether they were top heavy with militant Republicans and whether they would have been able to control the thinking of the full membership. In its best years, 1968 and early 1969 not even William Craig could make a sincere accusation of IRA or Sinn Fein control. In those years we drew substantial Protestant support and our first big cash donation was £200 from a Presbyterian minister; it was the continued disorganised militancy of the PD that drove such support away. And that too is ironic for the PD often accused us of being pro-Catholic.

Then there were charges of Communist control. Of the steering and 1967 executive committees three of the five members were, or had been, members of the CP. No-one who knows anything of the inside story of that first season can ever claim that they (the CP members) were militants in fact, they were accused of being too cautious. Betty Sinclair, later NICRA chairman, has long been a convinced Communist but that has never been held against her in her work on behalf of the underprivileged or in the Belfast and District Trades Council. Between ‘Rebel’ and ‘Red’ scares there were all kinds of attempts to discredit the CRA but invitations to its formation were sent to all political parties including that of the Government. Still available are letters of reply from the Unionists signed by either James Chichester-Clark as Chief Whip or J.O. Bailie, secretary.

The final question is: where to now?

I am convinced that in every society there is a need for a civil rights body to prevent bureaucratic abuses or the sometimes more subtle abuses showered by one person upon another because of their colour or religion or politics. There should be some mode of redress made available for anyone discriminated against. Although a board was set up by the government this is not the answer. The National Council for Civil Liberties is a good structure to work on. They are independent of government and their record of assistance to the needy is first class. They have a pool of lawmen to call on and a caucus of politicians within Westminster to lobby in their interests. There should be a financial grant from governmental funds to cover expenses of such an organisation but no strings should be attached to this other than that of normal accountancy.

At present we have three civil rights organisations in Ireland. There is the more-newly formed (in 1972) Irish Civil Rights Association, mainly southern-based and Provisional Republican oriented; there is NICRA which is dominated by Official Republicans and Communists; and there is the Association for Legal Justice founded 1971 and which has established branches on both sides of the Border. And the NCCL have recently stated their intention once again of forming a branch in Northern Ireland.

At the moment these groups do sometimes assist each other in gathering information or in publicising what they consider abuses of human rights, but the ideological differences between ICRA and NICRA make proper unity an impossibility. Ciaran Mac an Aili crops up again in the formation of ICRA and was its first chairman. In Northern Ireland we obtained many safeguards for citizens which have been written into legislation probably through the actions and propaganda of the early civil rightists. There has been a desire to put right some of the more blatant abuses of power, yet we are now worse off than we were five years ago.

Internment is still going at full blast, the denial of the right of public procession is still being denied on a one-sided basis, there is an over-exceeding of power by sections of the security forces, the right to political expression is not being observed, the Special Powers Acts have been swapped for the Emergency laws including some of the most draconian aspects of the former, and the Tribunal at Long Kesh or Maze Prison is no substitute for a proper judicial proceeding. Although the Northern Ireland situation is, to put it mildly, abnormal that is no justification for all that takes place in the name of law and order. Justice must not only be done, but seen to be done. The populace, especially in Belfast, has edged itself into stronger and more defensive ghettos and it will take years to break down this housing pattern. Many of our business firms are trying to integrate their work forces but this too will take time.

There is now a strong call for peace with justice and I believe should be the cry of all. We owe it, not only to ourselves and to our children, but to each other.

Was ‘troubles’ related death toll as high as 30,000?

How many people died in the recent conflict in Ireland? You’d think this would be a relatively easy to answer question. But depending on how you decide to define a death as conflict-related, the total, which is usually given as around 3,700, is probably at least 5,733 and may be as high as 30,000.

A quick trawl of existing databases puts a detailed death toll in the region of 3,640-3,760. This is a considerable figure and itself only a fraction of the number who received injuries or were harmed in some other way by their experience over the same period. But a comparison of some of the components of those totals shows that this is an estimation and a very conservative one and doesn’t seem to fully reflect the extent of loss of human life arising from the conflict. Initially, I was looking at this to see the methods employed to determine what might be the best way to estimate the loss of life in the north (and Belfast in particular) in 1919-23. Instead, I noticed that, depending on how you choose to define whether a death is related to the conflict here, you can argue that the actual death toll is at least 5,733. Or you could even put it as high as 30,000.

There are a number of publicly accessible databases recording deaths arising from the post-1966 conflict here. This includes the following: Lost Lives ; Malcolm Sutton’s An Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland 1969-1993 (with a draft list up to the present); and, Michael McKeown’s Database of Deaths Associated with Violence in Northern Ireland, 1969-2001. The latter two databases are hosted, in various formats, along with contextual literature and other resources on the Conflict Archive on the Internet (known as CAIN).

The 2006 edition of Lost Lives records 3,720 deaths from 1966 to that date. The database compiled by Malcolm Sutton covers the period from 1969 to 2001 and records 3,532 deaths (in relative terms, this is 149 less than the total for the same period in Lost Lives). It also includes a provisional total of 88 deaths from 2001 to the end of 2017. The second database available via CAIN, prepared by Michael McKeown, records 3,649 deaths over the period from 1969 to 2005. Compared to the same period covered by Lost Lives, McKeown lists 3,622 deaths, 98 less than Lost Lives. Combining the figures in Lost Lives and those on CAIN for the period up to 2017 gives a total of 3,762 conflict-related deaths from 1966 to 2017.

This variability hints at the complications that underlie what deaths are deemed to be conflict-related and how that is defined. It is also still possible to identify some deaths that have been overlooked in all them, such as Erwin Beelitz in Berlin in 1972. Lost Lives does provide discussions of individual cases that illustrates the scope of what is considered as a conflict-related death. It generally just includes violent deaths and so would not typically include, for instance, someone whose health suffered from conflict-related stresses leading to a premature death. The latter may be much more difficult to determine and be quite subjective (although more on this point below).

What got me interested in the divergence from the general quoted figures of around 3,700 was in the officially declared military death toll. I’d thought that a relatively obvious way of checking how robust the available figures were, was to compare figures for individual groups against published records. In December 2012, the UK Ministry of Defence provided a breakdown of British military personnel who died during Operation Banner (the British army deployment to the north). For deaths as a “…result of operations in Northern Ireland or Irish Terrorism in other countries…” it gives a total of 1,441. Lost Lives gives an overall figures for the British Armed Services of 503 along with 206 UDR and RIR. The breakdown for Operation Banner, provided by the Ministry of Defence, though, is 814 regular army, 548 UDR and RIR, and a further 79 for other branches (making up that total of 1,441). This is 732 in excess of the figures provided for in any of the relevant databases. This underestimate, by some 103%, is considerable. As the term used in the letter detailing the figures very specifically says that the deaths were as a “…result of operations in Northern Ireland or Irish Terrorism in other countries…” this would be appear to be the official total.

Critically, to understand the methodology, the existing databases all list every individual who was is included. The official figures for Operation Banner do not provide individual details.

It is also possible to look at the figures given republican fatalities. A ‘Roll of Honour’ was published in An Phoblacht in 2010, identifying the deaths of those named as having being conflicted-related. This gives a total of 336 conflict-related IRA deaths (it also lists 25 Sinn Féin members). Using the tables provided by Sutton, his equivalent figure appears to be 292 (excluding Sinn Féin members) suggesting there were a further 44 deaths on top of those conventionally associated with the conflict. A further 83 republican combatant casualties are recorded by Sutton (including INLA, Official IRA etc). McKeown reports some 271 IRA deaths, of a total 350 republican dead, while Lost Lives provides a combined total of 396. If the An Phoblacht figure reflects deaths deemed to be conflict-related but not conventionally captured by the methodologies employed by Lost Lives, Sutton and McKeown, the existing method may underestimate republican conflict related deaths by around 15%. So, if extrapolated for republican casualties as a whole, a figure of around 455 may more accurately reflect the scale of loss. If it might be argued that similar factors would be at play, the Lost Lives figure for unionist paramilitaries, 167, should probably be revised upwards on the same basis to 192. Neither of these figures would necessarily capture conflict-related deaths that are due to factors connected to their experience as combatants, incarceration or self-harm.

The issue of self-harm, more particularly suicide, is one that arises in a variety of contexts. The number of recorded RUC fatalities is given as 301 by Sutton, 303 by Lost Lives and 304 in McKeown. But on a number of occasions, official statements and figures have been given for suicides among serving RUC members, with 55 recorded by 1996 and 75 recorded by 2007. Without trivialising such a complex and emotive issue as suicide, it may never be known how many of these could be directly attributed to conflict-related factors. However, as noted with the difficulty of assessing the factors in any individual death, a review of overall figures might show any increased mortality that, in the context of the north during the conflict, is likely to have arisen from factors related, at least in part, to the conflict.

Occasionally, individuals who took their own lives are included amongst the conflict-related deaths. Patrick Sheehy, an IRA volunteer who appears to have shot himself in Nenagh in County Tipperary on 1st January 1991 is listed in Lost Lives (3170), although not in either Sutton or McKeown. It seems difficult to argue that it wasn’t related to the conflict and so it’s inclusion seems reasonable. On the same basis, it would seem that RUC fatalities should also be included. Taking Samaritans figures, it is possible to make wider comparisons with suicide rates across Ireland and Britain to see if the broader impact of the conflict on mental health is reflected in elevated suicide rates. There doesn’t appear to be any evidence for this until 2007, after which time an apparent rise by about 6 deaths per 100,000 since around 2007 is considered by some to be attributable to earlier conflict-related stresses. This would amount to around 1,080 deaths and continues to this day.

Combined with other additional deaths noted above for Operation Banner, the IRA, RUC etc, this would suggest the total number of deaths is closer to 5,733.

To follow this through, a similar comparison of general mortality for the north in the 1970s through to about 1998, makes for equally grim reading. Typically the male mortality rate was at a level significantly below that of the UK and the south of Ireland, by around 200 deaths per 100,000 per year. By the early 1980s, this had closed to around 100 per year and the mortality rates were then roughly comparable throughout the 1990s. The female mortality rate was significantly higher in the north than the UK and south of Ireland average in the early 1970s, by around 210 (per 100,000 per year), staying just under 200 higher in the early 1980s, rising to around 220 higher in the 1990s and the dropping back to just under 200 deaths higher (per 100,000 per year) by the end of the 1990s. Taking the overall differential in the mortality rates over the period from the early 1970s to 1998 suggests that maybe 24,000 more people died than would be expected, based on the rates prevalent in the UK and the south. Are there a series of complex factors underlying the increased mortality rate? Undoubtedly, but it is hard to see how it is likely that any complex factors are not, in themselves, somehow connected to systemic and structural issues related to the conflict. In that sense, it could be argued that these 24,000 should also really be regarded as conflict-related.

So is it plausible that we should consider the death toll from the recent conflict to be 30,000 or roughly 5,733 rather than around 3,700? The currently used conservative estimates of the quantum of deaths arising from the conflict has at least two origins. A concern of many of those who complied the databases was in painstakingly researching and detailing each individual death. Where the deaths are anonymised into collective data (such as the casualties from Operation Banner), it seems that there is no mechanism for either Lost Lives or the likes of Sutton or McKeown to include them.

Another factor, though, is that acceptance of the reduced figures is also an artefact of the same security policy that sought to minimise the nature and intensity of violence and brought us terms like ‘ulsterisation’ and ‘criminalisation’. This isn’t to imply that Lost Lives, Sutton or McKeown are somehow complicit in furthering the same policy. They are simply following convention and documenting instances of violence in which lives were lost. This differs significantly from British (and Irish) government strategy that sought to present violence in the conflict in the language of decontextualized, criminal acts. A logical outworking of this would be to continue to adopt a minimalist approach in assessing the human cost of the conflict even where, for instance, the official death toll of Operation Banner is way in excess of the figure normally cited for military losses. Unfortunately this attempt to promote a conservative estimate minimises the actual impact and adds to the dissonance between the official narrative and the impact experienced by individuals, families and communities. For them, perhaps we need to recognise that the scale of related fatalities is much greater. In that regard, a fresh consideration of how we define the death toll from the recent conflict may be worth further exploration and debate.

Learn all he can and put his training to the best advantage: Irish republicans in the British Army

It is probably not coincidental that the passing of the very last of the generation who fought in the first world war has coincided with a rise in overt nationalism centred around displays of the poppy as a symbol of British military commemoration. With the second world war generation, too, now dwindling rapidly, an aggressively vocal lobby insistently equates both generation’s sacrifice, as individuals and units, with a celebration of British imperial policy and militarism. This is conducted at such a volume that it drowns out any nuanced discussion of the experience of serving in the British forces. This is maybe most acute for those, particularly in Ireland, whose relatives were more likely driven into the British Army by circumstances than any political conviction.
You can get a clear, and unapologetic, sense of what the poppy, as a symbol, is intended to commemorate from the British Legion. Under its pages on remembrance, it specifically stipulates that it includes the recent conflict in the north (one in which the British army was allowed to use violence with impunity). The Legion also pointedly includes…those who fought with them and alongside them”, which would obviously cover the local unionist militias, the RUC and UDR, which were both discredited and then disbanded. Arguably it also extends to the unionist paramilitary groups like the UDA and UVF who fought ‘alongside them’, given the British government’s continuing refusal to open up its archives on the extent to which it operated those groups as local counter-gangs.
There is peculiar lobby among the likes of Fine Gael and the Irish Labour party that try and promote the poppy. The kindest thing that can be said about it is that they appear to barely have a surface knowledge of what the British Legion actually tells us the poppy is meant to commemorate. Ironically, the leader of the Irish government probably wore a British Legion poppy in Leinster House the other day simply to provoke Sinn Féin members present (in the hope that he could use a backlash to retrospectively validate his embarrassing car crash comments about sexism in an interview the previous day).
What we are seeing there, really, is the long term impact on censorship in the south. After Section 31 of the broadcasting ban lapsed, media censorship, and the world view it had promoted, have more or less persisted in a voluntary form. No real attempt has been made in the south to either revisit events or explore other perspectives on the conflict in the north and, in reality, most people who formed their views, values and opinions under Section 31 have no sense of having been exposed to heavily censored media coverage. That pretty much extends to any genuine understanding of the typical Irish experience in the British military which many seem to completely blur with a broader anti-republicanism sensibility.
Ex-servicemen (and indeed some still enlisted in the British army) appear to have always been a component of republican organisations. IRB leader William Harbinson’s life is illustrative of how young men typically ended up in the British Army. Driven from his birthplace in Ballinderry to Liverpool at the height of the famine, he enlisted underage. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his army service was punctuated with bouts of ill-health. Yet, through the likes of Harbinson, the IRB organisation appears to have relied upon serving British soldiers for access to military capability and arms.
The year after Harbinson’s death, James Connolly was born – brought up in great poverty, he too enlisted underage in the British Army and was one of a number of those who participated in 1916 that had a military background. It is notable, now, how the input of ex-servicemen surely contributed to the overall tactical view of the IRB. It embraced using some form of conventional standing army to establish an Irish republic, either using serving soldiers (as in 1867) or the Irish volunteers and Citizen’s Army (as in 1916). After 1916, and the formation of an Irish Republican Army, ironically, the tactical remit instead shifted to guerrilla actions (even though it still had many members who were former British soldiers).
In Belfast in 1920-22, ex-servicemen were prominent in the ad hoc defence of districts that came under attack from unionists. Joseph Giles, a former soldier killed when the military opened fire in Bombay Street on 22nd July 1920 is noted as an IRA volunteer in Jim McDermot’s Northern Divisions. Other former soldiers, like Daniel Hughes and Freddy Craig, were killed when unionists attacked their home districts or, as in the case of Malachy Halfpenny, were abducted, tortured and killed by B Specials. In some districts, like Ballymacarret, many ex-servicemen were believed to have joined the IRA and provided the spine of the republican forces that defended the district from attack. Certainly, in most IRA units, former British soldiers provided the technical support to maintain weapons and train in their use. Even in the 1950s, the IRA was able to place members inside British Army barracks in preparation for arms raids. In the 1970s, again in the face of unionist violence, ex-servicemen (this time, formally) grouped themselves under the banner of the Catholic (later ‘Local’) Ex-Servicemen’s Association.
In areas of high socio-economic deprivation (across Ireland), the needs of the British for servicemen offered an opportunity for the paid work (and pension) and a trade that were often denied to them in their own districts. How far the economic necessity that drove them into the services was underscored by political support is difficult to disentangle.
One hundred years ago, Charles O’Neill, my great-grandfather, a veteran of both India and the Boer War, was serving on the Italian front. He also had a brother at sea with the British Navy. After the war he was still burnt out of Ballyhackamore and driven from his work by ‘loyalists’. Whether he was political at all, never mind supportive of British imperial policy, he was to be brutally schooled in the value placed on his military service. Yet economics also dictated that two of his sons (my granny’s brothers, Andy and Charlie) also fought in the British Army during the second world war (my granny also had one brother-in-law in the US Army and another as Adjutant-General of the IRA). Charles, Andy and Charlie’s experience was probably typical. Political or not, they chose not to serve in the likes of the RUC or UDR that the British Legion now commemorate as having fought alongside the British Army. I suspect the current flag-waving poppy celebrations of the British Legion would be completely alien to them.
The traditional inclusion of ex-servicemen within Irish republican organisations is often overlooked and has probably yet to be fully explored. Opening it up may provide some rich insights. While a British soldier in Dublin, James Connolly likely participated in war games that included defending Dublin city. Given that he was one of a number of former servicemen who took part in the Rising, was the often derided military plan for the Rising based on an insight into the British defensive strategy practised in war games in which the likes of Connolly took place?
Connolly may also have provided the most succinct rationalisation of the motivation behind a young Irish man joining the British Army “…let him make the best of it and learn all he can and put his training to the best advantage he can when he comes out. A well-trained soldier will always find his allotted place in the community.

Hugh McAteer centenary

This year is the centenary of the birth of the former IRA Chief of Staff Hugh McAteer. To mark it, I’ve put together various pieces about McAteer, including a lengthy memoir he published in instalments in The Sunday Independent in 1951.

You can read it here: https://issuu.com/jjconeill/docs/hugh_mcateer_the_escape

 

A McGurks Bar timeline

Since the debate over McGurks Bar has continued, I’ve put together a timeline for relevant events on 4th and 5th December 1971. What I have omitted are the (factual) news reports that carried the eye witness evidence stating a man was seen leaving a bomb at the door of the bar and the claims of responsibility by the ‘Empire Loyalists’ (a UVF cover-name). I’ve concentrated on those items that refer to the forensic reports or promote the deception that emerged blaming those inside the Bar for the blast and claiming involvement by the Provisional wing of the IRA.

Where not linked below, media quotes are taken from the Police Ombudsman Report into the bombing. Much of this is also covered in great detail in Ciarán MacAirt’s book on the bombing.

4th December
At 8.45 pm the bomb explodes in McGurks Bar.
That night an RUC spokesman was “…quite categorical in blaming the Provisional IRA.” (reported by The Irish Times, 6th December)
Forensic examination of the Bar began.

5th December
At 10.50 am an undisclosed multi-line statement was sent to the British Army’s 39th Brigade for public release from RUC Musgrave Street. It is not clear what the content was and whether it related to the bombing as the text is redacted.
At 11.10 am an immediate response came back from 39th Brigade stating: “ATO is convinced bomb was placed in entrance way on ground floor. The area is cratered and clearly was the seat of the explosion. Size of bomb is likely to be 40/50 lbs. This was marked ‘not for public release.”
At lunch time on BBC Radio 4 (according to OPONI report) “…A few minutes ago, police said that forensic scientists investigating the blast are convinced that the bomb exploded within the building, and not at the door as early reports had suggested.” This appears to reference what was sent for release from Musgrave Street at 10.50 am (and provoked the ATOs response trying to correct the error at 11.10 am).
The evening edition of The Times (in London) follows the same line and reported: “Police and Army intelligence officers believe that Ulster’s worst outrage: the killing of 15 people, including two children and three women, in an explosion in a Belfast bar last night was caused by an IRA plan that went wrong. Forensic scientists, explosive experts, and Army and police officers with an intimate knowledge of the area pieced together the theory this afternoon.”
Two official reports on the day are contradictory, the British Army Director of Operations Brief (4/5th December 1971) records that bomb was ‘planted outside the pub’. The RUC Duty Officer’s Report for the 24 hours to 8 am on Sunday 5th Dec 1971 states that the bomb was inside and carried into the bar by an IRA member. The actual time and date at which either report was compiled is unknown and could have been at any time during 5th December, or later.
On the evening of 5th December, Paddy Kennedy gave a news interview to Radio Eireann where he said that “..people it’s the beginning of a Protestant backlash.” A statement by John Taylor, reported by the Irish Independent the following day (6th December), responds to Kennedy’s comments quoting the same phrase about a Protestant backlash, instead Taylor specifically blamed the IRA for the bombing.
Taylor is the first public figure on record to blame the IRA, rather than the loyalists who the press had already reported to be claiming it, who had been observed planting the bomb at the door of the bar, and the details then correctly identified and reported within hours by the ATO. Taylor currently insists the facts were not established and that it was believed it was an IRA bomb inside the Bar. Although, at least once on Twitter, he has said (of those killed by the bomb): “At time of bomb there was no advice to suggest they were innocent.” Which even now, is an extraordinary statement to make.

The first to blame the IRA were the RUC on the night of the bomb itself (according to The Irish Times). This was publicised despite being contradicted by the forensic evidence at the latest on Sunday morning, of not earlier (once enough debris had been moved for the ATO to establish the location of the crater showing where the bomb had detonated).

Whatever about blaming that on any initial confusion. The deception was also the version given by Taylor as a statement to Stormont on the 7th December, days later when the truth was known to the authorities. The RUC are clearly culpable here. The unanswered question is the extent of Taylor’s knowledge or command of what was happening (given the central role he played in the deception). The longer he avoids giving a meaningful answer, the less likely it seems that he didn’t know.

The McGurk’s Bar deception: Q and A with John Taylor

Where did the deception over the 1971 McGurk’s Bar bombing that victimised those killed, their families and community originate? One person, John Taylor (now Lord Kilclooney), seemed central to that question but had more or less eluded any discussion of the matter. Finally, over social media, he answered some questions yesterday.

The current evidence is that the British Army’s Army Technical Officer had completed preliminary analysis of the scene and identified the seat of the blast as being outside the building and, based on what was visible, that around forty to fifty pounds of gelignite had been used (you can read much more about the bombing on Ciaran MacAirt’s blog here and in his book on the bombing). This was consistent with the eye-witness evidence and claim of responsibility by the UVF (using the cover name ‘Empire Loyalists’). This had been communicated and logged by 11.10 am in the situation report on the morning of the 5th December.
During that day, John Taylor, the junior Home Affairs Minister, spoke to the press and indicated that he believed the Provisional IRA to be responsible, with his comments reported in the press the next day. I am unaware of the content of radio or television reports on the day and whether they broadcast on the 5th as well. That the blast was an “IRA own-goal” became the official version of the bombing up to 1977 when a UVF member, Robert Campbell, was convicted of the bombing.
One key question around McGurk’s Bar is – where did the own-goal claim originate? Whoever was involved in the original planning for the bombing at 8.45 pm on 4th December hadn’t incorporated the deception into their design since the UVF made a claim of responsibility, albeit under a cover name. Nor did the deception emerge as a mistake in the technical assessment of the scene since it can be shown to have accurately been reported by 11.10 am on the morning of the 5th December.
A number of possibilities exist. One is that it was a genuine mistake but this is simply implausible and appears to be contradicted by the reports from the Army Technical Officer on 5th December. A second is that political sympathies motivated someone to promote the deception to either cover for the UVF, attack the IRA or a combination of the two. The person, or persons, involved could have been within or across various organisations, including some or all of the RUC, British Army, civil service and the governing Unionist Party. Whatever the origin, it first emerges into the public record with John Taylor on 5th December, who then further elaborated the deception in Stormont on 7th December. This puts Taylor, then junior Minister for Home Affairs in the northern government, at the centre of the deception.
But what was Taylor’s role. Was he simply the spokesperson who had been briefed by his staff and spoke to media accordingly? Or had he given an off-the-cuff statement on 5th December and the deception subsequently emerged through attempts of the Ministry of Home Affairs staff attempting to ‘work towards the minister’ by creating a fictional story to match comments he had made in public. The third, of course, is that Taylor was an active party to the creation of the deception.
Up to now, Taylor has studiously avoided any engagement with those investigating the circumstances around the bombing. Yet, recently, he had joined Twitter (as @KilclooneyJohn) and begun to post and comment on social media. His social media usage probably reflects the abilities that brought such a meteoric career. He was the rising star of unionist politics in the 1960s where he was destined for senior government roles while only in his early thirties. He sustained significant gunshot wounds when the Official IRA tried to kill him in February 1972, only to later serve as a Councillor, MP, MEP, MLA and now in the House of Lords, while simultaneously managing his own group of newspaper companies. Now 79, his ready adoption and use of social media suggests a mind that has retained it’s sharpness despite a busy and eventful life.
So I took an opportunity to ask him a question as he was responding to questions about MI5 that I happened to be copied in to. This led to the exchange below transcribed more or less verbatim (for ease of reading I’ve corrected spelling mistakes and expanded acronyms but little else). On a number of occasions it branched into parallel conversations with others, but for clarity, I’ve added them as footnotes. Ultimately I was interested in Taylor recounting his memory of the events of the 5th December to see if cast any light on how the McGurks Bar deception came into being. Did he make an off-the-cuff remark blaming the IRA that Department staff then took as a guide and provided him briefing notes to support his own, incorrect, statement. Or was Taylor central to the creation of the deception?
In correspondence, in person and online he had continually evaded detailed questions about McGurks Bar. As it happened, I had been copied into an existing conversation with Taylor on Twitter. In response to a question about MI5 he had said.
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): The answer is simple. As Minister of State at Home Affairs I worked with Police and Army but NEVER MI5.
So I’d responded and the rest is below…
John Ó Néill: But you won’t answer questions regarding work with army and police, e.g. with regards to McGurks Bar, so denials about MI5 are difficult to credit.
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): My statement in Parliament about the terrible bomb at McGurks Bar was prepared by the Home Affairs Secretariat. After I was not involved!!
John Ó Néill: Did you feel you were misled. Or (in retrospect) that it was an error of judgement to keep pushing the own goal line when it was untrue. (see 1 below)
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): After the IRA assassination attempt and my removal from Home Affairs I had no role; responsibility; or knowledge of events at McGurks Bar. (see 2 below)
John Ó Néill‏: Obviously, I don’t think anyone with any sense would think otherwise. Your knowledge and perspective on all this is a glaring gap in the public record. You’d be doing a great service to maybe have (private!) correspondence with @ciaranmacairt to explore it in more depth.
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): I have no further information about the terrible McGurks Bar bomb than was advised to me three days after the bomb by the Secretariat!
John Ó Néill: As Home Affairs Minister, didn’t you expect to be briefed on the night of the bombing and the next day? Were you being kept in the dark?
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): I was not Home Affairs Minister. I was Minister of State and stood in at times on behalf of the Minister of Home Affairs who was Brian Faulkner.
John Ó Néill: I take your point. It still seems odd that you weren’t being repeatedly briefed, given the gravity of what was happening.
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): I was not briefed because I was Minister of State and NOT Minister of Home Affairs. I did not even know that internment had been introduced!
John Ó Néill: But John, your first statement was day after bomb (here’s Irish Indo report on 6th), 2 days before you say you were briefed for Stormont.
I then quoted this text from the Irish Independent on 6th December 1971:

“In the North, Mr John Taylor, Junior Minister of State for Home Affairs, said he was “aghast” such an event had taken place. I don’t care whether the people are Roman Catholic or Protestant, Republican or Unionist. It is a tragedy indeed that Irishmen should die in this way at this time. He said: “I personally would be very surprised if this were the start of a Protestant backlash. The evidence at the moment is that the Protestant community are facing up to the IRA campaign in a very responsible manner and are quite prepared to leave the initiative to the politicians and to the security forces. I would dismiss the idea that it was the Protestants. The role of the Provisional IRA which ash been criticised by the Official IRA, is to try and create sectarian bitterness and they already exploded several pubs on the Shankill Road and Ormeau Road.” (see 3 below)

John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): Information on this tragic bomb changed with time. I was only involved in the early stage as junior to Home Affairs Minister. After 3 months I ceased.
John Ó Néill: Your initial response on 5th, though, reflected what was put out as disinformation rather than the truth which press reported on same day.
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): Different press say different things! Do not generalise by using the term “press”.
John Ó Néill: But on 5th Dec, all the ‘press’ consistently reported eye witness testimony and ‘Empire Loyalist’ claims. You dismissed those reports.
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): My statement was based upon initial police and forensic advice. As Minister I could do no other!
John Ó Néill: Well, the press from the time shows you were first person (on 5th) to voice what was later shown to be deliberate disinformation from RUC.
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): My statement was based upon initial police and forensic advice. As Minister I could do no other!
John Ó Néill: ATO/RUC knew truth by 11am on Dec 5. And you are first person on record with false account later on 5th, two days before Stormont statement. (see 4 below – an ATO is an Army Technical Officer, often called the Bomb Squad)
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): I stand over all my statements.
John Ó Néill: But you can’t explain origin of what you said on the 5th Dec that became the lie that was perpetrated on 7th Dec in Stormont and after?
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): Anything I said was on advice of Home Affairs Secretariat. I was always strict about this.
John Ó Néill: So they briefed you on 5th Dec when they had access to ATO report. Yet they had you promote a false claim. Wow, that’s a serious allegation.
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): I was always careful to abide by advice from Secretariat.
John Ó Néill: You do realise, then, that that same secretariat used you to cover up mass murder and victimise those killed and their families?
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): That is your opinion. I am not usually used! In this case I was being advised by Home Affairs Secretariat and deputising for unavailable Minister.
John Ó Néill: But that’s your words (not my opinion) – Secretariat had you promote (what they knew to be) a false claim as to responsibility on 5th Dec.
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): Home Affairs Secretariat would have advised information on basis of facts available to it at that particular time. Facts can change!!
John Ó Néill: Public record shows Secretariat had full facts by 11.10 on 5/12/71. That’s not in doubt. Question is origin of false claim. Them? RUC?
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): I have no idea as I was not involved – as Minister I was responsible for fire service; road safety etc. Prime Minister was responsible for security etc.
John Ó Néill: In public record false claim starts with you on 5th Dec (not Stormont statement on 7th). Yet you are unable to explain its origin.
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): All comment was as advised by Home Affairs Secretariat.
John Ó Néill: Who would that involve from Secretariat. What were their roles? Department Secretary General or Under Secretary. Or specific advisers?
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): Cannot recall.
John Ó Néill: It would be useful to identify who briefed you as their role in other matters needs to be scrutinised given severity of issues involved.
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): Sorry cannot recall the individuals.
John Ó Néill: You could check your own papers/diaries as historical record, as it stands, has you hung out to dry on promoting false claim re McGurks.
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): I can assure you I acted honourably as basis of official advice.
John Ó Néill: Well, those who advised you then have left you, rightly or wrongly, to become a villain of the tragedy of McGurks Bar.
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): Not a villain but one who honourably accepted advice.
John Ó Néill: But currently false claim about McGurks can only be traced back as far as you on 5th Dec 1971. Only you can trace it back to actual source.
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): Would like to but afraid I cannot help.
John Ó Néill: Ok. But in absence of any further information, it’ll be hard to persuade people that you weren’t ultimately responsible for the false claim.
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): I can only claim to have acted on advice and therefore honourably. Regrettably I was unable to remain in post to articulate any new facts.
John Ó Néill: I’m not sure that holds up as a defence. As a senior figure in Home Affairs you bear responsibility unless you have proof you were misled.
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): I acted on advice given to me. I had no reason to believe that I was being misled and, since I have never been involved since, I do not.
John Ó Néill: But John, on 5th Dec and again on 7th you advanced false claims about McGurks. If you weren’t misled, it makes you a party to the deception?
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): At the time they were the best advice available to me and not false.
John Ó Néill: If you were briefed after 11.10 am 5/12/1971 (at the very latest), you were given verifiably false information. It was not ‘best advice’.
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): As far as I was concerned it was the only advice available.
John Ó Néill: Given the scale of loss of life, only the most senior people (who knew the truth) in RUC and army would have briefed you and Home Affairs.
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): I was not briefed by army nor police. Only by Department.
John Ó Néill: But you would have understood Department to have been briefed by RUC and army?
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): Yes that is correct.
John Ó Néill: So you spoke to press after Department briefed you on 5/12/71. They hadn’t said ATO reported bomb was outside. When did you first hear the truth?
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): What you call the truth is different for me. I was only briefly involved in subject and truth was what I was advised in that short period.
John Ó Néill: Well, when did you first hear bomb was planted outside McGurks and it had been work of UVF? Before the murder attempt on you or much later?
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): I do not recall hearing that.
John Ó Néill: Even after the trial of Robert Campbell for the bomb in 1977? At no point did you feel you needed to revisit the advice given to you?
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): No I have never revisited the subject.
John Ó Néill: But do you remember when you first heard it had been the UVF and not the IRA?
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): No.
John Ó Néill: And at no point on 5th Dec 1971 did you ask Department officials why you were contradicting Empire Loyalists claim and eye witness evidence?
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): I did not accept such sources as reliable information just as I do not accept ISIS claims today.
John Ó Néill: On the day after the bombing, were you formally briefed or simply given a heads up by someone in the Department?
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): No recollection.
John Ó Néill: But you do agree that you must have been briefed the day after the bombing (5th) as well as before making the Commons statement on the 7th?
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): Sorry. No recollection.
John Ó Néill: Ok. You said you would only have spoken to press after being briefed. You first advanced the IRA theory on 5th Dec. So you’d been briefed?
John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney): No idea.
John Ó Néill: This is what you said on 5th Dec. Had you been briefed to say this?
To this I added the same text from the Irish Independent on 6th December 1971 that I had added earlier:

“In the North, Mr John Taylor, Junior Minister of State for Home Affairs, said he was “aghast” such an event had taken place. I don’t care whether the people are Roman Catholic or Protestant, Republican or Unionist. It is a tragedy indeed that Irishmen should die in this way at this time. He said: “I personally would be very surprised if this were the start of a Protestant backlash. The evidence at the moment is that the Protestant community are facing up to the IRA campaign in a very responsible manner and are quite prepared to leave the initiative to the politicians and to the security forces. I would dismiss the idea that it was the Protestants. The role of the Provisional IRA which ash been criticised by the Official IRA, is to try and create sectarian bitterness and they already exploded several pubs on the Shankill Road and Ormeau Road.”

There has been no response to this last question, to date.

So does any of this help us understand Taylor’s role? He initially insisted that he only spoke when briefed by the Department (meaning Home Affairs). When first challenged over his statement on 5th December he states that information on the bomb changed over time, by then he was no longer in a ministerial position. He also said that he always ignored claims of responsibility and eye witness statements as unreliable. I’ll come back to these points in a second.
Later, Taylor continually insisted he would only have made a statement after being briefed, specifically by Department officials, not by the police or army. What is surprising, I think, in light of this, is that he refused to admit to ever having any curiosity as to where the deception about McGurk’s came from, nor any idea of when he first heard the truth. Neither could he point to who had originally briefed him with the false information about McGurk’s Bar. That seems extraordinary, in retrospect, if he had surely been an unknowing accomplice in promoting the deception about McGurk’s Bar.
Notionally, the thrust of Taylor’s responses are that his statement on 5th December (which was carried by the press) was based on his own dismissal of the ‘Empire Loyalist’ claim and the eye witnesses that saw the bomb being left at the door of the bar. He seems to specifically exclude that he was formally briefed by either the RUC, army or Department staff (as they only seem to have briefed him for his speech to Stormont on the 7th December and provided information from the RUC and army for him). By a process of exclusion, Taylor effectively removes everyone else from the genesis of the McGurk’s Bar deception story, other than the first person who is documented as advancing the claim that it was the IRA – himself.
Obviously, it may have been a politically motivated, off-the-cuff statement on 5th December and the deception subsequently emerged through attempts of the Ministry of Home Affairs staff attempting to ‘work towards the minister’. But the subsequent lack of curiosity or memory of discovering the truth doesn’t suggest someone who was ever unaware of that the official version was a lie.

As Ciarán MacAirt has pointed out – in the hidden records about the bombing the RUC deception might have began before 8am on 5th December and was then transmitted throughout intelligence channels. On the 7th December, Taylor uses the same address, 83 Great George Street, in Stormont rather than North Queen Street. But this document may have been prepared as events unfolded and so we don’t know if it reflects the position at 8.45am or later in the day once the false line had been created. John Taylor may know the truth. Was it the RUC?
We fall into uncomfortable territory here, though. Taylor, like many others, is a prisoner of events that are not yet in the past and silenced by the real absence of peace. As the Boston History project evidenced, we haven’t yet transitioned to a post-conflict dynamic where individuals can honestly and openly discuss their knowledge of the past in a way that, while it might not bring relief to those who suffered by their actions, can at least allow us to know what really happened. At least then, people would, if nothing else, know the truth.

Notes:
1. @BobSmithWalker also asked a question at the same time: “But after you learned the truth did you counter your own statement? Forgive me if you already did so but I’m not aware that you did?”
2. There was second stream to the conversation at this point beginning with @BobSmithWalker asking: “You served in 3 parliaments thereafter. Was there really no parliamentary opportunity to correct your statement, over a 30 year period?” To which John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney) said “Not at all because I was no longer responsible or in possession of any information. The subject was serious and not one for speculation.” Niall O Murchu then asked a question on the same thread, “Looking back, is it fair to say you were probably misled? It’s already been proved the MoD misled the Westminster cabinet about the bombing.” My next comments were part of this same conversation.
3. There was a second, overlapping, conversation at this point as Ciarán MacAirt‏ pointed out “RUC Chief Constable Shillington and Head of Special Branch told lies directly to you, PM Faulkner and GOC Tuzo in JSC on 16th Dec 1971” To which John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney) replied “Chief Constable Shillington did not tell me directly lies – he did not speak to me – you are becoming irresponsible by making false claims!”. Niall Ó Murchú then pointed out: “I know it’s uncomfortable to admit it Mr Taylor, but they really did lie. They did a proper stitch up job.” But John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney) continued to disagree, “They did not lie. They advised on the basis of advice available at the time. Advice. Shillington was a most honourable man. He would not have lied. He would have stuck strictly to the facts available to him at the time.” Ciarán MacAirt then stated “I have just shown you Shillington lied to you in the JSC of 16th Dec 1971. PSNI cannot even present false intelligence for Shillington’s lie to you” to which Niall Ó Murchú added “Mr Taylor, is it possible Mr Shillington was lied to first?”. To which John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney) said, “I would hope not but one cannot say ‘definitely not’. Who knows??”.
4. Ciarán MacAirt asked two questions, “Mr Taylor, if RUC admitted that #McGurks was attacked by UVF (as per the evidence), would NI Gov have had to intern alleged PUL extremists? Mr Taylor, so would Mr Faulkner have had to intern alleged PUL extremists (as he promised Mr Heath in August 1971)? In response, John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney) said “I do not know. I did not know he was interning anyone until after it had happened. Actually I was in Dublin when it happened!!” Then, @McNeice1989 also asked “Do you rescind your statement made on the 7th?” To this John Taylor (Lord Kilclooney) replied “I stand over all my statements.” At this point I rejoined the conversation.