A series of ongoing campaigns are trying to force the British government to fully resolve the issues raised by a significant number of killings under both the unionist Stormont regime and direct rule. Many people seem to infer that these issues should really be set aside as the circumstances of the killings were somehow peculiar to the recent conflict here. Previously, I’d noted the clear parallels in the R.U.C. investigation of the death of John Scullion in 1966 and their more recent failings. Here is another example, from an article that appeared in the Ulster Herald on 28th January 1939 (below). The text could, more or less, be reprinted today without need for much elaboration given the resonances of many of the issues raised and, arguably, is another illustration of the longevity of security policy here.
OUTRAGES IN NORTH
Whatever precautions have been taken in England to prevent further trouble of the nature experienced there last week, it will be conceded that the British authorities had ample cause for calling out their special police and asking volunteers to engage in patrol duty. A series of violent acts destructive of property and, in one sad instance, a life also, made it necessary, even imperative, that drastic measures should be taken for the public good. It has yet to be discovered who engineered the bomb explosions in England; to discover whether these were the work of Communists, foreign Continental agents, internal sabotage by discontented elements or, as is suggested, of Irish Separatist organisations in that country. Nothing has yet been proved, and the whole issue concerning the English explosions now remains sub judice.
During the week mentioned there was one bomb explosion in the Six Counties, that in Milltown Cemetery, Belfast, when THE MONUMENT TO THE REPUBLICAN DEAD WAS FOULLY DESECRATED. Was it on the strength of that solitary firework, clearly directed against the Nationalist sentiment, that the ‘B’ Specials were mobilised, the R.U.C. strengthened and a campaign of inquisition and arrest pursued against the Nationalist people?
If there remains any necessity to carry the obvious further, we will point out that in the past fourteen months there have been fourteen explosions in Belfast City alone, FOR NOT ONE OF WHICH WERE THE PERPETRATORS EVER MADE AMENABLE TO THE BRITISH COURTS HERE. Those outrages included a sacrilegious attempt to destroy a new Catholic Church at Willowfield and two previous efforts to blow up the Milltown memorial.
Exclusive of what has happened in Belfast, bomb outrages were also directed against a G.A.A. hut and an A.O.H. hall in one sad instance, of life also, (more than once). No ‘Specials’ were brought out to protect a Catholic Church and other Catholic property, nor was there ever afterwards, a sequel in the Criminal Courts. So much then, for the Bates allegations that ‘ I.R.A. terrorism’ compelled the adoption of special measures.
On the subject of Orange suggestion that the Irish Republican Army have decided to inaugurate an active campaign in the North-East and that information is in the possession of the Government concerning this, it is, surely, sufficient to reply, as we have shown, that not one violent act has been committed in the North-East, nor has any information been laid before the public by Stormont of the plot alleged to have been frustrated. Unionist organs may not relish the reminder, but it is our pleasant duty to point out that the solitary explosion in this country—that at Tralee [see below] —has been officially disclaimed by Mr. Sean Russell Chief-of-Staff of the Republican Army.
THE FINANCIAL BURDEN.
Should the present disturbed atmosphere prevail throughout the Six Counties—an atmosphere created solely by Stormont’s measures to meet a politically inspired ‘menace — the taxpaying community will be called upon to shoulder a huge burden of financial commitment: Britain through its taxpayers, will have to increase the Imperial doles to keep ‘Ulster’ going, and the unfortunate citizen here will be robbed right and left on the specious argument of ‘necessity’.
Sensible men who are not being stampeded into angry passion by the alarmist and mischief provoking tactics of the Unionist Government in Belfast will view with sincere regret the action taken regarding the ‘B’ Specials, since the summoning of that body on ‘active service’ is far from being a guarantee of that peace and quietude which the great majority of the Northern people wish to see: they recognise, of course, that amity and harmony among all classes is unrealisable without a united and free Ireland. It would seem from events so far that there is a clear duty on the British Government to see that Stormont is prevented from making worse a situation already fraught with all the combustive elements of which a sectarian regime, clothed in force, is capable.
Note: Obviously the I.R.A. was behind the campaign in England in January 1939. The attack in Tralee, though, was a bomb that was exploded at the rear of a hotel in Tralee in which Frank Chamberlain was staying. He was the son of the British Prime Minister. The damage was minimal (see image below). The Kerry I.R.A. was disaffected and refused to take direction from Russell or his Adjutant-General Stephen Hayes (a reminder that the I.R.A., to use Bowyer-Bell’s analogy, is best understood as a web of locally-based organisations that are sometimes guided, at a strategic level, by a central authority).
The I.R.A.’s sabotage campaign, which was intended to be psychological more than anything else, peaked on the weekend of 4th/5th February 1939. In January 1939, Dawson Bates (the unionist Minister of Home Affairs) was forward and back to London advising that the R.U.C. had intelligence captured in Belfast that the I.R.A. were about to assassinate leading politicians and public figures including the royal family. The intelligence included that the I.R.A. was about to blow up Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Westminster and the Bank of England. This precipitated a panic in official circles as many people and buildings were rapidly put under armed guard. That weekend the sabotage campaign was complemented by cack-handed attempts by the unionists to generate some short-term political capital from the bombings. Together they generated the sort of hysteria that, if the I.R.A. had managed to harness it, would have seen events take a very different course. In March Sean Russell headed off to mobilise Irish-America not realising that he was too late and the moment had passed.