seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Passage of the Special Powers Act 1922

special-powers-act-1922The Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922, often referred to simply as the Special Powers Act, is passed by the Parliament of Northern Ireland on April 7, 1922, shortly after the establishment of Northern Ireland, and in the context of violent conflict over the issue of the partition of Ireland. Its sweeping powers make it highly controversial, and it is seen by much of the Northern Irish nationalist community as a tool of Ulster unionist oppression. The Act is eventually repealed by the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973, following the abolition of Northern Ireland’s parliament and the imposition of direct rule by the British government.

At the start of the twentieth century, the people of Ireland are divided into two mutually hostile factions. Nationalists, the much larger group, are mostly Roman Catholic, identify primarily as Irish, and want some form of Irish home rule or independence from Britain. Unionists, the smaller group, concentrates primarily in the province of Ulster, are mostly Protestant, identify primarily as British (although many see themselves as Irish and British), and are committed to remaining within the United Kingdom.

Partition is formally established with the Government of Ireland Act 1920. This also establishes the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which comes into being the following year. Partition is followed by high levels of inter-communal violence, especially in Belfast. The Irish Republican Army (IRA), although it spends most of these years fighting in the Irish Civil War, aims to use armed force to end partition and compel the United Kingdom to withdraw sovereignty from Northern Ireland.

The Act is presented as being necessary to re-establish peace and law and order in Northern Ireland, and enables the government to “take all such steps and issue all such orders as may be necessary for preserving the peace and maintaining order,” although it is specified that the ordinary course of law should be interfered with as little as possible. Because it is presented as emergency legislation, the Act is initially current only for one year and has to be renewed annually. In 1928, however, it is renewed for five years and when this period expires in 1933 the Act is made permanent.

Despite rhetoric accompanying the Act which asserts that it is for the purpose of restoring public order, its provisions continue to be used for the entire period of the Northern Irish parliament’s existence. Because the Ulster Unionist Party is the only party ever to form a government in this parliament, the Act is used “almost exclusively on the minority population.” Initially, regulations under the Act are used mostly to curb immediate violence and disorder. One of the most controversial of these is internment without trial.

After the troubles of the early 1920s dies down, the provision for internment is not used until the IRA’s Border Campaign of the 1950s, in which several hundred republicans are interned. Following the outbreak of The Troubles in 1968, many within the Protestant community call for the reintroduction of internment. This occurs in 1971 and authorises internment of those suspected to be involved in terrorism. Although there are loyalist as well as republican terrorists at this time, of the 1,981 men interned, only 107 are loyalists. Due to inadequate intelligence-gathering, many of the interned republicans are members of the Official Irish Republican Army rather than the recently formed Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), which is much more heavily involved in terrorist activity at the time.

Internment ends in 1975, but is credited with increasing support and sympathy for the PIRA amongst the Catholic community and outside of Northern Ireland. It helps to create political tensions which culminate in the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike and the death of MP Bobby Sands. Imprisonment under anti-terrorism laws specific to Northern Ireland continue until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, but these laws require the right to a fair trial be respected.

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Ian Paisley’s Retirement from the Power-Sharing Assembly

ian-paisleyOn March 23, 2011, Ian Paisley calls for a new era of sharing and reconciliation in an emotional farewell at his final sitting of the power-sharing Assembly he helped to create at Stormont. Dr. Paisley continues his political career in the House of Lords.

Protestant and Catholic leaders in Northern Ireland‘s unity government celebrate their first full four-year term in power and lauded Paisley, the unlikely peacemaker who made it possible, on his effective retirement day.

Paisley, a stern anti-Catholic evangelist who spent decades rallying pro-British Protestants against compromise, stuns the world in 2007 by agreeing to forge a coalition alongside senior Irish Republican Army (IRA) veterans. Their polar-opposite combination governs Northern Ireland with surprising harmony for the four years leading up to his retirement.

The Northern Ireland Assembly that elects the administration is dissolved on March 14, 2011 in preparation for a May 5 election in the British territory. The 84-year-old Paisley makes his last debate in an elected chamber on March 6, 2011, noting that this local government is not ending in chaos and acrimony, as 1999-2002 attempts at power-sharing repeatedly had done.

At this point, Paisley has already stepped down as a member of the British and European parliaments and as leader of the Democratic Unionists, a party of hard-line Protestant protesters that he founded in 1970 and watched grow over the previous decade into the most popular in Northern Ireland.

Those lauding him include Peter Robinson, who succeeded him in 2008 as leader of both the government and the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Féin‘s Martin McGuinness, the senior Catholic politician who spends decades as a commander of Paisley’s archenemy, the IRA.

The IRA kills nearly 1,800 people in a failed 1970-1997 effort to force Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom when the overwhelmingly Catholic rest of Ireland gains its independence in 1922. The outlawed IRA formally renounces violence and disarms in 2005, clearing the way for its allied Sinn Féin party to recognize the legal authority of Northern Ireland and its police.

Still, few observers expected Paisley to agree to a pact so quickly after the IRA-Sinn Féin peace moves or to get along so warmly with McGuinness during their year in partnership.

McGuinness, whose organization once considered Paisley a prime target for assassination, addressing his remarks to the stooped, silver-haired Paisley across the chamber, notes that Ulster wits had christened the two of them “the Chuckle Brothers.” He adds, “And I would like to think that we showed leadership. I think my relationship with him will undoubtedly go down in the history books.”

(From: “Northern Ireland power-sharing marks 1st full term,” the Associated Press and CTV News, March 23, 2011)


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The Milltown Cemetery Attack

milltown-cemetery-attackThe Milltown Cemetery attack, also known as the Milltown Cemetery killings or the Milltown Massacre, takes place on March 16, 1988 at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

On March 6, 1988, Provisional Irish Republican Army members Daniel McCann, Seán Savage and Mairéad Farrell are shot dead by the Special Air Service (SAS) in Gibraltar, in Operation Flavius. The three were allegedly preparing a bomb attack on British military personnel there, but their deaths outrage republicans as the three are unarmed and shot without warning. Their bodies arrive in Belfast on March 14 and are taken to their family homes.

The “Gilbraltar Three” are scheduled to be buried in the republican plot at Milltown Cemetery on March 16. For years, republicans had complained about heavy-handed policing of IRA funerals, which had led to violence. In a change from normal procedure, the security forces agree to stay away from the funeral in exchange for guarantees that there will be no three-volley salute by IRA gunmen. The British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) would instead keep watch from the sidelines. This decision is not made public.

Present at the funeral are thousands of mourners and top members of the IRA and Sinn Féin, including Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Two RUC helicopters hover overhead.

Michael Stone, a loyalist and member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), learns there are to be no police or armed IRA members at the cemetery. As the third coffin is about to be lowered into the ground, Stone throws two grenades, which have a seven-second delay, toward the republican plot and begins shooting. The first grenade explodes near the crowd and about 20 yards from the grave. There is panic and confusion, and people dive for cover behind gravestones.

As Stone runs towards the nearby motorway, a large crowd begins chasing him and he continues shooting and throwing grenades. Some of the crowd catches Stone and begin beating him, but he is rescued by the police and arrested. Three people are killed and more than 60 wounded in the attack. The “unprecedented, one-man attack” is filmed by television news crews and causes shock around the world.

Three days later, two British Army corporals drive into the funeral procession of one of the Milltown victims. The non-uniformed soldiers are dragged from their car by an angry crowd, beaten and then shot dead by the IRA, in what becomes known as the corporals killings.

In March 1989, Stone is convicted for the three murders at Milltown, for three paramilitary murders before, and for other offences, receiving sentences totaling 682 years. He is released after serving 13 years as a result of the Good Friday Agreement.

(Pictured: The funeral at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast moments before the attack by Michael Stone)


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Killing of PSNI Officer Stephen Carroll

stephen-carrollStephen Carroll, a Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officer, is killed by the Continuity Irish Republican Army on March 9, 2009 in Craigavon, County Armagh, Northern Ireland. Carroll’s killing marks the first time a serving police officer has been killed since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Two days prior to the attack the Real Irish Republican Army shoots dead two British soldiers outside the Massereene Barracks in Antrim, County Antrim. This period marks a significant escalation in the campaign by dissident republicans.

The Continuity IRA smashes a window with a brick knowing the PSNI would respond. At about 9:45 PM two police vehicles arrive at the scene. The officers are fired upon as they attempt to exit their vehicles. A gunman shoots Carroll from 50 metres away with an AK-47 while in his patrol car. Carroll is shot in the head.

The Continuity IRA claims responsibility saying their North Armagh Battalion is responsible for the attack and that “As long as there is British involvement in Ireland, these attacks will continue.”

On March 10 there is a one-minute silence in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Prime Minister Gordon Brown states that “These are murderers who are trying to distort, disrupt and destroy a political process that is working for the people of Northern Ireland.” Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde calls it a “sad day” and says the gunmen are “criminal psychopaths.”

Richard Walsh, the spokesman for Republican Sinn Féin, a party linked to the Continuity IRA, says the killings are “an act of war” rather than murder. “We have always upheld the right of the Irish people to use any level of controlled and disciplined force to drive the British out of Ireland. We make no apology for that.” He also describes the PSNI as “an armed adjunct of the British Army.”

Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness says those responsible are “traitors to the island of Ireland” and that “they have betrayed the political desires, hopes and aspirations of all of the people who live on this island.”


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The Clonbanin Ambush

*The Irish Republican Army (IRA) ambush a British Army convoy near the townland of Clonbanin, County Cork on March 5, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence.

The IRA force is comprised of almost 100 volunteers from counties Cork and Kerry, armed with rifles, hand grenades and a machine gun. Their target is a British Army convoy of three lorries, an armoured car and a touring car carrying Brigadier General Hanway Robert Cumming. The convoy is travelling from Killarney to Buttevant and comprises almost 40 soldiers of the East Lancashire Regiment.

When the convoy enters the ambush position, IRA volunteers open fire from elevated positions on both sides of the road. The three lorries and touring car are disabled, and the armoured car becomes stuck in the roadside ditch, although those inside continue to fire its machine guns. As Cumming jumps from his car, he is shot in the head and dies instantly. He is one of the highest ranked British officers to die in the Irish War of Independence.

The battle lasts slightly over an hour. As the IRA forces withdraw from one side of the road, a British officer and six soldiers attempted to flank the IRA on the other side. After a brief exchange of fire they retreat.

The IRA are not believed to have sustained any casualties.

(Pictured: Two British officers surnamed Lawson and Adams with Brigadier General H. R. Cumming in Kenmare County Kerry shortly before their deaths at the hands of the IRA in 1921)


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Ahern & Blair Push for Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement

ahern-and-blair-1998At an informal European Union summit near Bonn on February 26, 1999, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair agree to push for implementation of the Good Friday Agreement by the March 10 deadline.

As EU delegates discuss the Union’s budget and Europe‘s farming subsidies, the two prime ministers vow to battle on with the peace deal’s outstanding problems.

“We’re very clear on what we have to do in the Good Friday agreement … we have just got to keep pushing the thing forward as well as we possibly can,” says Blair.

Both Ahern and Blair say the way forward on the outstanding deadlocked issue of paramilitary disarmament is through the official decommissioning commission. Chaired by former Canadian General John de Chastelain, the international commission is working to take arms out of the province’s political arena.

The republican party Sinn Féin insists it is fully cooperating with the commission, which is implementing the final deadline for the handover of arms in May 2000. But some Ulster Unionists oppose further peace moves because of the Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) failure to begin disarming.

According to Ahern and Blair, the following few weeks will be a key time to try and finalise disarmament issues.

“During the month of March … we can conclude the central aspects,” says Blair.

However, in a separate development on February 26, the chairman of the IRA’s political wing, Sinn Féin’s Mitchel McLaughlin, warns that pressure on disarmament could cause irreparable damage to the fragile peace process. He adds that disarmament should not become a litmus test for progress.

“Those who are now demanding prior decommissioning before we move to setting up the executive are reneging on the Good Friday Agreement,” says McLaughlin in an interview with BBC Radio.

(From BBC News Online Network, Friday, February 26, 1999 | Pictured: Bertie Ahern with Tony Blair at the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998)


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Paddington & Victoria Stations Bombings

london-victoria-stationThe Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) explodes two bombs at London mainline stations on February 18, 1991, one at Victoria station and the other at Paddington station, killing one person and injuring 38 others all at Victoria station. It is the IRA’s second major attack in London in February 1991 after the Downing Street mortar attack eleven days earlier which is an attempt to wipe out the British war cabinet and British prime minister John Major. It is also the first IRA attack on civilians since the 1983 Harrods bombing, marking a strategic change in their bombing campaign.

The Paddington bomb, which goes off at 4:20 AM, is much smaller than the second bomb at Victoria and is designed to make sure the security services will take the Victoria bomb seriously and not as a hoax. There are no deaths or injuries at Paddington but the roof is badly damaged.

Some time before 7:00 AM, a caller with an Irish accent says, “We are the Irish Republican Army. Bombs to go off in all mainline stations in 45 minutes.” The Victoria station bomb, which is hidden in a rubbish bin inside the station, goes off at 7:40 AM. Despite a 45-minute warning and the Paddington bomb three hours earlier, the security services are slow to act. The bomb kills one person instantly and injures 38 others from flying glass and other debris. This is the worst attack suffered by civilians in England by the IRA since the 1983 Harrods bombing which killed three policemen, three civilians and injured 50 people. All London’s rail terminals are closed, disrupting the journeys of almost half a million commuters and bringing chaos to London, which is the IRA’s intended goal. There is also a hoax call made to Heathrow Airport, causing the airport’s closure.

That night the Provisional IRA claims responsibility for the bombings but blames the British police for the casualties. A statement from the Provisional IRA GHQ says, “The cynical decision of senior security personnel not to evacuate railway stations named in secondary warnings, even three hours after the warning device had exploded at Paddington in the early hours of this morning was directly responsible for the casualties at Victoria.” The statement goes on, “All future warnings should be acted upon.” The main purpose of the bombings in the overall IRA strategy is to keep pressure up on John Major, his Government and to make sure he acts on the Irish Troubles.

Police defend the decision not to close all stations after receiving warning that bombs had been planted. Commander George Churchill-Coleman, head of Scotland Yard‘s anti-terrorist squad, says that dozens of hoax calls are received every day. “It is very easy with hindsight to be critical.” Churchill-Coleman also says that the bomb was “quite deliberately intended to maim and kill.”

A year later, a French TV crew interviews an IRA Commander who says he speaks on behalf of the IRA’s GHQ Staff. The commander of the unit says of the Victoria station bombing that warnings were given by telephone naming nine railroad stations in London and that a 50-minute warning was given. He goes on to say that the attack was not aimed at hurting anybody but to disrupt the British transport system.

This bombing marks the IRA’s shift to targeting civilian areas following the July 1990 London Stock Exchange bombing. It is also the first IRA attack on the London transport system since 1976. The IRA keeps bombing targets in England for the remainder of the year.

(Pictured: London Victoria Station – The main station building for this terminus, with trains servicing the south and south-eastern destinations, as well as Gatwick. In front is the bus station.)