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


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The Shankill Butchers First “Cut-Throat Killing”

The Shankill Butchers, an Ulster loyalist gang, undertakes its first “cut-throat killing” on November 25, 1975. Many of the members of the gang are members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) that is active between 1975 and 1982 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The Shankill Butchers gang is based in the Shankill area and is responsible for the deaths of at least 23 people, most of whom are killed in sectarian attacks. The gang is notorious for kidnapping, torturing and murdering random or suspected Catholic civilians. Each victim is beaten ferociously and has their throat hacked with a butcher knife. Some are also tortured and attacked with a hatchet. The gang also kills six Ulster Protestants over personal disputes, and two other Protestants mistaken for Catholics.

The commander of the Shankill Butchers gang is Lenny Murphy. He is the youngest of three sons of Joyce (née Thompson) and William Murphy from the loyalist Shankill Road area of Belfast. At school he is known as a bully and threatens other boys with a knife or with retribution from his two older brothers. Soon after leaving school at 16, he joins the UVF. He often attends the trials of people accused of paramilitary crimes, to become well acquainted with the laws of evidence and police procedure.

On September 28, 1972, Murphy shoots and kills William Edward “Ted” Pavis at the latter’s home in East Belfast. Pavis is a Protestant whom the UVF say has been selling weapons to the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA). Murphy and an accomplice, Mervyn Connor, are arrested shortly afterwards and held on remand in Belfast’s Crumlin Road Gaol. After a visit by police to Connor, fellow inmates suspect that he might cut a deal with the authorities with regard to the Pavis killing. On April 22, 1973, Connor dies by ingesting a large dose of cyanide. Before he dies, he writes a confession to the Pavis murder, reportedly under duress from Murphy. Murphy is brought to trial for the Pavis murder in June 1973. The court hears evidence from two witnesses who had seen Murphy pull the trigger and had later picked him out of an identification parade. The jury acquits him due in part to Murphy’s disruption of the line-up. His freedom is short-lived as he is arrested immediately for a number of escape attempts and imprisoned, then interned, for three years.

In May 1975, Murphy is released from prison. He spends much of his time frequenting pubs on the Shankill Road and assembling a paramilitary team that will enable him to act with some freedom at a remove from the UVF leadership (Brigade Staff). His inner circle consists of two “personal friends.” These are a “Mr. A” and John Murphy, one of Lenny’s brothers, referred to as “Mr. B.” Further down the chain of command are his “sergeants,” William Moore and Bobby “Basher” Bates, a UVF man and former prisoner.

Moore, formerly a worker in a meat-processing factory, had stolen several large knives and meat-cleavers from his old workplace, tools that are later used in more murders. Another prominent figure is Sam McAllister, who uses his physical presence to intimidate others. On October 2, 1975, the gang raids a drinks premises in nearby Millfield. On finding that its four employees, two females and two males, are Catholics, Murphy shoots three of them dead and orders an accomplice to kill the fourth. By now Murphy is using the upper floor of the Brown Bear pub, at the corner of Mountjoy Street and the Shankill Road near his home, as an occasional meeting-place for his unit.

On November 25, 1975, using the city’s sectarian geography to identify likely targets, Murphy roams the areas nearest the Catholic New Lodge in the hope of finding someone likely to be Catholic to abduct. Francis Crossen, a 34-year-old Catholic man and father of two, is walking towards the city centre at approximately 12:40 a.m. when four of the Butchers, in Moore’s taxi, spot him. As the taxi pulls alongside Crossen, Murphy jumps out and hits him with a lug wrench to disorient him. He is dragged into the taxi by Benjamin Edwards and Archie Waller, two of Murphy’s gang. As the taxi returns to the safety of the nearby Shankill area, Crossen suffers a ferocious beating. He is subjected to a high level of violence, including a beer glass being shoved into his head. Murphy repeatedly tells Crossen, “I’m going to kill you, you bastard,” before the taxi stops at an entry off Wimbledon Street. Crossen is dragged into an alleyway and Murphy, brandishing a butcher knife, cuts his throat almost through to the spine. The gang disperses. Crossen, whose body is found the following morning by an elderly woman, is the first of three Catholics to be killed by Murphy in this “horrific and brutal manner.” “Slaughter in back alley” is the headline in the city’s major afternoon newspaper that day. A relative of Crossen says that his family was unable to have an open coffin at his wake because the body was so badly mutilated.

Most of the gang are eventually caught and, in February 1979, receive the longest combined prison sentences in United Kingdom legal history. However, gang leader Lenny Murphy and his two chief “lieutenants” escape prosecution. Murphy is murdered in November 1982 by the Provisional IRA, likely acting with loyalist paramilitaries who perceive him as a threat. The Butchers brought a new level of paramilitary violence to a country already hardened by death and destruction. The judge who oversaw the 1979 trial describes their crimes as “a lasting monument to blind sectarian bigotry.”


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Birth of Seamus Twomey, Two Time Chief of Staff of the Provisional IRA

Seamus Twomey (Irish: Séamus Ó Tuama), Irish republican activist, militant, and twice chief of staff of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, is born on November 5, 1919 on Marchioness Street in Belfast.

Twomey lives at 6 Sevastopol Street in the Falls district. Known as “Thumper” owing to his short temper and habit of banging his fist on tables, he receives little education and is a bookmaker‘s “runner.” His father is a volunteer in the 1920s. In Belfast he lives comfortably with his wife, Rosie, whom he marries in 1946. Together they have sons and daughters.

Twomey begins his involvement with the Irish Republican Army in the 1930s and is interned in Northern Ireland during the 1940s on the prison ship HMS Al Rawdah and later in Crumlin Road Jail in Belfast. Rosie, his wife, is also held prisoner at the women prison, Armagh Jail, in Northern Ireland. He opposes the left-wing shift of Cathal Goulding in the 1960s, and in 1968, helps set up the breakaway Andersonstown Republican Club, later the Roddy McCorley Society.

In 1969, Twomey is prominent in the establishment of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. By 1972, he is Officer Commanding (OC) of the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade when it launches its bomb campaign of the city, including Bloody Friday when nine people are killed. During the 1970s, the leadership of the Belfast Brigade of the IRA is largely in the hands of Twomey and Ivor Bell.

In March 1973, Twomey is first appointed IRA Chief of Staff after the arrest of Joe Cahill. He remains in this position until his arrest in October 1973 by the Garda Síochána. Three weeks later, on October 31, 1973, the IRA organises the helicopter escape of Twomey and his fellow IRA members J. B. O’Hagan and Kevin Mallon, when an active service unit hijacks and forces the pilot at gunpoint to land the helicopter in the training yard of Mountjoy Prison. After his escape, he returns to his membership of IRA Army Council.

By June/July 1974, Twomey is IRA Chief of Staff for a second time. He takes part in the Feakle talks between the IRA and Protestant clergymen in December 1974. In the IRA truce which follows in 1975, he is largely unsupportive and wants to fight on in what he sees as “one big push to finish it once and for all.”

IRA informer Sean O’Callaghan claims that on January 5, 1976, Twomey and Brian Keenan give the go-ahead for the sectarian Kingsmill massacre, when ten unarmed Ulster Protestant workmen are executed by the Provisional IRA in retaliation for a rash of loyalist killings of Catholics in the area. It is Keenan’s view, O’Callaghan claims, that “The only way to knock the nonsense out of the Prods is to be ten times more savage.”

Twomey is dedicated to paramilitarism as a means of incorporating Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland. In an interview with French television on July 11, 1977, he declares that although the IRA had waged a campaign for seven years at that point, it can fight on for another 70 against the British state in Northern Ireland and in England. He supports the bombing of wealthy civilian targets, which he justifies on class lines. On October 29, 1977, for example, a no-warning bomb at an Italian restaurant in Mayfair kills one diner and wounds 17 others. Three more people are killed in similar blasts in Chelsea and Mayfair the following month. He says, “By hitting Mayfair restaurants, we were hitting the type of person that could bring pressure to bear on the British government.”

In December 1977, Twomey is captured in Sandycove, Dublin, by the Garda Síochána, who had been tipped off by Belgian police about a concealed arms shipment, to be delivered to a bogus company with an address in the area. They swoop on a house in Martello Terrace to discover Twomey outside in his car, wearing his trademark dark glasses. After a high-speed pursuit, he is recaptured in the centre of Dublin. The Gardaí later find documents in his possession outlining proposals for the structural reorganisation of the IRA according to the cell system. His arrest ends his tenure as IRA chief of staff. In the 1986 split over abstentionism, Twomey sides with the Gerry Adams leadership and remains with the Provisionals.

After a long illness from a heart condition, Twomey dies in Dublin on September 12, 1989. He is buried in the family plot in Milltown Cemetery, Belfast. His funeral is attended by about 2,000 people.


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Birth of Angelo Fusco, Provisional Irish Republican Army Volunteer

Angelo Fusco, former volunteer in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) who escapes during his 1981 trial for killing a Special Air Service (SAS) officer in 1980, is born in West Belfast, Northern Ireland, on September 2, 1956.

Fusco is born to a family with an Italian background who owns a fish and chip shop. He joins the Belfast Brigade of the IRA and is part of a four-man active service unit (ASU), along with Joe Doherty and Paul Magee, which operates in the late 1970s and early 1980s nicknamed the “M60 gang” due to their use of an M60 heavy machine gun.

On April 9, 1980, the unit lures the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) into an ambush on Stewartstown Road, killing one constable and wounding two others. On May 2 the unit is planning another attack and has taken over a house on Antrim Road, when an eight-man patrol from the SAS arrive in plain clothes, after being alerted by the RUC. A car carrying three SAS members goes to the rear of the house, and another car carrying five SAS members arrives at the front of the house. As the SAS members at the front of the house exit their car the IRA unit opens fire with the M60 machine gun from an upstairs window, hitting Captain Herbert Westmacott in the head and shoulder, killing him instantly. He is the highest-ranking member of the SAS killed in Northern Ireland. The remaining SAS members, armed with Colt Commando automatic rifles, submachine guns and Browning pistols, return fire but are forced to withdraw. Magee is apprehended by the SAS members at the rear of the house while attempting to prepare the IRA unit’s escape in a transit van, while the other three IRA members remain inside the house. More members of the security forces are deployed to the scene, and after a brief siege the remaining members of the IRA unit surrender.

The trial of Fusco and the other members of the M60 gang begins in early May 1981, with them facing charges including three counts of murder. On June 10 Fusco and seven other prisoners, including Joe Doherty and the other members of the IRA unit, take a prison officer hostage at gunpoint in Crumlin Road Jail. After locking the officer in a cell, the eight take other officers and visiting solicitors hostage, also locking them in cells after taking their clothing. Two of the eight are wearing officer’s uniforms while a third wears clothing taken from a solicitor, and the group moves towards the first of three gates separating them from the outside world. They take the officer on duty at the gate hostage at gunpoint, and force him to open the inner gate. An officer at the second gate recognises one of the prisoners and runs into an office and presses an alarm button, and the prisoners run through the second gate towards the outer gate. An officer at the outer gate tries to prevent the escape but is attacked by the prisoners, who escape onto Crumlin Road. As the prisoners are moving towards the car park where two cars are waiting, an unmarked RUC car pulls up across the street outside Crumlin Road Courthouse. The RUC officers open fire, and the prisoners returned fire before escaping in the waiting cars. Two days after the escape, Fusco is convicted in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum recommended term of thirty years.

Fusco escapes across the border into the Republic of Ireland before being arrested in January 1982, and is sentenced to ten years imprisonment for the escape and firearms offences under extra-jurisdictional legislation. A further three years are added to his sentence in 1986 after he attempts to escape from Portlaoise Prison, and he is released in January 1992. Upon his release, he is immediately served with extradition papers from the British government for his return to the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland to serve his sentence for the murder conviction. The extradition is granted by a District Court but Fusco appeals, and in 1995 he wins a legal victory when a judge at the High Court in Dublin rules it would be “unjust, oppressive and invidious” to order his extradition due to the time lag involved. Fusco settles in Tralee with his wife and three children until February 1998, when the Supreme Court of Ireland brings an end to the six-year legal battle by ordering his extradition, but he has already fled on bail and a warrant is issued for his arrest.

Fusco is arrested at a Garda checkpoint in Castleisland, County Kerry, on January 3, 2000. The following day he is being escorted back to Northern Ireland to be handed over to the RUC, when his handover is halted by a successful court appeal by Sinn Féin. The arrest and abortive return of Fusco undermines the Northern Ireland peace process, with Unionist politicians including Ken Maginnis criticising the extradition being halted. Republicans are critical of Fusco’s arrest, with leading Sinn Féin member Martin Ferris stating, “The Irish government should immediately move to rescind the warrant against Angelo Fusco. The action will cause great anger and resentment within the nationalist community,” and graffiti in one republican area reads “Extradite Bloody Sunday war criminals, not Fusco.” On January 6 Fusco is refused bail and remanded to prison in Castlerea, County Roscommon, to await a legal review of his extradition, prompting scuffles outside the court between police and Sinn Féin supporters.

Fusco is freed on bail on March 21 pending the outcome of his legal challenge, and in November 2000 the Irish government informs the High Court that it is no longer seeking to return him to Northern Ireland. This follows a statement from Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Mandelson saying that “it is clearly anomalous to pursue the extradition of people who appear to qualify for early release under the Good Friday Agreement scheme, and who would, on making a successful application to the Sentence Review Commissioners, have little if any of their original prison sentence to serve.” After the court hearing Fusco states, “I’m relieved it’s over,” and that he will continue to live in Tralee with his family and work for Sinn Féin.

In December 2000 Fusco and three other IRA members, including two other members of the M60 gang, are granted a royal prerogative of mercy which allows them to return to Northern Ireland without fear of prosecution.


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Death of 1981 Hunger Striker Thomas McElwee

Thomas McElwee, Irish republican volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), dies on August 8, 1981 at the age of 23 after 62 days on hunger strike at Long Kesh Prison.

McElwee, the sixth of twelve children, is born on November 30, 1957, into the small, whitewashed home built by his father, along the Tamlaghtduff Road in Bellaghy, County Derry, Northern Ireland. He attended St. Mary’s primary in Bellaghy, and then Clady intermediate. After leaving school he goes to Magherafelt technical college for a while, but later changes his mind and goes to Ballymena training centre to begin an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic. Harassment from loyalist workers there forces him to leave and he then goes to work with a local mechanic.

McElwee and his cousin Francis Hughes form an independent Republican unit, which for several years carries out ambushes on British Army patrols as well as bomb attacks in neighbouring towns such as Magherafelt, Castledawson, and Maghera.

In October 1976, McElwee takes part in a planned bombing blitz on the town of Ballymena. Along with several colleagues, he is transporting one of the bombs, which explodes prematurely and blinds him in his right eye. He is transferred from the Ballymena hospital to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast for emergency surgery to save his remaining eye. It is three weeks before he is able to see at all.

After six weeks McElwee is transferred again, this time to the military wing of the Musgrave Park Hospital. One week before Christmas, he is charged and sent to Crumlin Road Gaol.

At McElwee’s subsequent trial in September 1977, having spent over eight months on remand in Crumlin Road, he is charged and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for possession of explosives and the murder of Yvonne Dunlop, who is killed when one of the firebombs destroys the shop where she is employed. His murder charge is reduced to manslaughter on appeal, although the original jail term stands. He returns to the blanket protest he had joined immediately after his trial, in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh.

Imprisonment is particularly harsh for McElwee and his brother Benedict who are frequently singled out for brutality by prison warders, outraged at the stubborn refusal of the two to accept any form of criminal status. On one occasion he is put on the boards for fourteen days for refusing to call a prison warder ‘sir.’ In a letter smuggled out to his sister Mary, Benedict writes of the imprint of a warder’s boot on his back and arms after a typical assault. However, throughout the brutality and degradation they have to endure serves only to deepen yet further, and harder, their resistance to criminalisation.

McElwee joins the 1981 Irish hunger strike on June 7, 1981 and died on August 8, 1981, after 62 days on the strike. Indicative of the callousness of the British government towards prisoners and their families alike, he is denied the comfort of his brother’s presence at that tragic moment. He dies after 62 days of slow agonising hunger strike with no company other than prison warders – colleagues of those who had brutalised, degraded and tortured him for three-and-a-half years.

In 2009, Republican Sinn Féin (RSF) name their Waterford cumann after McElwee, replacing that of George Lennon, O/C of the Waterford Flying Column who led the IRA anti-Treaty Republicans into Waterford City in March 1922. The Waterford RSF had adopted the Lennon name without the permission of his son who noted that his father had, in later years, become a committed pacifist and opponent of the Vietnam War.

McElwee is the main subject of the song Farewell to Bellaghy, which also mentions his cousin Francis Hughes, other members of the independent Republican unit and deceased volunteers of the South Derry Brigade of the Provisional IRA. He is also the subject of The Crucifucks‘ song The Story of Thomas McElwee.


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Birth of Bobby Storey, Provisional Irish Republican Army Volunteer

Robert “Bobby” Storey, a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteer, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on April 11, 1956. Prior to an 18-year conviction for possessing a rifle, he also spends time on remand for a variety of charges and in total serves 20 years in prison. He also plays a key role in the Maze Prison escape, the biggest prison break in British penal history.

The family is originally from the Marrowbone area, on the Oldpark Road in North Belfast. The family has to move when Storey is very young due to Ulster loyalist attacks on the district, moving to Manor Street, an interface area also in North Belfast. His uncle is boxing trainer Gerry Storey and his father, also called Bobby, is involved in the defence of the area in the 1970s when Catholics are threatened by loyalists.

Storey is one of four children. He has two brothers, Seamus and Brian, and a sister Geraldine. Seamus and his father are arrested after a raid on their home which uncovers a rifle and a pistol. While his father is later released, Seamus is charged. He escapes from Crumlin Road Prison with eight other prisoners in 1971, and they are dubbed the Crumlin Kangaroos.

On his mother Peggy’s side of the family there is also a history of republicanism, but Storey says the dominant influences on him are the events happening around him. These include the McGurk’s Bar bombing in the New Lodge, some of those killed being people who knew his family, and also Bloody Sunday. This then leads to his attempts to join the IRA. He leaves school at fifteen and goes to work with his father selling fruit. At sixteen, he becomes a member of the IRA.

On April 11, 1973, his seventeenth birthday, Storey is interned and held at Long Kesh internment camp. He had been arrested 20 times prior to this but was too young for internment. In October 1974 he takes part in the protest at Long Kesh against living conditions where internees set fire to the “cages” in which they are being held. He is released from internment in May 1975. He is arrested on suspicion of a bombing at the Skyways Hotel in January 1976 and a kidnapping and murder in the Andersonstown district of Belfast in March 1976, but is acquitted by the judge at his trial. He is arrested leaving the courthouse and charged with a shooting-related incident. He is released after the case cannot be proven, only to be charged with shooting two soldiers in Turf Lodge. Those charges are dropped in December 1977. The same month he is arrested for the murder of a soldier in Turf Lodge, but the charges are again dropped. In 1978 he is charged in relation to the wounding of a soldier in Lenadoon, but is acquitted at trial due to errors in police procedure.

On December 14, 1979, he is arrested in Holland Park, London, with three other IRA volunteers including Gerard Tuite, and charged with conspiring to hijack a helicopter to help Brian Keenan escape from Brixton Prison. Tuite escapes from the same prison prior to the trial, and the other two IRA volunteers are convicted, but Storey is acquitted at the Old Bailey in April 1981. That August, after a soldier is shot, he is arrested in possession of a rifle and is convicted for the first time, being sentenced to eighteen years’ imprisonment.

Storey is one of the leaders of the Maze Prison escape in 1983, when 38 republican prisoners break out of the H-Blocks, the largest prison escape in British penal history and the largest peacetime prison escape in Europe. He is recaptured within an hour, and sentenced to an additional seven years imprisonment. Released in 1994, he is again arrested in 1996 and charged with having personal information about a British Army soldier, and Brian Hutton, the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. At his trial at Crumlin Road Courthouse in July 1998, he is acquitted after his defence proves the personal information had previously been published in books and newspapers.

Having spent over twenty years in prison, much of it on remand, Storey’s final release is in 1998, and he again becomes involved in developing republican politics and strategy, eventually becoming the northern chairman of Sinn Féin.

On January 11, 2005, Ulster Unionist Member of Parliament for South Antrim David Burnside tells the British House of Commons under parliamentary privilege that Storey is head of intelligence for the IRA.

On September 9, 2015, Storey is arrested and held for two days in connection with the killing of former IRA volunteer Kevin McGuigan the previous month. He is subsequently released without any charges, and his solicitor John Finucane states Storey will be suing for unlawful arrest.

Storey dies in England on June 21, 2020 following an unsuccessful lung transplant surgery. Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald describes him as “a great republican” in her tribute. His funeral procession in Belfast on June 30 is attended by over 1,500 people including McDonald, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, and former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, but is criticised for breaking social distancing rules implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic which, at the time operating in Northern Ireland, limited funeral numbers to no more than 30 mourners.

In the 2017 film Maze, dramatising the 1983 prison break, directed by Stephen Burke, Storey is portrayed by Irish actor Cillian O’Sullivan.


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Introduction of the Special Powers Act 1922

The Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922, often referred to simply as the Special Powers Act, is an Act introduced 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 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. The much larger group (nationalists) are mostly Roman Catholic, identified primarily as Irish, and want some form of Irish home rule or independence from Britain. The smaller group (unionists), concentrated primarily in the province of Ulster, are mostly Protestant, identified primarily as British and are committed to remaining within the United Kingdom. In the years before World War I, both groups establish armed militias intended to enforce their aims and protect their communities from the other side’s militias. The British government resolves to partition Ireland in an effort to alleviate unionists and nationalists, with the six most Protestant counties of Ulster forming Northern Ireland while the rest of Ireland achieves self-rule. This is accepted by most unionists as the best deal they are likely to get, but bitterly disappoints many nationalists, especially those who live in the six counties which become Northern Ireland. Many nationalists on both sides of the border feel that their country has been unjustly divided, and for many decades the Irish government claims that Northern Ireland is rightfully its territory.

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 Special Powers Act is presented as being necessary to re-establish peace and law and order in Northern Ireland, and enable 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. The Minister of Home Affairs is empowered to make any regulation felt necessary to preserve law and order in Northern Ireland. Anyone who breaks these regulations can be sentenced to up to a year in prison with hard labour, and in the case of some crimes, whipping. A special summary jurisdiction is enabled to hear cases involving such crimes. The Minister of Home Affairs is also permitted to forbid the holding of inquests if he feels this is required to preserve order and peace.

The Schedule to the Act specifies actions which the government can take in order to preserve peace, although the body of the Act enables the government to take any steps at all which it thinks necessary. Actions specified in the Schedule include the closing of licensed premises, the banning in any area of meetings and parades in public places, the closing of roads, the taking of any land or property, and the destruction of any building. The Schedule also forbids the spreading by word of mouth or text any “reports or…statements intended or likely to cause disaffection to subjects of His Majesty.”

Because it is presented as emergency legislation, the Special Powers Act is initially current for only 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. According to John Whyte, this happens because, from 1925, nationalist MPs begin sitting in the Stormont parliament which they had initially boycotted. Unsurprisingly, they object strenuously to the renewal of the Act, and it is felt by the Ulster Unionist Party Minister of Home Affairs that it would be better to make the Act permanent than for Parliament annually to “wrangle” over it.

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, outlined in Paragraph 23 of the Schedule. In the period from May 1922 to December 1924, 700 republicans are interned under the Act.

Political violence declines dramatically by 1925, and the government gradually shifts its emphasis from broad measures designed to return civil order to the province to more preventative regulations aimed at suppressing the threat posed by republican aspirations. Regulations banning meetings and parades and restrictions on the flying of the Irish tricolour become more common. Between 1922 and 1950, the government bans nearly 100 parades and meetings, the vast majority of which are nationalist or republican. No loyalist gathering is ever directly banned under the Act, although a few are caught in blanket bans against parades or meetings in a particular area. From 1922 until 1972, 140 publications are banned, the vast majority of which express republican viewpoints.

After the troubles of the early 1920s has died 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.

Internment ends in 1975, but is credited with increasing support and sympathy for the Provisional Irish Republican Army 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.

The Act encounters further controversy in the 1970s due to the deployment of the British Army in Northern Ireland and its role in maintaining order and similar policing-style duties. In 1972, the government is forced to amend the Act in order to legalise the detention of internees arrested by soldiers. Martin Meehan had been arrested after escaping from Crumlin Road Gaol and charged with escaping from lawful custody. At his trial he successfully argues that under the Special Powers Act a soldier has no power of arrest and, as such, he has the legal right to escape. He is awarded £800 in compensation for being illegally detained for twenty-three days.


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Operation Demetrius

long-kesh-internment-campOperation Demetrius, a British Army operation in Northern Ireland begins on August 9, 1971, during the Troubles. The operation involves the mass arrest and internment (imprisonment without trial) of 342 people suspected of being involved with the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which is waging a campaign for a united Ireland against the British state.

Operation Demetrius, proposed by the Government of Northern Ireland and approved by the Government of the United Kingdom, begins throughout Northern Ireland in the early morning hours of Monday, August 9 and progresses in two parts:

  1. Arrest and movement of the detainees to one of three regional holding centers: Girdwood Barracks in Belfast, Abercorn Barracks in Ballykinler, County Down, or HM Prison Magilligan near LimavadyCounty Londonderry.
  2. The process of identification and questioning, leading either to release of the detainee or movement into detention at HM Prison Crumlin Road or aboard HMS Maidstone, a prison ship in Belfast Harbour.

The operation sparks four days of violence in which 20 civilians, two IRA members and two British soldiers are killed. All of those arrested are Irish nationalists, the vast majority of them Catholic. Due to faulty intelligence, many have no links with the IRA. Ulster loyalist paramilitaries are also carrying out acts of violence, which are mainly directed against Catholics and Irish nationalists, but no loyalists are included in the sweep.

The introduction of internment, the way the arrests are carried out, and the abuse of those arrested, lead to mass protests and a sharp increase in violence. Amid the violence, about 7,000 people flee or are forced out of their homes. The interrogation techniques used on some of the internees are described by the European Commission of Human Rights in 1976 as torture, but the superior court, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), rules on appeal in 1978 that, although the techniques are “inhuman and degrading”, they do not, in this instance, constitute torture. It is later revealed that the British government had withheld information from the ECHR and that the policy had been authorized by British government ministers. In December 2014, in light of the new evidence, the Irish government asks the ECHR to revise its 1978 judgement. The ECHR declines the request in 2018.

The backlash against internment contributes to the decision of the British Government under Prime Minister Edward Heath to suspend the Northern Ireland Government and replace it with direct rule from Westminster, under the authority of a British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. This takes place in 1972.

Following the suspension of the Northern Ireland Government and Parliament, internment is continued by the direct rule administration until December 5, 1975. During this time 1,981 people are interned, 1,874 are nationalist while 107 are loyalist. The first loyalist internees are detained in February 1973.

(Pictured: The entrance to Compound 19, one of the sections of Long Kesh internment camp)