seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of William Massey, New Zealand Prime Minister

william-ferguson-masseyWilliam Ferguson Massey, New Zealand statesman, Prime Minister from 1912 to 1925, and founder of the Reform Party, is born in Limavady, County Derry in what is now Northern Ireland on March 26, 1856. He is a lifelong spokesman for agrarian interests and opponent of left-wing movements. His Reform Party ministries include leadership of the country during World War I.

The Massey family arrives in New Zealand on October 21, 1862 on board the Indian Empire as Nonconformist settlers, although William remains in Ireland for an additional eight years to complete his education. After arriving on December 10, 1870 on the City of Auckland, he works as a farmhand for some years before acquiring his own farm in Mangere, south Auckland, in 1876.

While managing his own farm, Massey assumes leadership in farmers’ organizations. He enters Parliament in 1894 as a conservative and from 1894 to 1912 is a leader of the conservative opposition to the Liberal ministries. He becomes prime minister in 1912 and promptly signs legislation enabling freeholders to buy their land at its original value. The first years of his ministry see labour strikes by miners in Waihi in 1912 and wharf workers in Wellington in 1913. His harsh repression of them give impetus to the formation of the Labour Party in 1916. He also improves federal administration by putting civil service positions under a nonpolitical commission.

A coalition with the Liberal Party led by Sir Joseph Ward enables Massey to continue his ministry in 1915. He participates in the Imperial War Cabinet (1917–18) and signs the Treaty of Versailles at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, making New Zealand a founding member of the League of Nations. He opposes separate sovereign status for dominions within the British Commonwealth.

Following the war, farmers are troubled by depressed prices resulting from the sharply reduced British demand for their products, and they also face inflation in land prices, aggravated by increased demand for land by returning servicemen. Massey responds to these problems by establishing the Meat Control Board (1922) and the Dairy Export Control Board (1923), but rural and urban unrest resulting from rising prices continue to mount in the final years of his ministry.

In 1924 cancer forced Massey to relinquish many of his official duties, and he dies on May 10, 1925 at Wellington, New Zealand. The Massey Memorial is erected as his mausoleum in Wellington, paid for mostly by public subscription. Massey University is named after him, the name chosen because the university had a focus on agricultural science, matching Massey’s own farming background.


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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)