seamus dubhghaill

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


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Dissolution of the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention

In the House of Commons of the United Kingdom on March 5, 1976, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Merlyn Rees announces the dissolution of the short lived Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention (NICC).

The Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention is an elected body set up in 1975 by the United Kingdom Labour government of Harold Wilson as an attempt to deal with constitutional issues surrounding the status of Northern Ireland.

The idea for a constitutional convention is first mooted by the Northern Ireland Office in its white paper The Northern Ireland Constitution, published on July 4, 1974. The paper lays out plans for elections to a body which would seek agreement on a political settlement for Northern Ireland. The proposals become law with the enactment of the Northern Ireland Act 1974 later that month. With Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland Robert Lowry appointed to chair the new body, elections are announced for May 1, 1975.

The elections are held for the 78-member body using the single transferable vote system of proportional representation in each of Northern Ireland’s twelve Westminster constituencies. Initially the body is intended to be purely consultative, although it is hoped that executive and legislative functions can be devolved to the NICC once a cross-community agreement has been reached. Unionists opposed to the NICC once again band together under the umbrella of the United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC) and this coalition proves the most successful, taking 46 seats.

A number of leading Northern Ireland politicians are elected to the NICC, increasing hope that the body might achieve some of its aims. Also elected are some younger figures who go on to become leading figures in the future of Northern Ireland politics.

The elections leave the body fundamentally weakened from its inception as an overall majority has been obtained by those Unionists who oppose power sharing as a concept. As a result, the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention Report published on November 20, 1975 recommends only a return to majority rule as had previously existed under the old Parliament of Northern Ireland government. As such a solution is completely unacceptable to the nationalist parties, the NICC is placed on hiatus.

Hoping to gain something from the exercise, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Merlyn Rees announces that the NICC would be reconvened on February 3, 1976. However, a series of meetings held between the UUUC and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) fail to reach any agreement about SDLP participation in government, and so the reconvened NICC once again fails to achieve a solution with cross-community support. As a result, Rees announces the dissolution of the body on March 5, 1976 and Northern Ireland remains under direct rule.

On the face of it, the NICC is a total failure as it does not achieve its aims of agreement between the two sides or of introducing ‘rolling devolution’ (gradual introduction of devolution as and when the parties involved see fit to accept it). Nevertheless, coming as it does not long after the Conservative-sponsored Sunningdale Agreement, the NICC indicates that no British government will be prepared to re-introduce majority rule in Northern Ireland. During the debates William Craig accepts the possibility of power-sharing with the SDLP, a move that splits the UUUC and precipitates the eventual collapse of the Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party (VUPP).

The idea of electing a consultative body to thrash out a deal for devolution is also retained and in 1996 it is revived when the Northern Ireland Forum is elected on largely the same lines and with the same overall purpose. The Forum forms part of a process that leads to the Good Friday Agreement and the Northern Ireland Assembly.


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Assassination of Norman and James Stronge

Sir Charles Norman Lockhart Stronge and his son James, both former Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Members of Parliament, are assassinated by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) at their home, Tynan Abbey, on January 21, 1981. The home is then burned to the ground.

Before his involvement in politics Stronge fights in World War I as a junior officer in the British Army. He fights in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and is awarded the Military Cross. His positions after the war include Speaker of the House of Commons of Northern Ireland for twenty-three years.

Stronge (86) and his son, James (48), are watching television in the library of Tynan Abbey when members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, armed with machine guns, use grenades to break down the locked heavy doors to the home.

The Stronge family home is then burned to the ground as a result of two bomb explosions. On seeing the explosions at the house, as well as a flare Stronge lit in an attempt to alert the authorities, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and British Army troops arrive at the scene and establish a roadblock at the gate lodge. They encounter at least eight fleeing gunmen. A twenty-minute gunfight ensues in which at least two hundred shots are fired. There are no casualties among the security forces but the gunmen escape. The bodies of the father and son are later discovered in the library of their burning home, each with gunshot wounds in the head. It is not known who died first, Norman or James. Under the legal fiction known as the doctrine of survival, James is still listed as succeeding to the baronetcy.

The village of Tynan is crowded for the joint funeral of Stronge and his son. Mourners come from throughout the province and from England, including lords, politicians, policemen, judges and church leaders. The coffin is carried by the 5th Battalion the Royal Irish Rangers, the successors to his old regiment. The sword and cap of the Lord Lieutenant of Tyrone, Major John Hamilton-Stubber, are placed on his coffin in lieu of his own, which had been destroyed with his other possessions in the fire. During the service, a telegram sent from Queen Elizabeth II to one of Sir Norman’s daughters, is read. After the service, the chief mourners move out into the churchyard where the “Last Post” is sounded and a Royal British Legion farewell is given. The two coffins are laid in the family plot, where Lady Stronge, Sir Norman’s wife and mother of James, was buried a year previously.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Humphrey Atkins, is informed by friends of the Stronge family that he would not be welcome at the funeral because of government policy on Irish border security. Atkins leaves the Northern Ireland Office later that year, to be replaced by Jim Prior. Stronge is commemorated with a tablet in the Northern Ireland Assembly Chamber in Parliament Buildings on the Stormont Estate.

The IRA releases a statement in Belfast, quoted in The Times, claiming that “This deliberate attack on the symbols of hated unionism was a direct reprisal for a whole series of loyalist assassinations and murder attacks on nationalist peoples and nationalist activities.” This follows the loyalist attempted murder of Bernadette McAliskey and her husband Michael McAliskey on January 16, and the loyalist assassinations of four republican activists (Miriam Daly, John Turnley, Noel Lyttle and Ronnie Bunting) which had taken place since May 1980.

The killings are referred to as murder by multiple media sources including The Daily Telegraph, The Scotsman, The New York Times and Time magazine, by the Reverend Ian Paisley in the House of Commons and by Alec Cooke, Baron Cooke of Islandreagh in the House of Lords.

Stronge is described at the time of his death by Social Democratic and Labour Party politician Austin Currie as having been “even at 86 years of age … still incomparably more of a man than the cowardly dregs of humanity who ended his life in this barbaric way.”

The ruins of Tynan Abbey are demolished in 1998, having stood for 249 years.


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Remembrance Sunday Ceremonies 2016

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald attend Remembrance Sunday ceremonies in Northern Ireland on November 13, 2016, while a cross commemorating Irish soldiers in World War I is dedicated at Dublin‘s Glasnevin Cemetery.

Kenny, who has taken part in the ceremony every year since 2012, lays a wreath of green laurels alongside the many red poppies at the war memorial in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster, a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, also attends the event.

Although there are no discussions between the pair, Kenny confirms he will meet with Foster in Dublin on Tuesday, November 15. The pair are also due to meet in Armagh on Friday, November 18 for a North/South ministerial meeting, where Brexit-related issues are expected to dominate the agenda.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald travels to Belfast, where she lays a laurel wreath at the Cenotaph at city hall. Fitzgerald is joined at the ceremony by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire.

Speaking afterwards, Fitzgerald, whose grandfather served as a soldier in the British army and whose father was a colonel in the Irish Army, says it has been an important engagement. “So many people across the island lost their lives; 50,000 families affected by loss of a loved one during the First World War. We have had a government minister here since 2012 and I think it is really important to come together, to remember together and to look at our shared histories.”

In England, British Prime Minister Theresa May is among those who gather at the Cenotaph in London for a commemoration ceremony.

Meanwhile, Heather Humphreys, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, dedicates the France-Ireland Memorial at Glasnevin Cemetery. Humphreys is joined by the French Minister of State for Veterans and Remembrance at the Ministry of Defence Jean-Marc Todeschini for the ceremony. The memorial is a gift to Ireland from France in recognition of Irish sacrifices made “in the defence and freedom of France, particularly in the First World War.”

(From: “Taoiseach, Tánaiste attend Remembrance Sunday ceremonies,” Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), http://www.rte.ie, November 13, 2016 | Pictured: Taoiseach Enda Kenny lays a wreath of green laurels in Enniskillen)


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Gerry Adams & David Trimble Meet at Stormont

On November 4, 2002, Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams meet face-to-face for the first time since the suspension of Northern Ireland‘s power-sharing government in an attempt to break the deadlock in the peace process. They meet at Stormont as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Paul Murphy, continues his round of meetings with the political parties in an attempt to find a way to end the deadlock.

The province’s institutions are suspended on October 14 following a row over allegations of Irish Republican Army (IRA) activity, including alleged spying within the Northern Ireland Office (NIO).

Speaking after a 40-minute meeting with Trimble, Adams says they had had a “useful exchange of views.” But he adds, as expected, “there were very few conclusions in terms of the big picture….I asked Mr. Trimble how he thought things could be sorted out and Mr. Trimble had no particular suggestion to offer. But it was a good meeting.”

The Sinn Féin president says he had suggested to Trimble that each leader could address the executive of the opposite’s party. “He declined. But I hope he will think about the suggestion.”

Trimble says no significant developments came out of the meeting. He adds that the onus is on the republican movement to move the process forward. He dismisses Adams’s suggestion that they should address each others’ parties as a “stunt.”

Elsewhere on this date, Minister for Foreign Affairs Brian Cowen and Northern Secretary Paul Murphy also hold talks with a Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) delegation in Dublin. Among the items on the agenda are how to restore the North’s devolved political institutions and whether or not the next Northern Ireland Assembly elections will be held as planned the following May.

Adams leaves for Washington, D.C. the following day, where he is expected to brief President George W. Bush‘s Special Envoy for Northern Ireland, Richard N. Haass. He also plans to visit New York, New Jersey and Canada for fund-raising events during his six day trip.

(From: “Trimble Adams meeting ‘useful'”, BBC News, news.bbc.co.uk, November 5, 2002)


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Mitchell Returns to Belfast to Save the Peace Process

george-mitchellFormer United States Senator George Mitchell returns to Belfast on September 13, 1999 in a bid to prevent the Northern Ireland peace process from coming apart at the seams.

The soft-spoken but firm Mitchell leads a review of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which he played a crucial part in brokering. The aim is to halt a renewed drift to violence by pro-British Protestant and pro-Irish Catholic paramilitaries, and to persuade the two communities to begin cooperating in the province’s elected assembly.

“The peace process is mired in mistrust on both sides of the sectarian divide,” says a British government official, who declines to be identified. “It will need somebody of Mr. Mitchell’s political caliber and neutrality to find a way forward.” The future role of the Northern Ireland police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), will be “part of the tangle [Mitchell] has to unravel,” the official adds. The 92% Protestant force, in a society where Catholics make up 42% of the population, is widely seen as requiring urgent attention.

The Protestant political leaders are unwilling to accept the good faith of Sinn Féin, the political ally of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). They are also attacking Northern Ireland Secretary of State Mo Mowlam for having refused to acknowledge that republican paramilitaries have breached the cease-fire despite several violent incidents and the discovery of an alleged plot to send arms to the IRA from the United States.

Mowlam’s decision enraged David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Northern Ireland’s main Protestant political party and first minister-designate in a devolved Belfast government. Trimble and his senior lieutenants called for her to be fired. Trimble also launches a bitter attack on the Patten Commission after a leaked report indicates it would recommend allowing active IRA members to join the RUC police force.

Mitchell’s main contribution to the peace process has been to insist that the issue of decommissioning terrorist arms must be addressed in parallel with talks on future political structures in Northern Ireland. But he still has to find a formula that will satisfy Unionists for the IRA to begin handing in its weapons and explosives. Trimble and other Protestant leaders insist the IRA must agree to decommission before Sinn Féin is allowed to join a devolved Belfast government. Sinn Féin says that was not part of the 1998 peace accord.

Most worrying for Mitchell is the recent outcry over IRA tactics that makes a solution to the problem of law and order all the more important. The IRA is known to use threats and so called “punishment beatings” to maintain law and order in areas under its control, where RUC forces dare not tread. Six Catholic youths are in hiding in Britain after being threatened with violence, even death, if they remained in Northern Ireland.

According to the RUC, the youths have been targeted because of their refusal to accept the authority of sectarian paramilitaries in the areas where they live. Vincent McKenna, spokesman for the Northern Ireland Human Rights Bureau, says, “The IRA thinks it has the right to police its own areas, and it is determined to punish anyone critical of the political direction of the Sinn Féin leadership.” He adds that since the Belfast agreement was signed 16 months earlier, 757 young people have been “exiled” by the IRA and Protestant paramilitary groups.

Mowlam reportedly says that if the Patten Commission can come up with a blueprint for the police that gives Catholics a larger role in legitimate law enforcement, the scope for policing by paramilitary groups will be reduced.

(From: “Mitchell returns to N. Ireland tinderbox,” The Christian Science Monitor, September 2, 1999)


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1973 Northern Ireland Assembly Election

politics-of-northern-irelandElections to the Northern Ireland Assembly take place on June 28, 1973 following the publication of the British government‘s white paper Northern Ireland Constitutional Proposals which proposes a 78-member Northern Ireland Assembly, elected by proportional representation. The election leads to power-sharing between unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland for the first time.

From June 7, 1921 until March 30, 1972, the devolved legislature for Northern Ireland is the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which always has an Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) majority and always elects a UUP government. The Parliament is suspended on March 30, 1972.

Shortly after this first parliament is abolished, attempts begin to restore devolution on a new basis that will see power shared between Irish nationalists and unionists. To this end a new parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly, is established by the Government of the United Kingdom on May 3, 1973.

Following the June 28 elections, the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, which receives the Royal Assent on July 18, 1973, abolishes the suspended Parliament of Northern Ireland and the post of Governor and makes provision for a devolved administration consisting of an Executive chosen by the Assembly.

One hundred eight members are elected by single transferable vote from Northern Ireland’s eighteen Westminster constituencies, with five to eight seats for each depending on its population. The Assembly meets for the first time on July 31, 1973.

A cross-community coalition of the Ulster Unionist Party under Brian Faulkner, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland is agreed in November 1973 and, following the Sunningdale Agreement, a power-sharing Executive is established from January 1, 1974.

After opposition from within the Ulster Unionist Party and the Ulster Workers’ Council strike over the proposal of an all Ireland council, the Executive and Assembly collapses on May 28, 1974 when Brian Faulkner resigns as Chief Executive. The Northern Ireland Assembly is abolished by the Northern Ireland Act 1974.

In 1982 another Northern Ireland Assembly is established at Stormont, initially as a body to scrutinise the actions of the Secretary of State, the British minister with responsibility for Northern Ireland. It receives little support from Irish nationalists and is officially dissolved in 1986.

The Northern Ireland Act 1998 formally establishes the Assembly in law, in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement. The first election of Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly is on June 25, 1998 and it first meets on July 1, 1998. However, it only exists in “shadow” form until December 2, 1999 when full powers are devolved to the Assembly. Since then the Assembly has operated intermittently and has been suspended on five occasions.


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Official Irish Republican Army Declares Ceasefire

official-ira-ceasefire-1972The Official Irish Republican Army (IRA) announces a ceasefire on May 29, 1972. This marks the end of the Official IRA’s paramilitary campaign. The organization, however, reserves the right of self-defence against attacks by the British Army and sectarian groups. The Provisional Irish Republican Army dismisses the truce as having “little effect” on the situation.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw, welcomes the move and a spokesperson says it is “a step in the right direction.”

A statement is read out from Dublin after the previous night’s meeting of the executive of the Northern Republican Clubs, a political movement allied to the IRA. It states, “The overwhelming desire of the great majority of all the people of the north is for an end to military actions by all sides.”

It goes on to say that a suspension of activities will be a chance to prevent all-out civil war in Ulster. The group insists it will continue a campaign of civil disobedience and the political struggle until its demands are met, namely:

The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army are the first to benefit from such a ceasefire as they have been the primary targets of the IRA. Residents of Belfast in particular have been worn down by the four-year campaign of violence and this news is very welcome there.

Father Hugh O’Neill, who leads a Londonderry peace movement, says, “Please God, everyone will now sit down and begin to talk.”


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The Battle at Springmartin

kelly-bar-bombingThe Battle at Springmartin, a series of gun battles in Belfast, Northern Ireland, begins on May 13, 1972 and continues into the following day. It involves the British Army, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

The night before the bombing, snipers from the UVF West Belfast Brigade take up position along the second floor of an abandoned row of flats at the edge of the Ulster Protestant Springmartin estate. The flats overlooked the Catholic Ballymurphy estate. Rifles, mostly World War II stock, are ferried to the area from dumps in the Shankill Road.

The violence begins shortly after 5:00 PM on Saturday, May 13, 1972, when a car bomb, planted by Ulster loyalists, explodes without warning outside the crowded Kelly’s Bar, at the junction of the Springfield Road and Whiterock Road. The pub is in a mainly Irish Catholic and nationalist area of Ballymurphy and most of its customers are from the area. At the time of the blast, the pub is crowded with men watching an association football match between England and West Germany on colour television. Following the blast the UVF snipers open fire on the survivors. This begins the worst fighting in Northern Ireland since the suspension of the Parliament of Northern Ireland and the imposition of direct rule from London.

Sixty-three people are injured, eight of them seriously. John Moran, age 19, who had been working at Kelly’s as a part-time barman, dies of his injuries on May 23.

For the rest of the night and throughout the next day, local IRA units fight gun battles with both the UVF and British Army. Most of the fighting takes place along the interface between the Catholic Ballymurphy and Ulster Protestant Springmartin housing estates, and the British Army base that sits between them. Five civilians (four Catholics, one Protestant), a British soldier and a member of the IRA Youth Section are killed in the violence. Four of the dead are teenagers.

At first, the British Army claims that the blast had been an “accident” caused by a Provisional IRA bomb. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw, tells the House of Commons on May 18 that the blast is caused by a Provisional IRA bomb that exploded prematurely. However, locals suspect that the loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) had planted the bomb. Republican sources say that IRA volunteers would not risk storing such a large amount of explosives in such a crowded pub. It later emerges that the bomb had indeed been planted by loyalists.

A memorial plaque on the site of the former pub names three members of staff who lost their lives as a result of the bomb and the gun battles that followed. It reads:

This plaque marks the spot
where Kelly’s Bar once stood
and here on 13th May 1972
a no warning Loyalist car bomb exploded.
As a result, 66 people were injured
and three innocent members of staff
of Kelly’s Bar lost their lives.
They were:
Tommy McIlroy (died 13th May 1972)
John Moran (died from his injuries 23rd May 1972)
Gerard Clarke (died from his injuries 6th September 1989)
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a namacha”


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Hume & Trimble Receive 1998 Nobel Peace Prize

hume-trimble-noble-prize-1998The 1998 Nobel Peace Prize is awarded on October 16, 1998 to John Hume and David Trimble, leaders of the largest Roman Catholic and Protestant political parties in Northern Ireland, for their efforts to bring peace to the long-polarized British province. The two men share the prize money of $960,000.

Hume, 61, the Catholic head of the Social Democratic and Labor Party, is cited by the Nobel Committee in Oslo for having been the “clearest and most consistent of Northern Ireland’s political leaders in his work for a peaceful solution.”

Trimble, 54, the Protestant leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, is honored for having demonstrated “great political courage when, at a critical stage in the process, he advocated solutions which led to the peace agreement.”

The leader of a third prominent party, Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is not named as a prize winner. While it does not honor Adams, the committee says it wishes to “emphasize the importance of the positive contributions to the peace process made by other Northern Irish leaders.” Nor are several other figures mentioned as possibilities, including former Senator George Mitchell, who led the talks, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, United States President Bill Clinton, and Mo Mowlam, the British Government’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

The accord, signed on April 10 and known as the Good Friday Agreement, gives the 1.7 million residents of Northern Ireland a respite from the sectarian violence that has claimed more than 3,200 lives in the previous 30 years. It also opens the possibility of lasting stability for the first time since the establishment of Northern Ireland with partition from Ireland in 1921.

Forging concessions from fiercely antagonistic populations, the accord seeks to balance the Protestant majority’s wish to remain part of Britain with Catholic desires to strengthen ties to the Republic of Ireland to the south. The committee, seeing in Northern Ireland’s two warring groups a dispute with notable similarities to violent tribal confrontations elsewhere, expresses the hope that the accord will serve “to inspire peaceful solutions to other religious, ethnic and national conflicts around the world.”

Adams, in New York on a fund-raising trip for Sinn Féin, welcomes the Oslo announcement and particularly praises Hume, who is widely seen as having helped persuade the IRA to adopt a cease-fire and having eased Sinn Féin’s entry into the talks. “Indeed, there would be no peace process but for his courage and vision,” Adams says, adding, “No one deserves this accolade more.” He also wishes Trimble well and says the prize imposes on everyone the responsibility to “push ahead through the speedy implementation of the agreement.”

In the unforgiving politics of Northern Ireland, the Unionist dissidents and members of other Protestant parties who do not join in the peace talks attack both Trimble and Hume. Ian Paisley Jr., son of the head of the Democratic Unionist Party, calls the Nobel Committee’s decision a “farce” and says of the winners, “These people have not delivered peace, and they are not peacemakers.”

Trimble says he is “slightly uncomfortable” with the award because so many other people have been involved beside him in reaching the settlement and much remains to be done to put it in place. “We know that while we have the makings of peace, it is not wholly secure yet,” he tells the BBC from Denver, where he is on an 11-city North American tour to spur foreign investment in Ulster. “I hope it does not turn out to be premature.”

Hume receives word of the prize at his home in Londonderry and terms it “an expression of the total endorsement of the work of very many people.” He adds, “This isn’t just an award to David Trimble and myself. It is an award to all the people in Northern Ireland.”

In Washington, D.C., President Clinton says “how very pleased” he is, “personally and as President, that the Nobel Prize Committee has rewarded the courage and the people of Northern Ireland by giving the Nobel Peace Prize to John Hume and to David Trimble.” He adds “a special word of thanks” to George Mitchell, who issues a statement praising Hume and Trimble as “fully deserving of this honor.”

The peace talks began in the summer of 1996. They eventually draw the participation of 8 of the 10 Northern Irish parties, with many of the men around the table convicted murderers and bombers who had emerged from prison with a commitment to peaceful resolution to what for nearly a century have been referred to wearily as “the Troubles.” The paramilitary groups had also made the tactical decision that violence would not secure their goals, a shared conviction that gives these talks a chance for success that past fitful attempts at settlement lacked.

The peace talks move in a desultory manner until Blair takes office in May 1997 and highlights the cause of peace in Northern Ireland as an early commitment. At his and Ahern’s urging, the IRA declares a cease-fire in July, and by September Sinn Féin is permitted to join the talks.

Blair also gives Trimble and Adams unprecedented access to 10 Downing Street, and the Ulster Protestants report that they obtained from Clinton the most sympathetic hearing they ever had from an American President, allaying their longtime suspicions of Washington’s bias in favor of the Catholic minority.

(From: “2 Ulster Peacemakers Win the Nobel Prize,” The New York Times, Warren Hoge, October 17, 1998)


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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)