The 1981 Irish Hunger Strike: 30 years on


4:05 pm - June 10th 2011

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contribution by Sean Oliver

The victory of Sinn Fein’s Paul Maskey in the West Belfast by-election was such a foregone conclusion it barely made the news. Mr Maskey pledged to continue the `proud and strong legacy’ of predecessor Gerry Adams.

This vote marks the latest success for Sinn Fein’s electoral strategy, and a legacy of an earlier watershed moment of recent Irish history — the 1981 hunger strike which took place thirty years ago. Indeed, it is an astonishing contrast – the then seemingly intractable and bloody with the power sharing arrangements and forward moving political process today.

The hunger strike, in which ten republican prisoners died resisting the Thatcher government’s policy of `criminalisation’ was in itself an incredible act, which shone an international spotlight on the regime of brutality and horror inside the H-blocks.

That such events – so vividly depicted in Steve McQueen’s film Hunger – occurred under a British government, in which a member of the British parliament was among those who died, caused a huge reaction around the world. The election of Bobby Sands and that of two other prisoners to the southern Dail, shook the political establishments in London and Dublin to their foundations and set in train an irreversible process which shaped the political landscape for decades to come.

What was fundamentally a democratic struggle in Ireland – beginning with the demand for civil rights and ultimately the right to self-determination – had become an entrenched war of attrition. Successive tactics to put down opposition to British rule failed. The mass support for the prisoners expressed in the elections of that year proved a turning point.

They made the issue, not the armed struggle and violence, but re-focused attention on the political issues and underlined the need for a political solution involving all sides of the conflict. The development of the peace process and the Good Friday

Agreement followed, and were the greatest legacy of the Hunger Strike. For the first time in an international document, the British government is obliged to leave Ireland should the people of Ireland desire it. It facilitates referenda north and south to determine that. Indeed, the political, economic and demographic trends underpinning this all point towards a future re-united Ireland in the not-too-distant future.

Today we need to continue to push forward that political process. In Ireland that means ongoing engagement with unionism and proving that politics can work. It means taking forward the political institutions, in the north and on an all-Ireland basis. There is a huge economic challenge, and Sinn Fein is putting forward a progressive framework based on investment and stimulating the economy – not cuts and austerity imposed by coalition governments in the south of Ireland, or from Westminster.

Internationally there are parallel lessons. The resonance of the hunger strike in the Middle East, Latin America, South Africa, the Black movements in the US and elsewhere was no accident. Progressive struggles share some common principles.

On 18 June in London, Sinn Fein will host a conference to mark the Hunger Strike to look at all these issues, and how political processes can emerge from seemingly intractable conflicts, which ultimately need political solutions based on inclusive processes.


Sean Oliver is Sinn Fein representative to Britain.
‘1981 – A turning point in Irish history’ takes place on Saturday 18 June, 1pm-5.30pm, London Irish Centre, 52 Murray Street, NW1. Full details from london1981conference@yahoo.co.uk

Editor’s note I have no doubt this article will raise some hackles among our readers, but I chose to publish it because it focuses on engagement and discussion rather than violence as a means to political ends. Feel free to disagree with the sentiments if you like, but abusive comments will be deleted.

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Reader comments


1. flyingrodent

I’m not sure that the hunger strikes achieved all that much except establishing martyrs, gaining some short-term publicity, improving prison conditions and a lot of really grisly deaths for the participants. Three of those are respectable achievements, but not exactly the kind of thing that shakes the world on its axis.

It gave the Republican movement a brief bounce, but I doubt the present situation in Northern Ireland would be so very different if the hunger strikers had never bothered. “Brave but misguided and ultimately, a futile gesture” sums it up for me.

“In Ireland that means ongoing engagement with unionism and proving that politics can work.”

Exactly, the people of Northern Ireland need to work together. It’s just a shame so many republicans and unionists didn’t seem to realise that Britain couldn’t just pick one side.

It’s also a shame that so many innocent people, in England and Northern Ireland, had to die over Northern Ireland. Sean Oliver, do you regret the murders of innocent English people by republican terrorists?

Also worth noting the funding of Republican terrorism by Americans in New York and Boston. Interesting this never comes up when we talk about the special relationship. Right wingers who normally hate the IRA call any criticism of America “anti-American”.

There is a Facebook page celebrating the IRA and raising funds for it. I’ve tried to get Facebook to remove it but they won’t. More info below:

http://brennybaby.blogspot.com/2008/04/supports-of-ira-facebook-causes-page.html

Gerry Adams cynically let the hunger strikers die to launch his political career. Don’t believe all the shit put out by the Sinn Fein propaganda machine. They are not, and have never been, friends to the labour movement on either side of the Irish Sea.

Good Friday was the legacy of the hunger strike? 17 years later? That’s quite a delayed reaction!

“Feel free to disagree with the sentiments if you like, but abusive comments will be deleted.”

how ironic.

sounds just like Sinn Fein-IRA’s way of operating. Just change ‘abusive comments’ to ‘opponents’ and ‘deleted’ to ‘murdered’ obviously

You should be ashamed, Sunny

As an Irish American, I am glad Sinn Fain are allowed to debate as part of progressive politics. There is nothing progressive about British imperialism still being allowed on the streets of Belfast, Cork and Coventry in this day and age.

I wasn’t aware of a massive secessionist movement in Coventry Finbar.

8. Liz McShane

Finbar – Coventry is in England not Ireland, so I don’t quite understand your reference to it…….

9. Mr S. Pill

Before this thread gets derailed by trolls on both sides I think it’s important to note how far we’ve come with the peace process an’ all, Mo Mowlam’s finest achievement IMO getting everyone talking to each other.

I disagree that the hunger strike had as much of an impact as the OP purports but saying that it’s a preferable tactic than the murdering of innocents that the IRA (and yes, the other side had their terrorists too) engaged in. It’s important to remember such recent history for obvious reasons – particularly as the Troubles are rearing their ugly head once again in recent months (and I’m of the opinion that such things fundamentally are influenced by economics & austerity won’t help…different subject, maybe).

flyingrodent

Sorry your analysis that the hunger strike gave the Republican movement a “brief bounce” is totally incorrect. I live in Northern Ireland and I am not a Republican supporter, they have allot to answer for. However the election of Bobby Sands was the first time it occurred to the Republican leadership that a political strategy was even an option. Prior to 1981 Sinn Fein was a small abstentionist party that merely served the function of a mouthpiece for the IRA, the political momentum created with Bobby Sand’s election set in motion a political strategy that eventually became so successful that the Republican leadership began to see the armed struggle as a liability. 30 years later Sinn Fein are now the second largest party in Northern Ireland and hold the ministries of education, culture and agriculture as well as deputy first minister, hardly a brief bounce

11. the a&e charge nurse

“Mr Maskey pledged to continue the `proud and strong legacy’ of predecessor Gerry Adams” – didn’t Gerry Adams have a run in with a hunger striker?
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/crime/article7035782.ece

Is there any substance to these accusations or does the desire to avoid our own mini-palestine out weigh all other considerations?

Finbar [6] – do you blame british imperialist for this sort of thing?
http://conflictreport.blogspot.com/2011/04/police-officer-killed-by-ira-dissidents.html

Because even Gerry Adams (when not presenting programmes about Jesus) seems to disapprove of yet more gratuitous violence?
http://conflictreport.blogspot.com/2011/04/police-officer-killed-by-ira-dissidents.html

I’m curious as to why the English left seems to have a soft spot for violent extreme nationalism when it comes with an Irish accent. Or can we expect a guest spot from the the BNP tomorrow?

All the hunger strikes achieved was proof of Gerry Adams political ruthlessness – he allowed those men to die to increase his own profile. Given the final power sharing agreement in NOrthern Ireland s almost identical to one first offered in 1974 its difficult to see what any of the violence and bloodshed unleashed by Sinn Fein’s armed wing – not to discount the bloodthirsty approach of the Loyalists of course – achieved.
Oh and Finbar – you are “Irish” American in the sense that I’m “Danish-British”.

14. ahmed desai

Interesting and thoughtful post.

Didn’t know about the conference til now, but might go along if I get the chance.

As I remember, the hunger strikers demands were effectively for political prisoner status, and they got most of them under the Tories.

But clearly the impact went far wider than that and changed utterly the nature of Irish/British politics.

Sinn Fein don’t often get a look in on the British Left (many of whom don’t mind a bit of armed struggle themselves as long as its Iraqis or Libyans getting killed). So, well done Sunny Hundal.

Flying

A keen student of Irish history, I see. The ‘short-lived publicity’ has actually propelled Sinn Fein to being the 2nd largest party on the island of Ireland.

The old civil rights movement demand for one man(sic), one vote has actually been achieved- the power-sharing arrangments in Stormont puts an end to the Unionist boast that it was “Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people”.

Most of the army forts are gone now too and with them most of the British soldiers, which was never even a demand of the civil rights movement. That was a process but it began with the hunger strikers.

I’m glad this post’s up. I also genuinely think Frank’s right to say that SF’s realisation post-hunger-strikes that nonviolent action was more productive than Blowing The Shit Out Of People was genuinely a path to their current position in Irish politics, both north and south of the border.

Unrelatedly, anyone for a chicken supper?

17. Mr S. Pill

@12

“I’m curious as to why the English left seems to have a soft spot for violent extreme nationalism ”

Please point out where anyone here has demonstrated a “soft spot” for “violent extreme nationalism”.

Oh, you were just trollin’. Righty-ho then.

“I also genuinely think Frank’s right to say that SF’s realisation post-hunger-strikes that nonviolent action was more productive than Blowing The Shit Out Of People was genuinely a path to their current position in Irish politics, both north and south of the border.”

Erm, you do realise they continued to kill hundreds of people after the hunger strikes right? And that the strategy was the “Armalite AND the Ballot Box” rather than just a turn to peaceful politics?

“The old civil rights movement demand for one man(sic), one vote has actually been achieved”

After which PSF was founded. Are you suggesting there is a connection?

I’m slightly confused by the fact the hunger strikes apparently led to Good Friday, since there was a decade of serious armed struggle in between the two processes. However, this would appear to be the sort of self-justifying ideological-historical interpreation that all political movements tend to engage in. Can’t say I believe it, but then again I’m not an Irish nationalist.

752 killings by “Republicans” after 1981. http://www.cain.ulst.ac.uk/sutton/book/index.html#append

I think the point is that the electoral success of the hunger strikers demonstrated that the parliamentary road (if you can call it that) to a united Ireland could work relatively well, and ultimately planted the seeds of doubt that have now resulted in the rejection of violence by mainstream Republicans.

I’m not Irish so it’s not really my struggle to comment on, but I must admit to having a soft spot for anyone fighting for self determination, against monarchy and in opposition to systematic oppression. The realisation by members of the IRA (and other organisations) that violence was not necessarily the solution, however late that came, was a good thing- that was facilitated by the sacrifices of the hunger strikers.

Good post, all in all.

Also, as an aside, the Sinn Fein manifesto in the recent Eire general election was radically progressive and liberal, and I think that they have an opportunity to seize the centre-left ground given the betrayal of Labour.

I think the point is that the electoral success of the hunger strikers demonstrated that the parliamentary road (if you can call it that) to a united Ireland could work relatively well, and ultimately planted the seeds of doubt that have now resulted in the rejection of violence by mainstream Republicans.

This. Also, post-1981, the nature of the mainland campaign definitely shifted from “slaughter as many innocents as possible” (Guildford, Birmingham) to “cause economic havoc with civilian life dispensable but not the main target”. Even Brighton was a targeted assassination attempt, not a planned mass slaughter.

Both Major and Blair deserve shedloads of credit, as do their ROI counterparts, for shifting the process along. Osama Bin Laden also deserves a pat on the back, for finally making the Yanks realise “oh shit, this terrorism thing is actually bad”. Irish pubs in NYC in 2000 versus 2002 featured a notable decline in “money for the boys?” from pretty-much-universal to absolutely-nowhere.

Anyone who thinks that to take 17 years from armed insurrection to party of government is a long time really knows nothing about Northern Ireland. The IRA insurrection was a huge popular uprising, thousands of dedicated fighters (as well as professional people in support roles) were committed to the insurrection and were supported by tens if not hundreds of thousands of ordinary people. Think about the fact that an IRA prisoner could win a Westminster election in 1981. That type of insurrection can’t be just switched off like a light, especially when Loyalist paramilitaries were constantly achieving ever greater levels of barbarity. I am not condoning or supporting the IRA campaign but remember before the 1970’s in Northern Ireland you had to own property to get a vote, Catholics could not get jobs to buy property so they could not vote. Constituencies that had huge Catholic majorities returned Unionist members of Parliament under this grossly undemocratic system and the bubbling resentment of 50 years of this system with hindsight was always going to explode into violence and that violence was going to run its course, not just stop when Sinn Fein realised they could win elections.

BTW, Colm: I kinda thought the allusion in my second para @16 would highlight the fact that I’m not an unequivocal supporter of the republican movement. Trust a Loyalist to have no bloody sense of humour…

“I am not condoning or supporting the IRA campaign”

I’m trying to imagine how your post would differ if you were.

Jimmy, my post was simply a statement of fact. Nothing I described in my opinion justifies the violence. I have lived in northern Ireland for 40 years, 50% of the people killed lived within a mile of my front door, the IRA have killed friends and neighbours of mine and I have more reason to hate them than you but hating them will not help anyone, mutual and realistic understanding of the legitimate grievances of both sides is the way forward. Its all very well sitting in England and passing judgment on the situation but I have to live and bring up children here

John b – I’m not a Loyalist. It is possible to be patriotic towards Ireland but reject that bunch of psychopathic murderers and their apologists.

30. John reid

resisting the Thatcher government’s policy of `criminalisation’

it wasn’t only the Thathcer governemnts policy of criminalisation, every government before and since has had a policy of criminaliation for terrorist activicties, and guess waht the idea taht a terrorist was prepared to kill himself in prsion, isn’t that much different from Sinn Fein I.R.A politicians killing other people, bieng elected to stormont now.

I cannot believe how one-eyed some people’s view of history is – Sinn Fein/IRA are, were and always will be a mish-mash of villains, gangsters and criminals and they will always have connections to each other at senior level.

They spent 25 years blowing up innocent people, decimated British towns with their bombs and bullied their way into the political arena by threatening more.
It is a constitutional rule in Belfast now that Sinn Fein MUST be in the Northern Irish government. Hardly democratic in reality is it?

No Sinn Fein/IRA member can ever be described as a hero any more than the 7/7 bombers or Bin Laden could. Every last one of them is totalitarian filth as far as I’m concerned.

Just gonna point out, Bobby Sands wasn’t convicted for any violent or terrorist acts, but rather possession of firearms. He got 14 years, whereas the average of a unionist terrorist was only a few months.

“Just gonna point out, Bobby Sands wasn’t convicted for any violent or terrorist acts, but rather possession of firearms.”

Presumably on his way to practice for the Olympics.

Desperate.

There is no constitutional rule that sinn fein must be in government. There is a mandatory coalition of those parties who have members elected. If nobody voted for them they wouldn’t be in government. They have a huge mandate but that’s democracy for you

Colm: apologies, I should have gathered that from the name.

Daz P: Jesus. I hate terrorist murderers as much as the next man (I grew up in a town that was famous for a combination of having the town centre blown up by terrorist murderers, and then having the local cops frame a bunch of innocent men because they happened to be about and Irish at the time, so the whole IRA thing is something that’s of Serious Importance rather than Abstract Political Importance to me). But the IRA in the early 1970s were absolutely right that since partition, Northern Ireland had become a semi-apartheid state where Catholics were treated badly. Their tactics for resolving that were wrong – but so was blowing up the King David Hotel, and that doesn’t mean we can’t deal with Israel.

“Nothing I described in my opinion justifies the violence.”

Then I don’t see the relevance. Everyone has grievances. Few resort to murder. You talk about the violence as if it were a discrete party in its own right outside the control of those who perpetrated it. It has nothing to do with hatred, simply accuracy.

Ian – if Sinn Fein get one member elected then that one member must be in the government, yeah? And under a different system, if the Ulster parties and the Alliance wanted to form a coalition and keep them out, what do you think would happen? KABOOM! That’s what would happen.

John – you’re of course right that there were historical injustices towards Catholics in NI and the treatment of the Birmingham Six in particular was disgusting (it’s worth noting that other IRA members actually confessed to the crime while they were in prison). The first half of the piece just suffered from a terrible bout of selective amnesia and was making Gerry Adams out to be Mandela-lite.

In reality the IRA weren’t ‘political prisoners’ they were criminals long after the old and unjust system had gone. They used the threat of terrorism to get murderers released from prison and drive a harder bargain for themselves in the Good Friday agreement. From reading Sunny’s take on it you’d think we had concentration camps on the Uk mainland through the 80s and 90s.

OK, it’s the view of an Irish Republican. That’s how they think. Fair enough.

I urge anyone here to have a listen to a three minute piece Malachi O’Doherty did on a BBC Northern Ireland current affairs programme last night.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006mvyd

On the i-player at 10.30 minutes in.

O’Doherty comes from republican Andersonstown in west Belfast.

It’s about a controversy playing out in Northern Ireland at the moment, about Sinn Fein appointing a government paid advisor to one of their Stormont ministers – salary £78,000.

This woman, Mary McArdle, jailed after an assassination attempt on a local magistarate coming out of sunday mass in 1984 killed his 22 year old daughter instead.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-13625600

Jimmy. Surely you must see that if one section of society for 50 years humiliates another section. denying them jobs, decent housing and the right to vote that violence is going to happen at some point. This is the lesson of human history and violence does take on a momentum and a life if its own and otherwise good people get drawn in. In fact its often the most idealistic. The cynics stay out of it. many of my school friends became terrorists. They started out as good people but got drawn into conflict because of perceived injustice and violence towards their community. If you are suggesting that there is something in the nature of the northern Irish that makes us violent then you are very foolish and a but racist

@Jimmy: I think it’s correct that Bobby Sands was jailed, I was just pointing out that he wasn’t jailed for acts of terrorism- given the treatment of Catholic citizens of Northern Ireland at the time, it doesn’t seem completely unreasonable that he would own weapons, and it seems unreasonable that he was jailed for so long by comparison with unionists who had committed identical crimes.

There are independents and small parties in the northern Ireland executive that aren’t in government. You have to have enough of a mandate to be able to represent one side of the division. That’s what powersharing means. It doesn’t mean everyone is in government

Jesus, we had a fucking Truth & Reconciliation oozit in NI, the whole point is that OF COURSE EVERY CUNT’S BEEN INVOLVED IN BAD THINGS, IT WAS A FUCKING CIVIL WAR. You don’t have to like it, but that’s the way it is.

Although – the first seriously contended (for anywhere in the UK) result of GE2010 to come through was when Naomi Long kicked out Peter Robinson. I cracked open the whisky at that point because FUCK YEAH, A NON-SECTARIAN WIN. Now, if only we could get all the other partners of NI sectarian politicians to shag teenage waiters…

43. the a&e charge nurse

[39] “violence is going to happen at some point” – yes, I suppose sadistic and indiscriminate violence was inevitable, but I’m less sure about the impulse to revisionism, especially the tendency to whitewash these atrocities as the deeds of brave and thoughtful men.

The a&e charge nurse
Totally agree I’m just trying to provide context for the causes of violence. I totally think that sinn fein are trying to sanitise the past and it is cynical and hurtful to victims

John, totally agree that more non-sectarian members of the assembly go a long way towards some stability
http://outspokenrabbit.blogspot.com/

“Surely you must see that if one section of society for 50 years humiliates another section. denying them jobs, decent housing and the right to vote that violence is going to happen at some point.”

In this case the point in time being immediately after the complaints were addressed. Murder is a conscious moral choice. You make it sound like weather.

47. jack the hat

“denying them jobs, decent housing and the right to vote”
Look can we nail this once and for all as this myth of Catholics not being able to vote seems never to die. Nobody was ever denied the right to vote in Northern Ireland, and the procedures for voting for Westminster and Stormont elections were the same as everywhere in the UK. In local elections the property qualification, abolished in the rest of the UK in 1945, remained, which, it was argued, generally favoured Protestants although there were areas like Newry where it certainly favoured Catholics. In any case it was abolished in 1970 so the idea that it could justify a subsequent 30 years of violence is somewhat far fetched (as is the idea that blowing people up will bring jobs and decent housing to anybody). Haven’t you ever wondered how two IRA men got elected to the Westminster parliament in the 1950s if Catholics couldn’t vote?

@1 Flying Rodent & others

It seems to me you’re being a bit parochial in your analysis of the effect of the hunger strikes. They had a significant impact in Ireland and the wider world even if we were just fed bollocks about “The oxygen of publicity” here in Britain.

I have been dismayed at the recent attacks in Northern Ireland and, remembering the bad days of the 70s, I’m very glad they are in the past.

However the analysis in the OP that the struggle was principally democratic is an attempt to whitewash the criminality that benefitted from the troubles and still plagues the region. What proportion of the factions were just crooks rather than political fighters is moot, but there were lots of them.

I have read this thread and the revisionist stuff that appears in this thread and I have to be honest, with most of, I find myself cringing with utter disbelief.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the British involvement in Ireland, so before we all start with the whataboutry stchick, lets all assume that every thing from the present day to Oliver Cromwell has been read into the record? The IRA were not insurrectionists, freedom fighters or even terrorists, they were murderers, kidnappers and extortionists. Irrespective of the cause they had they were killing for the hell of it. I would not tolerate anyone bombing pubs or streets under any circumstances, not the IRA, UDA, IDF the British Army, the American Army, the Libyan army, Contra rebels, the Taliban or anyone else for that matter indiscriminately bombing civilian targets.

I consider it wrong for Blair/Bush/Obamha to fire/drop weapons into civilian areas and the fact that these people have done terrible acts of violence does not excuse any other attack of a similar nature.

If we want to condemn senseless killing by the ruling elites, we really need to look at what we really stand for.

I have to say, sometimes (well more than sometimes, actually) the Left can make fucking arses of themselves. There is nothing ‘progressive’ in bombing a pub full of people, no matter if it was done from an F-17, Mig or a hold-all.

50. flyingrodent

Hmm, okay, I was wrong not to note that the hunger strikes pushed SF down the road to political negotiations, which is good. Was that the plan? I didn’t think it was, I forget.

This seems like as good an opportunity to post this clip from The Day Today, made back when the government decreed that the voices of SF representatives had to be dubbed on TV, presumably in case Gerry Adams’ hypnotic tones converted the populace o the Terrorism en masse via the power of suggestion…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6UhXivPyw4

God I miss The Day Today. Where is such brilliant satire in these most needy times?

Ireland will be united one day, and there is nothing the tory English can do about it. Just in the same way that the English where kicked out of Africa and India, and all the other colonies they will eventfully withdrawal from Northern Ireland. The partitioning of Ireland was never going to be a permanent solution, and the demographics will eventfully do for the Unionists. It may take another 100 years but it will happen.

However the idea of partician has been taken on by the tories in their policies to public services. Allow a minority to opt themselves out. Then Ring fence them, so a minority becomes a majority in a gerrymandered boundary and then scream democracy.

53. flyingrodent

To be honest Sally, I think it’s half of Northern Ireland’s population that are especially keen on the nation remaining British. Westminster isn’t overly concerned one way or the other, I think.

Maybe now yes, but that has not always been the case.

Many in the UK had to be dragged kicking and screaming to give back most of Ireland to the Irish. And most tories 30 years ago would never have agreed. So things have moved on. Britain has now admitted that it has no interest over Northern Ireland ,which is just another piece of the jigsaw being put in place.

That is why I say it will happen, but not yet.

The property qualification had the effect of denying nationalists representation. You had a situation in Derry where 10 people might have lived in a rented house but the vote went to the protestant landlord. this is not a myth this is what happened. Nothing I have posted has been to excuse the IRA or to revise history, as I said earlier the IRA brought nothing but pain and misery to my community but acknowledging what lead to the violence is paramount to learning the lessons. The suggestion that it was just “for the hell of it” is an insult and displays a depressing ignorance for a conflict that your country was involved with for a generation. Does not show much hope got Afghanistan.

“The property qualification had the effect of denying nationalists representation.”

Not really. Nicholas Whyte has done some number crunching on this and was surprised to discover that more protestants than catholics were denied votes in council elections on this basis (the only elections in which the rule applied). Unionist control of Derry was maintained by rigging the ward boundaries. Of course both of these issues had been addressed before the provos were even formed, so again the relevance is unclear.

Ian @ 55

The suggestion that it was just “for the hell of it” is an insult and displays a depressing ignorance for a conflict that your country was involved with for a generation. Does not show much hope got Afghanistan.

That is beyond a joke! An insult? A fucking insult!!!! Really, I am sorry I meant no insult to the people who planted bombs in pubs and burger chains or to the high spiritted chaps who slaughtered a yong boy buying his mother a Mothers Day
card and endless other repugnant killings. How thoughtless of me, imagine my shame in using such ill chosen words. God forbid that I have to see the glorious achievements blowing up a pub.

The only depressing ignorance I see are those who feel we need to label murder of thousands of people as anything other than mass murder.

Ian @ 55

The suggestion that it was just “for the hell of it” is an insult and displays a depressing ignorance for a conflict that your country was involved with for a generation. Does not show much hope got Afghanistan.

That is beyond a joke! An insult? A fucking insult!!!! Really, I am sorry I meant no insult to the people who planted bombs in pubs and burger chains or to the high spiritted chaps who slaughtered a yong boy buying his mother a Mothers Day
card and endless other repugnant killings. How thoughtless of me, imagine my shame in using such ill chosen words. God forbid that I have failed to see the glorious achievements blowing up a pub.

The only depressing ignorance I see are those who feel we need to label murder of thousands of people as anything other than mass murder.

“Nothing I have posted has been to excuse the IRA or to revise history, as I said earlier the IRA brought nothing but pain and misery to my community but acknowledging what lead to the violence is paramount to learning the lessons.”

Absolutely! But very few on the Mainland have any idea at the South African aprtied policies that the Protestants enforced on the Catholics.

You got a vote for being a Protestant. You got a vote for being a protestant Minister, you got a vote for being a protestant business owner. etc etc.

Even if those numbers are right the intention of property restrictions were to minimise nationalist representation. And councils had allot of power in those days, particularity in allocating housing which discriminated against catholics and was a huge civil rights issue and the reason why public housing in northern Ireland is still administered by a quango

“Of course both of these issues had been addressed before the provos were even formed, so again the relevance is unclear.”

The voice of the complacent moron.

Ian, you’re quite right about the discrimination issue. This led to popular and very effective civil rights campaign which had secured its demands before the provos came into existence. You seem to be buying into their revisionist narrative that hey had something to do with civil rights when nothing could be further from the truth.

Jim, your saying that people in northern Ireland are somehow psychopathic by nature and that is in insult. All the things you mention are truly horrible and I do not defend them or glorify them and if that’s the point you think I’m making then I haven’t made myself clear enough. All I’m saying is that in a civil conflict people get drawn into violence through fear and anger at the atrocities of the “other side” and otherwise good people do terrible things. If we do not learn this lesson we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes

Jimmy,
The northern Ireland state reacted to the civil rights marches with total brutality. That’s why the British army was deployed originally, to protect the catholics who were getting ‘ideas above their station’

“That’s why the British army was deployed originally, to protect the catholics who were getting ‘ideas above their station’”

Indeed, but I don’t see how this supports your theory that the people shooting at these soldiers were motivated by civil rights concerns.

66. Richard W

The whole idea of sovereignty is a bit of a nebulous concept for small nations like Ireland. Even though formally independent from the UK, Ireland was never de facto independent from the UK. As part of the British isles most of their trade continues to be with the UK. Even after independence London monetary policy was Irish monetary policy because they were part of the sterling zone using the punt as medium of exchange until joining the eurozone.

The financial crisis and the fallout from the eurozone sov. debt crisis has exposed sovereignty as being rather empty. A hunger strike to become a ward of the ECB does not seem much of an advance to me. Moreover, I think senior Irish policymakers have been quite shocked and dismayed at how they have been treated by the European institutions. Over the next few years, Ireland will have to decide whether to exit the EZ or formally cede sovereignty to an EU fiscal transfer mechanism. If in the future the north joined up with the south would not be as much a leap as it would have been in the past as it would be a sovereign state in name only. The proposal with cross party support for NI to be able to cut corporation tax to the same level as the south is a step along the way to them becoming more alike.

67. Mr S. Pill

@66

Sure, but don’t forget only a decade or so ago the same people bashing Ireland now were lauding it as a success story, “Celtic tiger” and all that. Which isn’t to disagree with the main thrust of your argument, only that (to use that oft’ quoted phrase) it’s the economy … that decides whether a nation Is or Isn’t sovereign.

FWIW I think the globalised economy is so interconnected that any notion of sovereignty must come with important caveats – Britain herself is entwined with the EU, NATO, the UN, etc etc etc. Point being it’s not Ireland-specific.

Jimmy
The anger over civil rights and the heavy handed reaction by the state caused a critical mass which was harnessed and exploited by the IRA. Mistakes by the army like bloody Sunday didn’t help and by this time a cycle of violence was spinning out of control

Ian @ 63

Jim, your saying that people in northern Ireland are somehow psychopathic by nature and that is in insult

The law of averages would suggest that some people in Northern Ireland are psychopaths, the same as everywhere else. BTW I live in Scotland and you never have to go far to find an arsehole here, either. There are people drawn to mindless violence in every community on the planet. Some people via football, others as part of a wider gang culture and still others are drawn into violence simply because they enjoy causing suffering, be it cats, dogs or people. In Northern Ireland it was the troubles and the troubles were deadly. No-one needs to be told right from wrong, not in Ireland either, because murder was a lot more common there because of the troubles, not because of the Irish are more problematic than anywhere else. You are not telling me that , nice decent men and women suddenly became murders because of ‘The cause’? My best guess ids that nasty people are always looking for a way to express violence.

Both sides in Ireland have their nutters and I am sure that more than enough psychopaths have joined the army over the years and I am certian than some of those enjoyed committing acts of violence in Northern Ireland too.

I find the idea that these ‘freedom fighters’ were all nice boys who would have joined the boy scouts and tied knots where it not been for the troubles rather silly. These people were always detatched nutters and would have found other, if less deadly, outlets for their violence.

Tell me the thugs who used to be in one group or the other, Loyalist or Republican, have all just melded away into the background? I am sure that many of them are still thugs that cock a snook at civil society and would happily torch a house, baseball an enemy or whatever. As I said, I live in Central Scotland which is not a million miles away from Belfast, in cultural terms. I know what has happened to groups of Loyalists and Republicians here. They are basically street gangs with the same mentality as other street gangs.

70. jack the hat

“Even if those numbers are right the intention of property restrictions were to minimise nationalist representation.”
Yes, but even if one accepts that it didn’t have that effect, and in councils like Newry where nationalists dominated no Protestants were employed or given council housing – in fact Newry’s record of discrimination in the early 1960s was far worse than anything in Derry, there was something like 2 Protestants in council housing and 0 on the council payroll (or perhaps the other way round, my source is Marc Mulholland’s book I think). In any case, I reiterate, the idea that this system, abolished in 1970, could justify killing people for up to 30 years later would be considered utterly ludicrous anywhere else in Europe.
“You got a vote for being a Protestant. You got a vote for being a protestant Minister, you got a vote for being a protestant business owner. etc etc.”
Sally, where do you get this nonsense? What is your basis for this twaddle?

Would that Sean Oliver and Alix Maskey, among many others, had followed where Bobby Sands led. While what he did was wrong, at least others didn’t die with him.

This piece must add some new definition of ‘liberal’.

Next week on Lib Con – “The David Copeland I Knew”.

72. Charlieman

Returning to the argument about “ten republican prisoners died resisting the Thatcher government’s policy of `criminalisation’”.

All governments treat people who bully, thieve, shoot and bomb as criminals.

The IRA/SF argued that shooters and bombers in the 1970s and 1980s should have been considered as political prisoners (ie as exceptional criminals). That argument didn’t suffice because IRA/SF did not indulge in public debate or in electoral politics.

Concurrently with the hunger strike, IRA/SF had a freak opportunity to enter electoral politics at a parliamentary by-election in a constituency that Irish Nationalists should win. The SDLP did not stand at that by-election.

It was political engagement what won it. Winning an election transformed perceptions within IRA/SF.

The hunger strikers came to agreement with prison management about political status. IRA/SF engaged with UK poliicians. Loyalist politicians contributed to the compromise. And Loyalist and Nationalist shooters and bombers were released from prison on licence.

All of this would have happened eventually. But the root cause (of where we are now) was the decision by the SDLP to stand aside and permit Bobby Sands to be the singular Nationalist candidate at an unexpected by-election.

73. Chaise Guevara

@ 72 Charlieman

“The IRA/SF argued that shooters and bombers in the 1970s and 1980s should have been considered as political prisoners (ie as exceptional criminals). That argument didn’t suffice because IRA/SF did not indulge in public debate or in electoral politics”

I’m not entering the debate about the Troubles because I freely admit my ignorance on the subject. However, quick question: is the standard you set above for valid political prisoner status supposed to be universal or specific to the conditions in Ireland? Because it’s entirely possible for people to be in a situation where electoral politics are barred to them (or non-existent) and entering public debate invites a bullet in the head.

74. So Much For Subtlety

“Indeed, it is an astonishing contrast – the then seemingly intractable and bloody with the power sharing arrangements and forward moving political process today.”

Indeed it is. And a remarkable testament to the fact that people like Bobby Sands had to be defeated for it to work. After all, where would Sands’ politics be today? Well his sister’s husband ran the RIRA so I think we can have a good guess.

“The hunger strike, in which ten republican prisoners died resisting the Thatcher government’s policy of `criminalisation’ was in itself an incredible act, which shone an international spotlight on the regime of brutality and horror inside the H-blocks.”

No, it was not a Thatcher government policy of criminalisation. It was the fact that they were criminals. People who murder innocent civilians are usually treated as the criminals they are as a matter of fact. Brutality and horror inside H-block? You mean Britain was shown to run one of the most humane prisons in the world – no one was fed to pigs for a start. Which is more than you can say of how the PIRA/SF treated their prisoners. Where is the body of Robert Nairac for instance?

“What was fundamentally a democratic struggle in Ireland – beginning with the demand for civil rights and ultimately the right to self-determination”

Well no. It was and is, in fact, a denial of the right of the people of Northern Ireland to exercise their own right of self determination. The majority of the people of Northern Ireland wish to be part of the United Kingdom. The PIRA and SF sought to deny them their rights. As they are continuing to do so.

“Internationally there are parallel lessons. The resonance of the hunger strike in the Middle East, Latin America, South Africa, the Black movements in the US and elsewhere was no accident. Progressive struggles share some common principles.”

I see. That is why the PIRA sent people to Columbia to teach FARC how to make mortars that they have since used to blow up Churches full of refugees?

I must say, I find the public veneration of the hunger strikers in Belfast to be a bit overbearing. I’ve been living here for a year, and to get to the Falls road on foot like I did yesterday, I have to first walk through the loyalist area called ”The Village”.
When I get back home to Lisburn Road after a trip to the Falls I always feel a bit deflated.
The two communities that lie either side if the M1 motorway, are completely socially divided. Even walking from one to the other could be dangerous in times of tension – like last July. As someone might ask you what you were doing ”over there”.

But in recent years, republicans seem to have gone out of their way to mark out their territory in the form of murals and permenant memorials to the IRA.
For example, this memorial garden which is now completed. Very close to the Broadway roundabout, and opposite a shopping centre that is used by people from both the communities.
http://saoirse32.blogsome.com/2009/02/09/ira-memorial-to-be-erected-on-peaceline/

And this one on the Falls road looks like the last supper or something.
http://0.tqn.com/d/goireland/1/0/b/F/-/-/belfast_murals_hunger_strikers.jpg

And of course the Bobby Sands one that all the tourists stop to take photos of, which has the words underneath that he was a ”Poet, Irish speaker, revolutionary, IRA volunteer”.
And his line that ”Our revenge will be the laughter of our children”.
I can’t help thinking that it sounds like a cult.

didn’t Michael Fassbender look thin. Terrible wasn’t it.

77. So Much For Subtlety

25. Ian – “The IRA insurrection was a huge popular uprising, thousands of dedicated fighters (as well as professional people in support roles) were committed to the insurrection and were supported by tens if not hundreds of thousands of ordinary people.”

The population of Northern Ireland is about 1.6 million. So by your reckoning some one percent of the population even supported the PIRA?

Not exactly a huge popular uprising is it?

“Think about the fact that an IRA prisoner could win a Westminster election in 1981.”

I’m thinking. And what I am mostly thinking is how much people around here at LC ought to have supported the British government rather than the PIRA. Given the PIRA’s friends. Given those friends we can make a guess at what sort of politics they would have imposed on Ireland. Their good friend Gaddafi would not have allowed a mouth piece for anti-Libyan terrorism into Parliament. Nor would their main trainer and funder in the USSR. Nor do their good friends in Cuba.

“That type of insurrection can’t be just switched off like a light, especially when Loyalist paramilitaries were constantly achieving ever greater levels of barbarity.”

Greater levels of barbarity? The PIRA killed roughly twice the number of people all the Loyalist groups did put together. Could you expand on that comment a little if you don’t mind? Did the Loyalists kill any grandmothers for giving a cup of tea to a British soldier at the PIRA did? Did they force anyone to become a suicide bomber as the PIRA did? Did they feed anyone to pigs as the PIRA did? Are they still refusing to tell the relatives where the bodies are buried as the PIRA is?

“I am not condoning or supporting the IRA campaign”

Of course not.

“but remember before the 1970?s in Northern Ireland you had to own property to get a vote, Catholics could not get jobs to buy property so they could not vote.”

Sorry but this is rubbish. Catholics were mostly employed. They also mostly owned their own homes.

“Constituencies that had huge Catholic majorities returned Unionist members of Parliament under this grossly undemocratic system and the bubbling resentment of 50 years of this system with hindsight was always going to explode into violence and that violence was going to run its course, not just stop when Sinn Fein realised they could win elections.”

One or two regions with Catholic majorities had gerrymandered boundaries that returned Protestant town councils. Londonderry noticably. So what? You think this justifies murdering Jean McConville? Because, after all, the present electoral boundaries in the UK deny the Tories equal votes. Time for them to blow up some council workers, some passers by and God knows who else?

78. So Much For Subtlety

28. Ian – “50% of the people killed lived within a mile of my front door”

That would be kind of hard to do. The two areas with the largest death tolls in the Troubles were North Belfast with 576 deaths and West Belfast with 623. If you lived right on the border of those two areas, that would only be about 1,200 deaths. Assuming that every single one of those deaths occurred within a mile of the divide between them.

When the death toll for the Troubles as a whole is over 3,500.

So where do you live then?

79. Charlieman

@73. Chaise Guevara: “However, quick question: is the standard you set above for valid political prisoner status supposed to be universal or specific to the conditions in Ireland?”

I dunno, Chaise, and I reckon it is worthy of an academic thesis. Quick non-academic answer: the NI response to criminality and terrorism worked for them/us; perhaps the recent terrorist events in NI should worry them/us and the concordat will be challenged.

Universal treatment of self-proclaimed political prisoners? Dunno, again, because it takes a lot of thought. Organisations like Amnesty International represent self-proclaimed political prisoners alongside individuals who merely spoke their mind. But Amnesty International is not a reconciliation organisation.

80. flyingrodent

@Laban – Next week on Lib Con – “The David Copeland I Knew”.

Not next week on UK Commentators – “How Much It Sucks To Have British Soldiers Rampaging Around Your Country For The Best Part Of a Thousand Years”.

I don’t mean much by that but to point out that there are multiple viewpoints, and many shades of grey.

An important insight is that the politics of Northern Ireland revolves around the outcome of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 between two rival claimants to the throne:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Boyne

Another important insight, which helps to explain why the majority of residents in Northern Ireland have shown little inclination to become citizens of the Republic of Ireland, is that the Catholic Church only exonerated Galileo in 1992 for publicising his theory that the earth circles around the sun instead of the sun revolving round the earth, which was the official doctrine of the Catholic Church when Galileo was sentenced to house arrest in 1633 for heresy:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/galilei_galileo.shtml

So much for subtlety
Nowhere have I attempted to justify the IRA so listing their atrocities is missing the point. I was making the point that when violence spirals out of control ordinary people get sucked into the fighting. Often cynically manipulated by their paramilitary leaders of course. Trading republican and loyalist atrocities is also pointless, the fact is the conflict became more bloody on both sides and cycles of violence inevitably spiral downwards. I don’t see why you think this is a contentious point. I grew up in north Belfast by three way

37 ,38 well said

40 he wasnt jailed for terrorism, no he just held guns for non terrrist purposes.

84. So Much For Subtlety

82. Ian – “Nowhere have I attempted to justify the IRA so listing their atrocities is missing the point.”

As others have pointed out it is hard to imagine what a justification would look like if you think this isn’t. And it is not missing the point. You are minimising the horror of the PIRA and talking up the crimes of the Loyalists. Which is not, of course, apologetics in any shape or form. It is worth pointing out that most, and most of the worst, abuses came from the PIRA.

“I was making the point that when violence spirals out of control ordinary people get sucked into the fighting.”

Without any conscious decision on their part I suppose? How precisely do people get sucked into anything except by making a conscious choice to murder? And to justify said murderers?

Nor was that your point.

85. john Reid

77. so much for, well said

“I don’t see why you think this is a contentious point.”

I suspect it’s because most of us believe people are responsible for their own actions. They don’t just “happen”. If you (I assume) chose not to murder why do you insist that that choice was not open to others?

So much for
People made conscience choices to murder of course and despite the fact you don’t believe me I an not apologising for them. However choices aren’t made in a vacuum, violence breeds more violence, people don’t make rational choices when the whole culture around them legitimates conflict, when they are reeling from the impact of atrocities inflicted upon their communities. This was true of the working class of both sides. You may not like hearing this but you cannot deny my experience, I’ve seen many good people turn to violence who would not have done so in a normal society. If we do not learn that lesson then we have leant nothing. Also nowhere have I talked down the atrocities of the IRA and loyalist atrocities don’t need to be talked up.

Returning to the argument about “ten republican prisoners died resisting the Thatcher government’s policy of `criminalisation’”.

All governments treat people who bully, thieve, shoot and bomb as criminals.

I can only wish this were true. Most governments treat them as ‘enemy combatants’, not as criminals, because then you can use the army against them. With criminals you have to use the police. Recent events involving the USA should provide a clue to how, and why, it is in a government’s interest to not have to obey their own rules of law, justice and due process when dealing with armed people it doesn’t like.

The military occupation of Northern Ireland makes it pretty clear that the British government saw the IRA as a military rather than criminal opponent. Thatcher was trying to change that, and was more or less right to do so. Had they continued to be framed as a military opponent in the popular narrative, Mo Mowlam would probably have failed.

89. So Much For Subtlety

87. Ian – “People made conscience choices to murder of course and despite the fact you don’t believe me I an not apologising for them.”

So they weren’t hapless victims who were “sucked in”. They made a choice. And no one believes you’re not apologising for them. No one.

“However choices aren’t made in a vacuum, violence breeds more violence, people don’t make rational choices when the whole culture around them legitimates conflict, when they are reeling from the impact of atrocities inflicted upon their communities.”

Sorry but this is not merely bollocks, it is offensive bollocks. Those members of the PIRA came out of Catholic schools run by a Church that openly and loudly condemned what the PIRA did. To the extent that in the old days mere membership of the IRA meant automatic excommunication. Their culture told them clearly that terrorism was wrong. They rejected the values of their own community – a community that by and large did not vote for them or any other party of violence until they renounced said violence.

Atrocities? Perhaps you might like to start listing all the countries in the world that offer their own people as many rights as the Catholics of Northern Ireland had in 1968. Can we agree not one single country in Africa does so with the possible minor exception of South Africa?

“You may not like hearing this but you cannot deny my experience, I’ve seen many good people turn to violence who would not have done so in a normal society.”

If by the “culture around them” that normalises violence you mean the Republican self-pitying heartless and utterly ruthless approval of terrorism, you may have a point. Most normal societies do not make such people into heroes.

90. So Much For Subtlety

88. John Q. Publican – “Most governments treat them as ‘enemy combatants’, not as criminals, because then you can use the army against them. With criminals you have to use the police.”

The PIRA were part of the 1968 generation turned violent that was common across Europe. You are claiming most European governments did not treat their own terrorists as criminals? Because I could have sworn Baader and Meinhoff did time in real prisons. As have the few Red Brigade members captured in Italy. As has the one just released in Brazil. As are those members of November 17 caught in Greece. In fact nowhere can I think of offhand did a European government use the Army against their own domestic terrorists. Even Spain, which jails ETA members, used policemen to staff their own death squads I seem to remember. I might be wrong.

Apart from Britain.

“The military occupation of Northern Ireland makes it pretty clear that the British government saw the IRA as a military rather than criminal opponent. Thatcher was trying to change that, and was more or less right to do so. Had they continued to be framed as a military opponent in the popular narrative, Mo Mowlam would probably have failed.”

And yet Thatcher also sent the Paras and SAS after the PIRA. They were clearly given shoot to kill orders – as if they were illegal combatants, not criminals. So her record is actually a little mixed.

Damon – “But in recent years, republicans seem to have gone out of their way to mark out their territory in the form of murals and permenant memorials to the IRA.
For example, this memorial garden which is now completed. Very close to the Broadway roundabout, and opposite a shopping centre that is used by people from both the communities.”

As Ross pointed out in relation to the Queen’s visit to a Dublin memorial garden, isn’t that in direct contravention of the Terrorism Act 2006 which prohibits the glorification of terrorism?

There seems to be one law for us (including Muslims) and one for them here – similar to the process by which Labour made foreign donations to political parties illegal (e.g. US donations to Tories), EXCEPT for Northern Irish parties (i.e. US donations to SF/IRA).

You get the impression that SF/IRA are trying to impose/reinforce some kind of cultural hegemony in the same way that everyone from third world (and Marxist) dictators to those great Victorians do – plenty of monumental architecture everywhere.

Rodent – “How Much It Sucks To Have British Soldiers Rampaging Around Your Country For The Best Part Of a Thousand Years”.

Didn’t do history, did you?

a) Britain came into existence IIRC in 1703.
b) the conquest of Ireland was carried out by Normans – just like the conquest of England and Wales. Seems a little unfair to equate their men with a three-year old in a Warrington shopping centre.
c) for most of Irish history soldiers weren’t rampaging anywhere. My wife’s grandparents weren’t pressganged into the Royal Navy.
d) the whole history is somewhat nuanced. From the coverage of Cromwell’s campaigns, for example, you’d never guess that half the victims massacred at Drogheda were English, both Catholic and Protestant, fighting alongside Irish soldiers, also both Catholic and Protestant.

So much for subtlety
As the name you have chosen suggests you make a very glib point. The suggestion that the conflict that engulfed our society and killed one in every four hundred of our population was caused because some people are just bad is incredibly naive. It is perhaps how you would explain the situation to a small child though I don’t think that my seven year old daughter would buy it. thankfully most people in northern Ireland do have a grasp of the subtlties around the situation and know how conflict is both caused and perpetuated. If they didn’t we wouldn’t have a peace process.

Ian @ 87

I don’t think you are defending the IRA for a second and even if I accept that otherwise decent people can become inflamed and become desentivsed to violence. I do not believe that every American conscripted into Vietnam started of as psychotic killers, even if some of them became so and committed some of the worse War Crimes ever seen on the planet.

You could argue that American soldiers who join the army today come from one of the most violent cultures the planet has ever seen and it is only natural that they become responsible for acts of ferocious brutally when posted overseas.

However, we need to accept that these actions are totally unacceptable to anyone and when we lionise people who commit acts of indiscriminate violence, we will only further legitimise the violence in our culture. Perhaps some of them did not start out as psychotic killers, but they sure as hell become so. Again, this is where I came in to this debate, too many people, not you I hasten to add, have attempted suggest that the IRA (this thread is about the IRA) where other than extremely violent thugs.

Perhaps the IRA were instrumental in bringing about a peace process, but a ‘strong and proud’ tradition? No way. They are no more responsible for peace in Northern Ireland than Stephen Lawrence’s killers are responsible for the Metropolitan police’s brief transformation post McPherson.

94. So Much For Subtlety

92. Ian – “The suggestion that the conflict that engulfed our society and killed one in every four hundred of our population was caused because some people are just bad is incredibly naive.”

A good thing I did not make that suggestion. Although it is a very common reason cited by people on your side – explain to me precisely why the Northern Irish government treated Catholics the way it did pre-Civil Rights and why they responded as they did to those Marches without falling into a dressed up version of just that argument.

For the record I think it was caused by a Republican culture of self-pity, utter mercilessness, hatred and even more self pity, coupled with changes to the economy of the West that created more demand for intellectuals with a University level education without giving them a larger share of power, and finally by the post-War Baby Boom that created a much larger than average generation of young men coming of age around 1965-1970. Oh, and a Soviet Union willing to arm and train them to murder innocent civilians while providing even more doctrine to justify them doing so.

“thankfully most people in northern Ireland do have a grasp of the subtlties around the situation and know how conflict is both caused and perpetuated. If they didn’t we wouldn’t have a peace process.”

I doubt it. Or the SDLP would still be a significant force. We have a peace process because the PIRA was old, tired and afraid, while the British government was spineless and willing to appease.

95. So Much For Subtlety

93. Jim – ” do not believe that every American conscripted into Vietnam started of as psychotic killers, even if some of them became so and committed some of the worse War Crimes ever seen on the planet.”

And thus Jim rules himself out of any sensible adult conversation.

“You could argue that American soldiers who join the army today come from one of the most violent cultures the planet has ever seen and it is only natural that they become responsible for acts of ferocious brutally when posted overseas.”

You could but you would have to be an utterly ignorant buffoon to do so. The US has a moderate murder rate compared to the rest of the world – vastly less so than Jamaica or South Africa for instance. By all means, claim Jamaica has a violent culture.

SMFS @90:

The PIRA were part of the 1968 generation turned violent that was common across Europe.

The PIRA were part of an organisation founded in 1916 as the Irish Repulican Army to launch an anti-colonial revolt. The fact that the organisation changed from primarily targeting hard, or military, targets to primarily targeting soft, or civilian, targets in the 1960s and 1970s cannot be denied. But you can’t figure the IRA as part of a movement which was a) triggered by cold-war totalitarianism and b) post-dated the IRA by forty or fifty years, any more than you can blame the failure of the Chartists in 1848 on Louis Napoleon.

In fact nowhere can I think of offhand did a European government use the Army against their own domestic terrorists. […]

Apart from Britain.

and then

And yet Thatcher also sent the Paras and SAS after the PIRA. They were clearly given shoot to kill orders – as if they were illegal combatants, not criminals. So her record is actually a little mixed.

Now we seem to be arriving on the same page. Point one: the Irish, by their own claim, were not domestic terrorists from the POV of Great Britain. They were a colonised foreign population. Point two, yes, Thatcher treated them as whichever was most convenient to her. When she got in, they were definitely armed combatants, and there was a full-blown military occupation of the region in question.

The move towards treating them as criminals didn’t work immediately. But it did eventually shift the Overton window of the entire Irish Question. Also, note, I do not think it was the sole, or even one of the major, reasons the Overton window shifted, but it did. As I recall it, in the mid-80s the IRA were discussed in the media as a guerrilla army, in the same terms as the rebels in Angola or the Tamil Tigers. By the end of Major’s administration the terms were very much those of court reporting rather than war reporting.

Lastly, I apologise if my attempt to be clever failed. I was using the phrasing of the original comment to pass a commentary on how things have changed, and why, in the creation of the War on Terror. My aim was to suggest that we should still, now, be treating terrorists as criminals, and a matter for policing, rather than as an invisible army and a matter for invasions.

97. flyingrodent

@Laban

a) Britain came into existence IIRC in 1703.

Not to be pedantic, but “Britain” is a ruddy great island off the north of Europe, west of Ireland. Britain is the territory that was invaded by Claudius. “The United Kingdom” OTOH is a more recent political entity. And, 1707, wasn’t it?

“British” cuts it because both England and Scotland campaigned in Ireland, often very bloodily indeed, prior to the Act of Union.

the whole history is somewhat nuanced.

Indeed it is, and the recent history of Ireland is a bit more nuanced than just some bastards blowing up kids in shopping centres.

98. flyingrodent

“East” of Ireland, Jesus. Even 10:53 is too early for me on a Saturday.

So much for
Finally we hear your analysis of the causes of conflict instead of just throwing quotes and insults at people. “self pity” that’s it!! That’s why the troubles happened. There is not a student of history in the world that would not think this was an incredible appraisal of the causes of conflict. You make allot of assumptions about my “side”. I do not have a side unless you count the working class of Belfast. I am a working class Belfast protestant. I am not an Irish republican, although I am a British republican and I am a member of the labour party. The good people I talked about who got sucked into violence were loyalists who had witnessed children blown up by IRA bombs and wanted to strike back. Jim 93 is quite right nobody is born a psychopath and to explain and understand is not the same as condoning. Lucky people who think like you are fading away as can be seen by the collapse of the Ulster unionist vote since they moved to a line position.

100. John reid

47 well said paul

59, the rights protestants had on voting additionally ,were changed nearly 90 yearsa go.

I think I can agree with the sentiments of this piece, and I think that, from a pragmatic point of view, there needs to be a willingness to overlook the tragedies of the past but none of that will ever change my opinion of the IRA, the Ulster militia, and their associated political parties (especially Sinn Fein) as anything other than an unrepentant bunch of terrorists who are both directly and indirectly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent people. In an ideal world all of them would be imprisoned for the rest of their days.

@ 96:

I’m not quite sure I follow your argument. You seem to be claiming that, because the British Army was used to keep order in Northern Ireland, the British saw NI as a colony rather than a part of the UK proper. But surely it’s more likely that the army was simply used becaused that seemed like the best way of keeping order? Governments have been known to declare martial law in their own countries.

John 100
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/recent/troubles/the_troubles_article_01.shtml

Something wrong with your maths if you think this was 90 years ago

Of course, the most sickening thing to my mind, is that one of the outcomes of the Good Friday Agreement was the release of the people who’d murdered people on the streets of my own town, only for them then to be hailed as “our Nelson Mandelas” by Gerry Adams.

105. Charlieman

@88. John Q. Publican: “Most governments treat them as ‘enemy combatants’, not as criminals, because then you can use the army against them.”

I agree that my statement about criminalisation was too general. As noted above, however, other countries have treated domestic terrorists as criminals.

In the case of NI, criminalisation failed because Nationalists and rationalists had no faith in the police force. The army were sent over because NI policing didn’t work. I have absolutely no idea what this was meant to achieve or how it was intended to improve policing or community relations.

IRA/SF eventually became political people rather than a military or a criminal threat. That was when a political settlement became real.

Send in the army is an unusual but very British response to problems. When fire officers strike, send in the army. When there was an outbreak of foot and mouth disease, FFS, the army were sent in. I have great admiration for the varied talents of the armed forces but I do not believe that disease control is one of their strengths.

I’m a little concerned that the timeline of events in NI has become muddled in this thread. Civil rights protests arose in the mid/late1960s and the army was deployed in August 1969. IRA bomb attacks started in the 1970s and tailed off after the Thatcher years. Tailing off coincided with informal political talks with IRA/SF. I acknowledge that my own recollection of the timeline may be flawed.

Oh, and welcome back to LC, JQP.

Charlieman
You are mostly right. The civil rights movement did rise in the sixties and the troubles began in 69 but the two are connected. The IRA manipulated the politicization of the nationalist community during the civil rights movement and the heavy response of the northern Irish state played into their hand. Also don’t forget that bloody Sunday in 72 happened during a civil rights march. It was after bloody Sunday that support for the IRA went from the fringes of working class nationalism to the core.

Laban – ”As Ross pointed out in relation to the Queen’s visit to a Dublin memorial garden, isn’t that in direct contravention of the Terrorism Act 2006 which prohibits the glorification of terrorism?”
That’s a step too far for me, and what Kevin Myers has written about 1916 is a bit beyond my understanding. It also complicates this thread too much.
I recently read Myers book ”Watching the Door – Cheating Death in 1970s Belfast” and it’s a rollocking good read, if somethimes seemingly far fetched.
But fair play for him being there then.

I was in east Belfast today, when I saw quite a big band parade. Over a dozen loyalist bands on the Newtownards Road. It was led by the UVF (1912) band who dress in World War One khaki uniforms. The people of east Belfast turned out by the side of the road to cheer them on. All drinking from cans of beer and bottles of WKD. I hadn’t known it was on, but at this time of year there are marches every other day somewhere. My favourite band was there – the Mourne Young Defenders from Kilkeel in County Down.
Thay are really good.
http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=mourne+young+defenders&aq=0&oq=mourne+young

My point for writing this is, that this protestant loyalist culture is a million miles away from the culture the Sinn Fein guy who wrote the opening post is talking about, yet they share the same streets – almost. Apart from a few walls in the way, dividing places like where I was today and the catholic Short Strand area nearby.

I don’t think banging on about the hunger strikers makes rapprochement between the two communities come any nearer. And maybe the marches don’t help either, but they could be depolitisied perhaps – over time.

108. So Much For Subtlety

96. John Q. Publican – “The PIRA were part of an organisation founded in 1916 as the Irish Repulican Army to launch an anti-colonial revolt.”

No they were not. They were an outgrowth of that movement but the OIRA is still there – and for a while they were busy shooting members of the PIRA. There was a sea change in Republican politics in the 1960s as young Marxist-oriented people joined various groups and out of that came the PIRA.

“The fact that the organisation changed from primarily targeting hard, or military, targets to primarily targeting soft, or civilian, targets in the 1960s and 1970s cannot be denied.”

I am not sure I agree with that either. The Border Campaign? Really? That just targeted hard military targets did it?

“But you can’t figure the IRA as part of a movement which was a) triggered by cold-war totalitarianism and b) post-dated the IRA by forty or fifty years, any more than you can blame the failure of the Chartists in 1848 on Louis Napoleon.”

I can’t claim the OIRA is part of that struggle but I can certainly claim the PIRA is. Because it is. Along with the Civil Rights movement that foreshadowed it.

“Point one: the Irish, by their own claim, were not domestic terrorists from the POV of Great Britain. They were a colonised foreign population.”

They claimed not to be terrorists, but then they did not obey the laws of war either. Like most terrorists they wanted to maximise their freedom of action by claiming whatever suited them best at the time. So they did not observe the Geneva Convention – where is Capt. Nairac’s body for instance? – as they would have had to if they had been genuine combatants. Britain wavered on this but I think in general they treated them as the terrorists they were.

“Point two, yes, Thatcher treated them as whichever was most convenient to her. When she got in, they were definitely armed combatants, and there was a full-blown military occupation of the region in question.”

I am not sure. The point of the Hunger Strike is that they were not treated as armed combatants. They were in prison with definite prison terms for a start. The PIRA objected to that.

SMFS:

No they were not. They were an outgrowth of that movement but the OIRA is still there – and for a while they were busy shooting members of the PIRA. There was a sea change in Republican politics in the 1960s as young Marxist-oriented people joined various groups and out of that came the PIRA.

All I really need to do here is point out the phrase ‘out of that came the PIRA’. They came out of a pre-existing movement and pre-existing struggle. The Prague revolutionaries were created by the creation of the Iron Curtain. Can you see why I identify a difference in kind?

The Border Campaign? Really? That just targeted hard military targets did it?

Primary foci, not absolute restrictions. I’m not arguing that both sides in the Irish conflict haven’t used street bullying and protection rackets as a tool of the trade for at least 300 years. I’m saying that the OIRA started out with the ethos of an actual army, and only slipped away from that once it became clear they’d lost. It became clear they’d lost because of how many of the countrymen joined the British services during WWII.

They claimed not to be terrorists, but then they did not obey the laws of war either.

You have missed the point, here; your original quibble was that no-one else was using the military on domestic terrorists. The Irish weren’t domestic terrorists, they were foreign terrorists attacking an occupying colonial force. Point being that there was a grey area about how the IRA interacted with the British government which did not exist in, for example, the Prague revolution of 1968.

I am not sure. The point of the Hunger Strike is that they were not treated as armed combatants. They were in prison with definite prison terms for a start. The PIRA objected to that.

That got slightly circular.

What we started from was the contention that the IRA (all of them) were being treated by the British authorities as a de facto guerrilla army, i.e. the British army was fighting them in the streets. The policy of ‘criminalisation’ alluded to by several above was about trying to change that into a police-response-to-terror paradigm. And as you say, the IRA wanted to retain political status, because they know a publicity coup when they see one. As soon as the discourse framed them consistently as criminals rather than para-militarys they were going to lose.

SMFS @ 95

You could but you would have to be an utterly ignorant buffoon to do so. The US has a moderate murder rate compared to the rest of the world – vastly less so than Jamaica or South Africa for instance. By all means, claim Jamaica has a violent culture.

I said that that America has one of the most violent cultures we have ever seen on the planet, I wasn’t just taking about the National murder rate specifically. I don’t have a problem with people describing both South Africa and Jamaica has having violent cultures either, but for sheer brutality you need to look no further than parts of inner city America for a culture steeped in violence.

Is it any wonder why people from these cultures go on to commit endless atrocities in war theatres? To be fair, I wouldn’t want young conscripts from Jamaica or Durban roaming streets either. However, the point being made is that young men conscripted into the American army during the Vietnam era were not all bad people when they went into the army. However, once they got to Vietnam some of them committed the most despicable acts of brutality and barbarism against civilians. I am not suggestion that they were unique in that respect or that at that time, they were especially worse than anyone else. However there is no escaping the fact that otherwise decent people became psychotic killers when they become surrounded by senseless killing.

111. John reid

1.04 george potter well said


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    The 1981 Irish Hunger Strike: 30 years on http://bit.ly/lwOS73

  2. sunny hundal

    RT @libcon: The 1981 Irish Hunger Strike: 30 years on http://bit.ly/lwOS73 << Sinn Fein representative on Libcon *waits for brickbats*

  3. Jayne Fisher

    RT @libcon @sunny_hundal: The 1981 Irish Hunger Strike: 30 years on http://bit.ly/lwOS73

  4. Ed West

    Nice to see the Irish government-funded London Irish Centre is hosting a Sinn Fein propaganda event on the 18th http://t.co/lcL5720

  5. Sam Bowman

    Why is the Irish government-funded London Irish Centre hosting this? http://j.mp/md0KLA via @edwestonline

  6. Neil1916

    The 1981 Irish Hunger Strike: 30 years on http://bit.ly/lwOS73

  7. Socialist Action

    Sinn Fein’s electoral advance across Ireland (both north and south) is part of the legacy of the 1981 hunger strike http://j.mp/mMekQs

  8. Jeremy Bowman

    Why is the Irish government-funded London Irish Centre hosting this? http://j.mp/md0KLA via @edwestonline

  9. Edgar Kail

    The 1981 Irish Hunger Strike: 30 years on http://bit.ly/lwOS73

  10. criticalpraxis

    Sinn Fein’s electoral advance across Ireland (both north and south) is part of the legacy of the 1981 hunger strike http://j.mp/mMekQs

  11. SOCIALIST UNITY » HUNGER STRIKE: 30 YEARS ON

    […] comment: BTW, nothing illustrates the difference between Socialist Unity and Liberal Conspiracy as the fact that they only published this article from Sinn Fein accompanied by a cringing […]





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