Truth, Peace & Freedom
Towards a Democratic Solution of Ireland's English Problem
‘When these clay bodies are in grave,
and children stand in place,
This shewes we stood for truth
and peace and freedom in our days’
Gerrard Winstanley - a leader of the
Down through the ages successive soldiers - flying the flag of British rule and peering out over hostile territory from their forts - have served in Ireland. Their presence and actions were aimed at suppressing the right of the Irish people to self-determination, but also contributed to the erosion of democracy inside Britain. In the 19th century Karl Marx had said that ‘a nation which enslaves another can never itself be free,’ and noted that ‘the English republic under Cromwell met shipwreck in Ireland’. He also warned that Ireland was being used as a training ground and that the repressive measures implemented there would eventually be used at home. Two centuries before Marx, a Leveller, John Harris, had expressed similar views about Cromwell’s war in Ireland: ‘How contrary this is to the common interest of mankind let all the world judge, for a people that desire to live free, must almost equally with themselves, defend others from subjection...’ 
During the English Civil War, after the defeat of the King, thousands of Leveller soldiers protested against Cromwell’s orders to embark for Ireland. The suppression of this revolt culminated with the executions of Cornet Thompson, Corporal Perkins and Private Church at Burford and led to the halting of the English revolution – as well as to the bloody repression in Ireland. Revolutionary zeal was submerged beneath the hunger for overseas possessions and the New Model Army was gradually transformed into the prototype for the later army of empire. We are still ruled by the establishment successors of the accommodation that emerged after Cromwell’s death, an amalgamation of the drivers of capitalism with the restored monarchy and the landed gentry.
Today, with New Labour the main supporter of the US led ‘New World Order’, there have been attempts lately in Britain to resurrect old attitudes about the Empire - in order to justify not only the old, but also the new imperialism. There is a direct link between the New Model Army after Cromwell’s purge and the British military forces currently deployed, not only in the north of Ireland, but also in Iraq. In 1649 many of Cromwell’s soldiers had deserted rather than serve in a colonial war and some Leveller troopers in the New Model Army wrote The Soldier’s Demand, which stated about serving in Ireland: ‘Fellow soldiers... Oh! the ocean of blood that we are guilty of! Oh! how these deadly sins of ours do torment our consciences! What have we to do in Ireland, to fight and murder a people and a nation which have done us no harm...? We have waded too far in that crimson stream already of innocent and Christian blood.’
For all soldiers, past and present, a tour of duty in Ireland could cause much heart searching. and like troops in the past many of today’s soldiers became fed-up with the seemingly intractable situation into which they were regularly sent. Even for those who served with elite units like the Royal Marines, like ex-commando Brian Moran, who deserted and sought sanctuary in Sweden : ‘ I wanted a bit of adventure and travel and I decided I stood a better chance in the commandos. I like the life and I liked being a soldier. But on my last tour of duty in Northern Ireland in 1976 my eyes were opened.’ Moran continued:
1: Mercurius Militaris,
2: Guardian, 28th Feb. 1978,
Imposing a Military Solution
In 1876 the Staffordshire Regiment had been sent to Belfast to face the threat of the United Irishmen. One hundred years later, in 1976, the 1st Battalion was once again back in Belfast and the unit magazine, The Stafford Knot, reported on their 4-month tour of duty: ‘Our “patch” in Belfast comprised, in the north, the hard Republican area of Divis flats, traditionally a trouble spot through the present emergency and sandwiched between the Lower Falls and the city centre. This eerie, huge, concrete “terrorist paradise” (as it has been described) dominates the local skyline and is filled with a generally unpleasant, mainly evil and hostile population of approximately 7,000 ... South of the city centre was the Protestant working-class area of Sandy Row. Here a maze of small terraced houses and a generally more friendly atmosphere greeted the patrolling Stafford soldier… 
From 1969 until the present peace process, with the exception of the Sunningdale initiative in 1974, the policy of successive Westminster governments was to defeat the IRA and impose a military solution by forcing nationalists to live under the unionist status quo. During this period there was three main phases of British Army operations in the north of Ireland:
During the years of conflict British Government policy was always support for the status quo and defeating the IRA. When that proved impossible they settled for containment - limiting IRA actions and nationalist dissent to ‘acceptable levels’. All this was accompanied with a subtle, but all pervasive, programme of media manipulation. The writer Eamonn McCann lives in a nationalist area of Derry and gives us an Irish view of the conflict. He is critical of the British media: ‘The real, sustained and systematic distortion began when British soldiers came on to the streets, and by the middle of 1970 when the troops were in almost constant conflict with Catholic working-class neighbourhoods most papers had in effect stopped carrying the news. They were vehicles for propaganda.’ McCann continued:
Meanwhile, for the British taxpayer, the monetary costs of prolonging Partition and a unionist-dominated Northern Ireland was steadily increasing: ‘Northern Ireland is now a serious economic liability for the British Exchequer. The annual subvention or subsidy from Britain has been approaching £4 billion in recent years - on average Northern Ireland has been costing each taxpayer in Britain over £100 a year.’ 
In 1979, on the 10th anniversary of troops going out onto the streets in Northern Ireland, ex-captain Mike Biggs, who left the Army as a conscientious objector, told listeners on BRM Radio: ‘An army is an instrument of government, and I see the army going back into Northern Ireland, and its presence there, as allaying a political embarrassment for successive governments in this country. Northern Ireland is a problem, a problem that we started, and a problem that we’d like to go away, but it’s not going away. And the idea of having the troops out there to allay that problem hasn’t worked, because we’ve come no further towards any kind of peaceful solution.’ 
3: The Stafford Knot,
4: The British Press and Northern Ireland,
5: Submission from James Anderson,
6: BRM Radio, Birmingham.
The ‘Pitchfork Murders’
While serving tours of duty, most soldiers preferred to turn a blind eye to the obvious brutality that often went hand-in-glove with British rule. Sometimes, however, veterans in civvy street felt compelled by circumstances to tell about state-violence they had taken part in, or witnessed. In 1978, a Northern Ireland veteran attended a Troops Out Movement public meeting in Bristol and stated:
Another veteran was responsible for bringing to justice the perpetrators of one of the most brutal murder cases of the ‘troubles’. In 1972 two Catholic men, 31-year-old Michael Naan and 23-year-old Andrew Murray, had been found murdered at isolated farm buildings in County Fermanagh. Murray had been stabbed 13 times and Naan 19 times through the heart and chest. Michael Naan had been a prominent member of the Civil Rights Association and had taken part in a number of protest marches. The pathologist said Naan’s wounds were ‘consistent with an attack by someone who had gone berserk’. A sectarian motive was attributed to the killings and loyalists were suspected of carrying out the crime - that became known as the ‘pitchfork murders’, after the supposed murder weapon.
Later in the 1970s Britain was horrified by a series of brutal murders of young women, many picked up from ‘red light’ areas in northern cities. Reading about the latest ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ murder in 1978 had a profound affect on a Scottish ex-soldier. The lurid accounts of the multiple stabbings of the latest victim had evoked memories of a night, six years before, when he had been a member of an army patrol in County Fermanagh. The veteran knew who had really carried out those killings of Naan and Murray in 1972 and the similarity between those and the Yorkshire Ripper murders began to prey on his mind. Convinced that the killings must have been carried out by the same people, he went to the police and gave them full details of those killings in Ireland.
In reality there was no link between the two crimes. But the police were under intense public pressure to catch the ‘Ripper’, so began to investigate the ex-soldier’s allegations. In 1980, two former compatriots of the ex-soldier, a staff-sergeant and a sergeant, were tried and jailed for life for the murder of the two farm workers. When the staff-sergeant confessed to the police he broke down in tears and said: ‘I did it. I did the killings. I killed them and they just wouldn’t stop screaming. Oh my god - I have been having bloody nightmares about it’.
Other members of the patrol, including the officer in charge, received lesser sentences for aiding and abetting or withholding information. It come out during the trial that the murder weapon was not a pitchfork as first thought, but the stabbings were in fact carried out with a bowie knife which one of the soldiers possessed. It subsequently emerged that many of the troops in Ireland carried ‘personal weapons’, to which those in authority turned a blind eye.
7: Troops Out, July 1978,
Murder in Aden
The story did not end there, because the ex-soldier had received several death threats during the trial, which he believed had come from members of his former unit. So, upset and angry, he handed over to the Scottish Sunday Mail a dossier containing information on up to forty killings carried out by fellow soldiers in Aden fourteen years previously. Some of these were printed by the paper in early 1981 and a controversy ensued, with the Sunday Mail being inundated with letters.  Serving soldiers complained bitterly about former mates telling tales out of school and attacked the paper for printing material detrimental to the honour of the regiment. Others, mainly ex-soldiers, wrote in telling how the terrible events in Aden had been on their minds. Unable to forget, they welcomed the opportunity to unburden themselves and wrote of their experiences, telling how:
The Sunday Mail passed the dossier to the Scottish Lord Advocate who promised an investigation. But this time there was no pressing reason to examine these events. Two years later the Sunday Mail printed a tiny article saying the Lord Advocate had decided no proceedings should be instituted in this case. The military unit involved in those incidents in County Fermanagh and Aden was the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, a regiment with a history as ‘proud and honourable’ as any in the British army. They were led in Aden by Lt-Colonel Colin ‘Mad Mitch’ Mitchell, a British ‘war hero’ who became a right-wing Tory MP after leaving the army.
8: Sunday Mail [Scotland] 17th Dec. 1978;
The Fag End of Empire
In 1977 a British officer serving in Northern Ireland wrote about his view of British Army involvement in the Irish Press. He could not speak openly, so his words were published under the pseudonym, John England, in an article entitled The Fag End of Empire: ‘In Major Gen. Frank Kitson’s book, Low Intensity Operations, there is one illuminating passage: When the Regular Army was first raised in the 17th century, “Suppression of the Irish” was coupled with the “Defence of the Protestant Religion” as one of the two main reasons for its existence.’ John England continued:
9: Irish Press,
Like the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict
From the mid-70s, after Ulsterisation, a reorganised, retrained and rearmed RUC was pushed into the front-line in many nationalist areas. In early 1992 an off-duty RUC constable, Allen Moore, attacked a Sinn Féin Advice Centre in Sevastopol Street on the Lower Falls in Belfast and shot dead 61-year-old Paddy Loughran, 40-year-old Pat McBride and 24-year-old Michael O’Dwyer. Moore then drove off and his body was found some time later after apparently committing suicide. At the inquest over a year later many strange facts were revealed. Just before his killing spree, Moore’s best friend, another policeman, had been killed in a violent domestic incident. After his friend’s funeral, Moore had returned to the graveyard and about midnight fired a volley of six shots over the grave. Taken to a RUC station after this incident, Moore was examined by a doctor and found to be in a ‘highly intoxicated state’. His issue Ruger revolver was taken from him and he was driven to the home of a fellow officer to sleep it off.
The next day Moore phoned a colleague saying that because of the cemetery incident he ‘had lost his job’, but the colleague was to ‘watch the news’ because Moore was going to shoot republicans. He then made remarks implying he would not be around to face the consequences. Moore collected his licensed pump-action shotgun, visited an RUC station, then made his way to West Belfast and carried out the killings. The shotgun cartridges had been packed with broken glass, which made them more lethal by increasing the internal bleeding of the victims. Andersonstown News, the local paper of the area where RUC man Allen Moore carried out his killings, commented:
Hours after the shooting an anonymous caller had given Andersonstown News precise details of Moore’s movements on the day of the shooting. The caller also claimed that Moore and his friend, over whose coffin he had fired the shots, had been clandestine members of the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), a loyalist paramilitary organisation that has killed many Catholics. This story was given credence when it was revealed at the inquest that bomb-making equipment had been found in Moore’s bedroom. A forensics expert testified that similar devices had been found in various locations in Northern Ireland, but no more appeared after Moore’s death.
10: Andersonstown News,
The RUC had inherited its colonial-style policing role from the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). Subsequently, in the north of Ireland after 1969, many British soldiers, who themselves had little love for nationalists, were surprised and shocked by the anti-Catholic attitude of many of the Protestants they encountered – including those in the security-forces:
Throughout the years of conflict all RUC members swore an oath of office which dated back to 1836 - when it was introduced by the RIC - pledging to ‘well and truly serve our Sovereign Lady the Queen’ and not ‘belong to any association, society or confederacy formed for or engaged in any seditious purpose ... or in any way disloyal to our Sovereign Lady the Queen.’ Every 12th of July, to celebrate the victory of King William at the battle of the Boyne in 1690, a Union Jack was hoisted over the nearly 200 RUC buildings throughout Northern Ireland: ‘That day, according to the RUC Code, was designated as one of 19 (four more than in Britain) when the flag must be flown from sunrise to sunset...’ 
There has never been any democratic control over the police in Northern Ireland, especially the Special Branch and other ‘counter-terrorism’ units. This, if anything, increased when the RUC was brought into the counter-revolutionary fold during Ulsterisation. In an early attempt to allay nationalist’ fears, the authorities stated that the RUC would be made accountable and the Northern Ireland Police Authority was set up in 1970. But, while this gave an illusion of some sort of public involvement in the running of the RUC, the Authority’s members were appointed and met in secret. In 1996, two Authority members, Chris Ryder and David Cook, suggested that changing some of the traditional practices of the RUC might help to recruit more Catholics to the force. In seeking to debate these issues, with a view to making a few minor changes, Ryder and Cook came up against opposition from other Authority members and the RUC hierarchy. Shortly afterwards Ryder and Cook - who was then the Authority chairman - were axed from the Northern Ireland Police Authority by Sir Patrick Mayhew.
As part of the Peace Process the name of the RUC was changed to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), just like the UDR’s name had changed to the Royal Irish Rifles (RIR) previously. However, nationalist’s enmity towards the indigenous state forces will be slow to dissipate, because they know ‘the Peelers’ (RUC / PSNI) and the UDR / RIR have never protected ordinary Catholics and believe that their main function - rather than policing agreed laws - is still to maintain unionist power and privilege. While this is the case these sectarian colonial-style forces cannot be part of any solution - but instead remain part of the problem.
11: Thin Red Line - from Scotland and Ulster,
The Loyal Garrison
A vast security apparatus has been built up in Northern Ireland since 1969, including local units like the RUC / PSNI, UDR / RIR and prison officers. Many civilian security personnel were also used for guarding shops and buildings and searching shoppers and passers-by. Almost all come from the unionist population, with vast amounts of taxpayers’ money going into the pockets of these locally recruited forces: ‘Northern Ireland is now heavily dependent on direct British subsidy for its employment, with an extraordinary high proportion of jobs being in security fields like prisons, probation, the police etc. One in ten Protestant men now works in these fields.’  This creates an economic ‘troubles dependency’ in this sector of the population. In a depressed area like Northern Ireland these high earners have a real and vested interest in ensuring that the conflict continues.
Ex-para Michael Asher served in Northern Ireland as a soldier. After leaving the Army he spent some time at university, then went to Belfast and joined the RUC. In his book Shoot to Kill he describes going on patrol with a Special Patrol Group, moving past the end of the Shankill and then into Divis Street:
While Asher was upset by the amount of anti-Catholic bigotry expressed in the RUC, there were, however, some exceptions. Asher was surprised when a sergeant he had worked under, and whom he respected, told him one day: ‘The only solution to the Troubles I can see is a united Ireland. You’re a Brit, but I’m Irish. I may be a Prod, but then so was Wolfe Tone. I’m proud to be an Ulsterman, but I’m not British.’  Two centuries before, Theobald Wolfe Tone had outlined the radical history of some of the Protestants in Ireland, and expressed the dilemma felt by the descendants of the settlers:
Sadly, Tone’s great ideal was crushed along with the United Irishmen. Tragically for the Protestant people this tradition, of which they should be justly proud, has become submerged and almost forgotten because it does not accord with their status as Britain’s loyal garrison in Ireland. Instead, a siege mentality has developed, where ancient victories with religious connotations have become modern day rallying cries, and ‘no surrender!’ is always the answer to any prospect of progress.
In 1992, the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), because of the numbers of its members convicted of serious offences and the widespread allegations against it, was amalgamated with the Royal Irish Rangers to form the Royal Irish Regiment (RIR). It soon became clear that this switch could not hide the nature of the force or the levels of sectarianism and bigotry among its members. At the end of the 90s the Irish Post described what happened to a Catholic recruit to the RIR: ‘In 1997 a number of his fellow soldiers, disguised in respirator masks, punched and kicked him. Then they wrapped him in a William of Orange flag and forced him to take the Orange Order oath of allegiance.’  A little later a group photo of an RIR unit appeared. They were in uniform and armed - and in their midst was a large banner expressing support for the Orange Order at Drumcree.
Ulsterisation saw the RUC and UDR become the front line of Britain’s war in Ireland and these units were indoctrinated and given intense training for that role. During the IRA ceasefires there have been many instances of soldiers and policemen trying to extract revenge, or deliver some retribution, and assert their authority over nationalist areas - which they could not subdue during the conflict. At a higher level there are elements in the civil service, military, police and intelligence services who, like their predecessors in 1974 who opposed the Sunningdale Agreement, are antagonistic to the peace process.
13: Northern Ireland: The Political Economy of Conflict,
14: Shoot to Kill,
15: Ibid - Shoot to Kill,
16: Irish Post,
The Blank Wall
At Westminster, after the Partition of Ireland, the convention was to ignore the happenings in Northern Ireland. In 1965, four members of the Labour Party, Bill O’Shaughnessy (who died in 1985), Michael Melly (who died in 2003), Paddy Byrne and Oliver Donohue, joined forces with Paul Rose, a young Labour MP, to attempt to break that custom by forming the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster (CDU). The Campaign quickly attracted 110 parliamentary sponsors - both Lords and MPs - and became the largest lobby group, up to that date, in the history of the House of Commons. The CDU worked with other organisations in Britain, especially the Connolly Association, to support the Civil Rights Movement in the North and adopted three basic aims: 1) To call for a public enquiry into the administration of government in Northern Ireland; 2) To outlaw discrimination in the fields of housing and employment; 3) To have included in the Race Relations Act a religious discrimination remit that would apply to Northern Ireland. Later, Rose wrote about the attempts to raise these questions in the House of Commons and his book, Backbencher’s Dilemma, was reviewed in the Irish Post:
If Labour had listened to the CDU and Paul Rose, things might have turned out differently. As it was, dissent was met by force and turned into conflict - during which, tragic happenings were thrown up constantly. Later, ex-Tory MP Matthew Parris wrote about his time in Westminster during the conflict, in the magazine Spectator : ‘In seven years as a government backbencher I do not think I encountered more than a handful of MPs on either side who cared much what happened to Ulster ... Most of the rest of us went along, more or less, with the policy of Her Majesty’s Government, whatever that was - ‘not giving in to the men of violence’ or something. But we tended to find, when Ireland was debated, that we had other things to do’. Parris went on to explain:
In Backbencher’s Dilemma, Paul Rose said that Labour’s principles were ‘sacrificed on the altar of expediency’ - so in the end Labour finished up ‘involved in a shabby little deal to give more representation to Northern Ireland in exchange for Unionist votes to keep Jim Callaghan at Number 10.’ Rose also looked at why Labour kept resorting to supporting the status-quo in Northern Ireland:
17: Irish Post, 4th April 1981,
19: Irish Post, 4th April 1981,
Many brave and honest Labour Party members and MPs, before and since, have also had the courage to stand against Westminster convention to point out the abnormal situation in Northern Ireland. Acknowledgement of the truth is one of the keys to a lasting solution. For Britain’s part, this means accepting responsibility for the setting-up and maintenance of Northern Ireland. Since 1969 over 3,600 people have been killed and 40,000 maimed, but we should remember that almost as much blood was spilt upholding Northern Ireland as was shed trying to overturn it.
In the early 1980s an army sergeant serving in Northern Ireland said: ‘I mean what are we doing here? The Northern Irish are saying “Never” to the unification of Ireland: and if they mean that, then the way I see it is that we’ve either got to stay here for ever, or we’ve got to withdraw and let them sort it out. The mistake was made in the 1920s when they decided on partition. For ever afterwards there’ve been only the shouts of the Ulstermen, “No compromise” “No surrender” and all the rest of it. It seems to me we’re left in the middle to take the brickbats.’  This was similar to the views of many of the civilian population back home. Throughout the times of greatest conflict, opinion polls consistently showed a majority of British people wanting to see the withdrawal of their troops from the north of Ireland:
The most interesting poll results came from British tabloid newspapers, that were often rabidly anti-Irish in their coverage of events and which strongly supported the establishment view on Ireland. In 1981 the Daily Star, published the results of its poll under the headline ‘Pull out’ call is shock for hardline Tories. The Star then stated that: ‘The majority of Labour voters in favour of pulling out the troops was no surprise. But the 49 per cent of Tories who supported withdrawal was more than many party leaders expected.’  Similarly, the Daily Express in 1987, under the headline Pull our troops out of Ulster say 61% stated:
In 1988 the Sun, which had recently reported the killings of three IRA members in Gibraltar by the SAS under the headline, ‘WHY THE DOGS HAD TO DIE’, covered the ‘LYNCHINGS’ of the two army corporals, during an IRA funeral in Belfast shortly afterwards, in a similarly lurid two-page spread. The Sun then invited its readers to vote on ‘the big question over Ulster - should British troops be pulled out?’ Probably the Sun thought that the circumstances of the corporals’ deaths would rally support behind the establishment position for the continued use of troops. While the question was featured prominently, the result was printed in a few lines, tucked away in the next day’s paper at the bottom of page two; ‘A massive 45,435 Sun readers yesterday voted in favour of pulling British troops out of Ulster. Only 10,450 in the phone poll wanted them to stay.’ 
During the next year, 1989 ‘on the 20th anniversary of British troops in Ulster’, the News of the World stated the conclusion of its poll: ‘BRING our soldiers home! That’s the verdict of our You The Jury phone-in. 7,905 readers voted to pull British troops out of Ulster and 3,223 voted against.’  While it is probable that a number of people will have expressed support for troop withdrawal through frustration or on negative grounds, some more comprehensive polls showed that many people had a rational view and supported withdrawal for progressive reasons.
In 1984, a report on British Social Attitudes was published by the independent academic institute, Social and Community Planning Research. It stated: ‘On Northern Ireland, only 28% think the best long-term policy is for it to remain part of the United Kingdom, against 58% who favour the reunification of Ireland. A majority want the government to withdraw British troops from the north.’  That same year, the Irish Post reported on a phone poll carried out by the radio station LBC:
20: Soldier, Soldier,
21: Daily Star,
22: Daily Express,
23: Question in the Sun,
24: News of the World,
25: Sunday Times,
26: Irish Post,
Futility and Pointlessness
While the majority of the British people, despite decades of propaganda about Northern Ireland, wanted to see the withdrawal of their soldiers, the inability of Westminster politicians to break from a Unionist agenda meant continuing to send their young troops out onto the streets of Belfast, Derry and country areas like Crossmaglen. In the mid-80s, Tony Parker interviewed a number of serving soldiers for his book Soldier Soldier. A young 2nd-lieutenant, then on a tour of duty in Derry, told Parker:
Later on, a more senior officer, a major, said to Parker: ‘Last week I had to write to the parents of one of my lads and tell them he’d been killed. I told them he was a soldier, he died for his country, and he died in a most honourable situation as a member of a peace-keeping force, doing his best for all the people of this country. But I don’t know what I’m supposed to say in letters like that, what I’m supposed to write. We all know there’s no solution to this fucking problem and the best thing we can do is go away.’  Even officers from some of the most prestigious regiments became disillusioned. Like ex-Captain Morgan-Grenville who retired from the British Army after a five-year career with the Coldstream Guards. Acting as his unit’s operations officer he completed a tour of duty stationed in the South Armagh village of Forkhill:
It had become clear, to anyone who was prepared to take the trouble to look, that the conflict was a stalemate and change would have to happen. Sometimes this view came from surprising quarters. In 1992 Colonel Derek Wilford, who twenty years earlier had been the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment at Bloody Sunday in Derry, said:
27: Soldier Soldier,
28; Soldier Soldier,
29: Irish Times, 8th March 1984,
30: Remember Bloody Sunday, BBC TV documentary, 28th Jan. 1992,
The Establishment Elite
Even with the majority of British people, and even many MPs and soldiers, wanting to see a political solution and a British withdrawal, the establishment continued to support the unionist status quo in the north of Ireland. Right-wing ruling class elements in Britain have continually conspired to defeat the democratic wish of the British and Irish people. In 1912-14, the Tories successfully thwarted the Liberal government’s Home Rule Bill, which led directly to a galvanised unionist resistance in the north of Ireland and eventually to partition. In 1974, similar establishment forces, frightened by the prospect of a ‘left Labour’ government, conspired to move the political agenda in Britain over to the right, defeat the ‘enemy within’ – the miners, and destroy the Sunningdale Agreement.
From the early days of empire the ruling class had introduced the ‘old-boy’ system to help perpetuate their power and control – it is still alive and well today. In 1970-71, as Kitson organised counter-insurgency operations in Belfast and just before Bloody Sunday in Derry, a survey of the establishment elite in Britain found that the following percentages had attended ‘public’ (i.e. private) schools:
In 1979 Margaret Thatcher, who at the time was still calling Nelson Mandela a ‘terrorist’, formed a government that on Northern Ireland would ‘stand firm against the men of violence’. It maintained a hard-line stance during the prison protests, which led to the IRA hunger strikes and the tragic deaths of 10 prisoners. Almost all her Government were from public school and Oxbridge backgrounds:
There are two main reasons why Britain occupied Ireland: for economic exploitation and for strategic military considerations. Many observers agree that both reasons are now largely irrelevant and there is no great popular identification among British people with the Unionist community in the north of Ireland. But the countries are separated only by a narrow strip of water and, for many people in the British establishment, Ireland - the first colony - has a much greater significance than other subsequent parts of the Empire. There is, therefore, still strong support for the Union among major elements of the ruling class, who have used British troops to ensure that Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom. This however, is for their own reasons:
While ‘Ulster Unionism’ presents a hurdle to progress, the real barrier to peace and a political solution is the latent unionism of right-wing sections of the British establishment - who continually emerge from the woodwork to block any moves towards a progressive solution. This commitment of some of today’s establishment to maintain Northern Ireland as a part of the United Kingdom mirrors that shown by the Tories and officer class during the Curragh mutiny in 1914 and similar forces who opposed the 1974 Sunningdale Agreement. Tragically, even today, establishment unionism still works to this old reactionary agenda. But we should remember that the forces who want to stifle progress, although powerful, are still a small minority of the people of these islands - who can be faced down and defeated by the democratic will of the majority.
Seventy years after the defeat of Home Rule and ten years after Sunningdale, a young British Army lieutenant serving in Northern Ireland said:
31; Life in Public Schools,
32; Rule Britannia,
33: Back to the Future - the Protestants and a United Ireland,
34: Soldier, Soldier,
During Partition, the border which was to divide Ireland was drawn around six of the nine original counties of Ulster. It was drawn by British civil servants and was not based on considerations of history, geography or population. It instead enclosed an area in which there would be a permanent majority of unionists, while being large enough to be economically viable. Ireland’s most industrialised areas were thus retained within the United Kingdom, whilst many border towns were isolated from their natural hinterland. Some farms - and even buildings - were divided: ‘The meandering 280-mile boundary confirmed in 1925 cross-cut 1,400 agricultural holdings, approximately 180 roads and 20 railway lines. It bisected villages and, in some cases, private houses. It is this boundary which still divides the border region today...’ 
The effects of partition were disastrous. Far from resolving the problems between natives and settlers - nationalists and unionists - these were now concentrated explosively within, and at, the boundaries of the new entity. Within Northern Ireland, over a third of the population identified with the aspiration for a united Ireland. They considered themselves part of the native Irish majority in Ireland as a whole, and resented partition. Trapped inside an artificially created Northern Ireland they felt apprehensive and isolated, and no effort was made to win their loyalty. Instead, nationalists were subjected to bigotry, discrimination and coercion from the Unionist state.
In 1972, the Sunday Times Insight Team wrote: ‘The border was itself the first and biggest gerrymander: the six counties it enclosed, the new province of Ulster, had no point or meaning except as the largest area which the Protestant tribe could hold against the Catholic. Protestant supremacy was the only reason why the State existed.’ The Insight Team continued:
During the conflict army certainties about ‘the enemy’ often become blurred once the troops were on tours of duty. Soldiers knew that the IRA ‘terrorists’ they faced were regarded as ‘freedom fighters’ in nationalist areas. Some soldiers, like this Welsh Guards corporal, could understand this attitude and see a rationale for IRA actions:
35: Whither the Irish Border?
37: Northern Ireland - Soldiers Talking,
British soldiers became the direct upholders of Northern Ireland after 1969. Even after Ulsterisation, many places along the border were too dangerous for the RUC to patrol, and soldiers remained the front line. In 1973, an Irish journalist described a visit to Crossmaglen, a town close to the border: ‘This is a town of about 1,400 inhabitants, where a soldier wouldn’t get a drink in any of the twelve pubs, a cup of water from any house, or a light for a cigarette from people in the street. There are no stones pelted at them - just the sound of silence.’ The journalist continued:
Seven years later, a British journalist visited the same town with an Army unit: ‘Flying low over the hills of South Armagh, the helicopter sheers upwards to avoid some electricity pylons and then drops like a stone the other side. The squaddie I’m lurching back and forth next to is from Liverpool. He must have been about eight when the first troops arrived on the streets of Derry in August 1969. Now he’s on his way back to base in Crossmaglen - XMG as they call it in the acronym-crazy army.’  All movements of men and equipment to the base was by helicopter, because of the high attrition rate of Army vehicles to mines and ambushes. The heliport at Bessbrook, that supplied ‘XMG’ and other forts along the border, was now one of the most heavily used in Western Europe:
Crossmaglen has a large square in the centre of which stands a statue, like the war monuments in many British towns and cities. Local people raised the money to purchase the memorial which depicts a figure rising phoenix-like from flames. Underneath is written in Irish and English, ‘For those who have suffered for Irish Freedom’.
38: Sunday Press, 17th June 1973,
39: New Society, 24th April 1980,
40: Ibid - New Society, 24th April 1980,
Rats the Dog Soldier
In Crossmaglen the Westminster politicians could not claim that the Army was keeping the peace between rival factions, since the population is overwhelmingly nationalist. In a scene reminiscent of past days of Empire, the soldiers in their fort kept the Union Jack flying over hostile territory. The colonial role of British troops was starkly obvious, but the British mass media was unable, or unwilling, to explain the contradictions inherent in this situation. Thus they concentrated, almost exclusively, on ‘Rats - the dog soldier’ - one of the most bizarre ‘heroes’ that the present conflict has thrown up:
Soon, other articles about Rats began to appear in the media, as stories about the dog became an easy way to introduce a pro-British angle. In her book, Ireland: The Propaganda War, Liz Curtis wrote: ‘The Rats story ran and ran. The Daily Express featured him as “DOG OF WAR”, running gallantly alongside a foot patrol, with a text that began, “EYES BRIGHT! Here comes action dog with a regulation shine to his nose after breakfasting in the officers’ mess”.’ Curtis continued:
While the media wallowed in the Rats fantasy, the local people and the British troops had to face the reality - sixty-three soldiers were killed while serving at the base. As tours of duty come around again and again, many squaddies become cynical and alienated about the war - that couldn't even be called a war - and where ‘Rats the dog soldier’ became a hero, but dead squaddies’ names were quickly forgotten. For soldiers a tour of duty in Crossmaglen, or any of the bases along the border area, was regarded as the toughest and most dangerous – as veteran Dave Roche explained:
At border posts, travellers were met by British troops with guns at the ready, overlooked by other soldiers manning heavy machine guns from slits in concrete block-houses. These fortifications, reminiscent of the 1st World War, were covered in corrugated iron, barbed wire and draped with camouflage and anti-mortar nets. Enormous sums of money have been spent trying to make the border ‘terrorist proof’, including the construction of a new series of high-tech watch-towers along the high ground overlooking the border. At the same time we all lived in a Europe with increasing moves towards unity and the subsequent lessening of borders between nations. The artificially created border between the two parts of Ireland stood out as a stark exception – and even today Northern Ireland remains one of the most militarised area of the European Union.
41; Ireland: The Propaganda War,
42; Ibid - Ireland: The Propaganda War,
43; Humo, 10th Aug. and 17th Aug. 1989,
The Unionist Veto
In 1976 the Troops Out Movement organised a large delegation, mainly from the British labour movement, to visit both parts of Ireland. In Belfast, Father Desmond Wilson, a community worker in the west of the city, spoke to the delegation and said: ‘I started out a number of years ago with the idea basically that those who looked after our affairs were trustworthy or at least to be negotiated with. But over the years my opinion has changed. I came to understand that such negotiation was practically impossible, and that what was happening was that police, and later troops, were being used to prevent any negotiation between the people at large and those who control their resources.’ Fr Wilson continued:
Two years later, in 1978, the British Army, in its secret Northern Ireland: Future Terrorist Trends document, admitted that a military victory could not be achieved. It was in fact glaringly obvious that the conflict had become a stalemate. While British politicians, in conjunction with the unionists, were content to carry on with the struggle to maintain the status quo, hope of another way to resolve the conflict was to come from Sinn Féin and the IRA. At the end of August 1994, 25 years after the present conflict had started, the IRA announced a cessation of armed actions. It would be a grave mistake to think that this ceasefire indicated demoralisation or a weakening of resolve within the Republican movement. On the contrary, it was clear that the IRA remained strong and undefeated and the ceasefire came after a long and thorough period of discussion within the movement. Knowing that they could have maintained the conflict for future decades, republicans had nevertheless decided to give peace a chance and looked towards arrangements that would allow them to pursue their aims by political means only.
Unfortunately, the Tory government of John Major and the unionists proved incapable of responding to the ceasefire in a manner that could bring peace closer. They made it difficult for Sinn Féin to participate in talks and put barrier after barrier in the way of progress. After a year of the ‘peace process’ - but no tangible progress towards a political solution - the IRA ended their ceasefire with the bombing at Canary Wharf in London’s docklands. In 1997, after the Labour landslide election victory, the IRA announced a new ceasefire and called for talks to start again. This led in turn to the Good Friday Agreement and the setting up of an elected Northern Ireland Assembly. Unionists, as always unhappy at any signs of political change, demanded that the IRA decommission their arms or they would withdraw. Faced with this unionist ultimatum Labour’s Northern Ireland secretary, Peter Mandelson, suspended the Assembly - once again handing unionism a veto on any chance of progress. Eventually, the Assembly was restored - but only for a period – and now we wait for it to be brought back again.
Sinn Féin have taken a lot of flack for their involvement in the Good Friday Agreement and the Assembly - and some critics have even suggested that the party is now propping up the unionist state. But, up until now, the party’s participation has sustained the Northern Ireland state only in the same way as an executioner’s rope supports a hanged man - and suggests that a continued involvement can bring about its eventual demise. Certainly, the ballot-box has led to a greater fragmentation of unionism/loyalism than the years of the Armalite. Of course there will be pitfalls in the political path and the movement needs to insure that the compromises, necessary for progress, do not then become future policy. If the hope for peace is not to be lost, then all participants must be prepared to acknowledge their culpability in the limited war since 1969, and be prepared to countenance the changes that will be required to produce a genuine and lasting peace – as well as pursuing their own interests.
For decades British troops and the RUC / PSNI and UDR/RIR have been the front line of Britain’s war in Ireland and were indoctrinated and given intense training for that role. During the IRA ceasefires there have been many instances of soldiers and policemen trying to exact revenge, or deliver some retribution and assert their authority over nationalist areas - which they could not subdue during the conflict. At a higher level there are elements in the civil service, military, police and intelligence services who, like their predecessors in 1974 who opposed the Sunningdale Agreement, are antagonistic to the peace process. At the same time, nationalists have been subjected to a sustained hate and intimidation campaign by loyalist paramilitaries - with disturbing signs of continuing collusion by sections of the security forces - in which a number of Catholics have been murdered by pipe-bombs and bullets. The main block to the peace process and political progress is still unionist / loyalist extremism and only with the ending of the unionist veto will the first steps towards a lasting solution be made.
44: Full text in Ireland - Voices for Withdrawal,
For Truth, Peace & Freedom
Throughout the twelve chapters of Oliver’s Army British soldiers and ex-soldiers have told of their experiences and expressed their views about their Government’s policy on Ireland. In seeking a solution to Ireland’s English problem we need to turn to the vision of another ex-soldier - James Connolly. In 1882 Connolly, who had been born and raised in Edinburgh by working class Irish parents, joined a regiment of the British Army. Soon afterwards, his unit was posted to Ireland and he spent most of his seven years army service in his parents’ native land.
Later, he returned to Ireland as a civilian and became a worker's leader, organising trade unions in Dublin and Belfast. In 1916 for the Easter Rising, Connolly’s workers militia, the Irish Citizen Army, merged with the Irish Volunteers on the streets of Dublin – creating what was to become the IRA and injecting radical socialism into the democratic tradition initiated by Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen. Afterwards, already badly wounded, he was taken from a hospital bed, tied to a chair as he could not stand, and shot by a British Army firing squad. Connolly was executed before Ireland was split in two, but he had recognised the dangers that partition would pose for the people:
Connolly had also warned, prophetically, that partition:
Through hundreds of years of conquest and occupation, over 80 years of partition and for 3 decades of the recent conflict the English / British establishment have been the major part of the problem. From 1969, successive British Governments had used their troops to attempt to shore up the Northern Ireland status quo. Westminster now wants peace, but shows little interest in justice or a British withdrawal. So pressure will have to be exerted on Westminster to ensure that we keep moving towards a progressive solution.
Just as repression in Ireland was often followed by similar acts in Britain - so support for Irish self-determination assists democracy in both countries. On Ireland, down through the years, the voice of reaction has sounded loud. Potentially, the voice of progress can be greater, but only if we all play our part. Only then will we be able to say that - just like the radical voices from our past - we stood for truth, peace and freedom in our day.
In 1916, ex-soldier James Connolly had been shot by a British Army firing squad for fighting for the freedom and unity of Irish working class people. Two years before, after the Curragh mutiny of British Army officers, Connolly had issued this manifesto:
Courage and vision will be required to end Ireland’s English problem, together with the will to rationalise the relationship between the people of these islands. So now, as never before, progressive voices are needed :
Only then will we have a political solution that ensures that never again will British soldiers be sent across the sea to kill and die in Ireland.
......................© 2004 Aly Renwick / TOM....................
This was the last chapter of Oliver’s Army.