Published: 8 April 2019

A Provisional IRA checkpoint at the entrance to the Bogside and the Creggan in 1970

A Provisional IRA checkpoint at the entrance to the Bogside and the Creggan in 1970

In A Broad Church: The Provisional IRA In The Republic of Ireland, 1969-1980, Gearoid O Faolean provides telling stories about the island-wide sympathy for physical force nationalism that was evident from the beginning of the Troubles.

People who had never given any thought to Northern Ireland became enthusiastic IRA supporters overnight as their emotions were stirred by scenes of violence on RTE, images of baton-wielding police and the arrival in the South of refugees and political evangelists bearing often grossly exaggerated stories of discrimination, gerrymandering and sectarian pogroms.

Ulster Protestants, being Ulster Protestants, did nothing to try to tell any compelling competing narrative.

Instead, the image presented to their neighbours down South was that of rabble-rousing anti-Catholic rants from the Reverend Ian Paisley.

One typical story from this book is that from July 1971 of the Co Mayo farmer charged with possession of a Thompson sub-machine-gun, five rifles, two automatic pistols and 2,295 rounds of ammunition.

After the jury had discussed the case for 35 minutes they returned a verdict of not guilty.

Members of Provisional Sinn Fein, which had been picketing the court throughout the trial, cheered, and the judge commented: “Whether he is a member of an illegal organisation or not is a matter for himself and does not concern the jury or myself in this case.”

In Dublin the British Embassy described the verdict as “unsatisfactory”.

I’d like to know more details of that story, but as it stands it reveals not just the sympathy for lawlessness that has always been a feature of the Irish nationalist make-up, but the British – well, mostly the English – tendency to murmur disquiet when they should have been kicking up a fuss.

It was already clear to the Irish police, army and political establishment that there was widespread recruitment, training, arming and funding of IRA violence in Northern Ireland – all of which would increase massively after the disasters of the introduction of internment and the Ballymurphy killings the following month and Bloody Sunday in January 1972.

Mr O Faolean has turned up in British official archives much interesting material, including detailed reports of IRA border activity, which on the whole Irish Governments preferred not to think about.

One cross-border study undertaken by the RUC and British Army between March 1976 and May 1977 recorded 164 IRA attacks against targets within two miles of the border.

But, not surprisingly, successive Irish Governments saw little electoral advantage in facing down what was so much easier to ignore and no one was telling them or the people down South the terrible stories of brutal murders, life-changing injuries, broken-hearted families, terrified children and the ethnic cleansing of border Protestants that were the consequences of these attacks.

In 1979, after yet another report, which was leaked to the Press, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence wrote to another senior civil servant: “I have no doubt that the Dublin Government will be embarrassed by the passages about the use of the South by terrorists. So they should be.”

They were, he said, “only too readily disposed” to play down the extent to which terrorists use the South as a base from which to mount their attacks.

“But the South is freely used for that purpose; and in light of the recent casualties among members of the Security Forces it seems to me no bad thing that Dublin should be reminded about it.”

In Mr O Faolean’s words: “If Belfast was the ‘cockpit’ of the Provisionals’ campaign during these years, the South was certainly the engine.”

Although there is much in this book that is deeply embarrassing for the Irish establishment, there is no smoking gun.

Taoiseach Jack Lynch was unequivocal to the British ambassador about “bad” and “weak” judges, and it was to deal with partisan juries that the Special Criminal Court was set up in 1972.

But double standards dominate and it is the hypocrisy that is sickening.

Kenny Donaldson of SEFF was right on Saturday when he said that there can be no decent legacy process unless it is on the basis of the two states being prepared “to step up and offer full disclosure and co-operation concerning the past”.

This book is a start.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This