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Sunday 9 March 2003

Lest we forget what the Provos really did

SO IT'S all over for the Provos. Sure, they'll bleat and whinge and threaten, but grudgingly they'll tell us that their war is over. And they'll try to persuade us that it was a just, honourable and successful war, that they were the goodies and that they won.

Before remorseless republican revisionism brainwashes everyone, let's just remind ourselves what the Provisional IRA have done to this country with their guns and bombs and rockets and iron bars and baseball bats since they came into being in December 1969.

The Provos claim they defended the Catholic population from loyalists and security forces, that they were fighting for justice and equality and that by their sacrifice and heroism they have brought a United Ireland closer than anyone could have dreamed.

But it wasn't like that. The Provos made Ireland worse for everyone, Catholic and Protestant, nationalist and unionist, northerners and southerners, civilians and the uniformed. They even made it worse for themselves. They made it worse, not just because of all those they killed and injured and terrified and corrupted, but because everything they did sowed bitterness and mistrust.

More than 3,600 people died during the troubles - almost 50 per cent of them at the hands of the Provos. (Other republican groups bring that tally up to almost 60 per cent.) Loyalists killed just under 30 per cent; security forces 10 per cent.

The Provos weren't defenders of their people. They killed five times as many republicans (162) as they did loyalists (28). Not only did they kill hundreds of Catholics, both accidentally and on purpose, but they provoked loyalist violence.

As Malachi O'Doherty, born and brought up in West Belfast, said in The Trouble with Guns, "the Provisionals articulated not defence but defiance, and the cost of that defiance was increased casualties among the Catholic working classes".

Of the almost 1,100 killed by loyalists, Catholics bore the brunt. The security forces would not have been killing people had the Provos not been attacking them. The Provos bang on about Bloody Sunday year in, year out and the media exhaustively report that £150m bonanza for lawyers called the Saville Inquiry.

But we don't hear that the Paras wouldn't have run amok on Bloody Sunday, 30 January 1972, if they hadn't been keyed up by recent Provo murders: that very month, two 18-year-old soldiers, four policemen, one member of the Ulster Defence Regiment and one civilian (to stop him being a witness in an arson case); the previous year, 44 soldiers, 11 policemen and five members of the UDR. When we think of Bloody Sunday, we might put it in perspective and remember how restrained were the security forces, who almost always killed in self-defence.

Here are a few figures Gerry Adams won't give you. Army: 503 soldiers killed; they killed 301. Local defence forces: (UDR/Royal Irish Rifles): 206 killed; they killed 8. The RUC, whom the Provos so thoroughly demonised, lost 303 members and killed 50. The Provos got off lightly, killing 911 soldiers and policemen and losing only 115. But that was typical, for they always got off very, very lightly.

How many of us remember that though during the troubles they killed almost 1,800, they lost fewer than 300? That many of these were killed by their own bombs or shot as informers? That the hunger strikers of 1981 were terrorists? That Bobby Sands was in jail for transporting weapons to kill? That Francis Hughes, the second to die, had murdered between one and three dozen people who were husbands, fathers, brothers and sons that no one ever makes any fuss about? When the republican ballads about cruel English ways are being sung, how many of us remember what the Provos did to people?

There are those who make excuses for atrocities like Claudy or Enniskillen or La Mon - where an IRA fireball burned seven women and five men to death at the dinner-dance of the Irish Collie Club - by saying that mistakes happen in war. (They are usually the same people who make no allowances whatever for mistakes made by soldiers or policemen.)

But even Martin McGuinness can't justify what happened to Patsy Gillespie, a Catholic canteen worker who was chosen in 1990 to be the Provos' first human bomb? Yes, folks, our very own Provos got there ahead of Osama bin Laden. The only difference was that Osama's pilots were volunteers. Poor Patsy was forced to drive a van bomb to a checkpoint because the Provos had kidnapped his family; he died along with five soldiers.

Patsy didn't trouble the Provos' consciences. These so-called defenders are oppressors, and oppressors believe you can't keep people down without violence, intimidation, propaganda, lies and the preaching of hate. The republican leaders who killed and maimed their own people along with the so-called enemy these days preside over beatings and shootings and the suppression of free speech in the sad little ghettos they control. And, of course, over the criminal empire that subsidises Sinn Fein.

The Provos' stated reason for rejecting Sunningdale in 1973 and innumerable other constitutional options was that Northern Ireland could not be reformed so it had to be destroyed. They ruined the lives of thousands of people because they were too thick to grasp their analysis was wrong.

Now that the Provos are giving up their war to put some representative bottoms back on the benches of Stormont, what has become of the United Ireland they claimed they were fighting for? Why, their grimy and heartless war has made it almost impossible.

Sectarianism is worse than 30 years ago; communal memories are incomparably more bitter; unionist mistrust of nationalists is at an all-time high, for they see them voting for murderers and closing ranks with them in negotiations; and the south just wants the troublesome North to go away.

The war is over because the Provos' game is up. It was an unjust, dishonourable and unsuccessful war, they were the baddies and they lost. They do not deserve to have gotten off so lightly. But then, they always did.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards