10th July 1972: Decisions D and J

This month’s An Phoblacht has also ran with the Relatives for Justice story about the 10 July 1972 memo of a security meeting chaired by NI Secretary of State William Whitelaw that has already been discussed on here and elsewhere. Close scrutiny of the details of the memo suggests that this is an even more significant document than was first noted.

Much of the coverage of the memo focussed on the statement that: “The Army should not be inhibited in its campaign by the threat of Court proceedings and should therefore be suitably indemnified.” This occurs in the second half of the memo in a list of points that follow this header: “After discussion of the political and strategic factors in the new situation the following decisions were taken“[my emphasis].

In all the memo includes a series of ‘decisions’ labelled A-L, including the indemnification comment above (J) and others, such as how the breakdown of the 1972 truce and Whitelaw’s talks with the IRA leadership would be handled (A), the need for more troops and material (G) and the parades on 12th July 1972 (K). The attendant to-do list in the document is significant. Where individual items can be examined against the records in the public domain, the implementation of individual ‘decisions’ can be verified. Whitelaw’s subsequent statements, initially on the breakdown of the IRA truce, then in his admission of the talks with the IRA leadership all conform to the ‘decisions’ listed in the memo and rolled out over the 10th/11th July, as reported in the press at the time. A raising of troop levels was announced in the press on the 11th July and various other security measures that took place over the next weeks appear to correspond exactly to the ‘decisions’ listed in the memo. Decision (I) – Plans were to be produced urgently for the containment of areas harbouring bombers and gunmen – is the go for Motorman itself.

In a post to the previous thread, I’d contextualised a ‘decision’ that the Army should be ‘suitably indemnified’ in the RUC forwarding it’s report on Bloody Sunday to the DPP on the 4th July 1972 (six days earlier) and the issues raised by the numbers of contentious deaths arising from incidents involving the army since 1971. The treatment of internees had been whitewashed by Compton at the end of 1971, Widgery had reported at the end of April 1972, and the Scarman report on the 1969 disturbances, including criticism of the roles played by the security forces (in this case the RUC and B Specials), was also published in that same month. Any ‘decision’ on indemnification emerging from a high level security meeting has to be taken seriously in this context, particularly when the other ‘decisions’ taken appear to have been carried out as described.  In practical terms, the state clearly didn’t indemnify army personnel in any visible legal sense, but rather, consistently put the weight and resources of the state on their side of the scales of justice to prevent findings against them when they shot innocent civilians.

Was that ‘decision’ extracted for comfort by the army chiefs or was it consensus that emerged in the face of the very public agenda raised by the likes of Widgery? Many of the same  senior politicians and civil servants had been present at the talks with the IRA in the preceding weeks. So, there may be odd echoes here of the pledge Lyndon Johnson extracted from his generals in Vietnam over Khe Sanh in 1968 that it would not turn into another ‘damn Din Bin Phoo’ [Dien Bien Phu]. The ‘decision’ itself may be an outworking of high level tensions on the eve of Motorman over who might carry the can for violence in the north with the service chiefs requiring some level of comfort to convince themselves that they wouldn’t either be hung out to dry if the government change policy or wrong-footed by Whitelaw’s free-styling articulation of policy. The list of attendees at the 10th July meeting and the briefings on the morning of Motorman are almost identical.

The An Phoblacht piece raises another of the ‘decisions’, (D): “The GOC would see UDA leaders that afternoon and impress upon them that while their efforts as vigilanties in their own areas were acceptable, their presence in any riot or shooting situation would not be tolerated.” Superficially, it seems churlish to point up official contacts with the UDA while simultaneous talks were ongoing with the IRA leadership.

But the meaning of acceptable vigilante behaviour isn’t expanded upon in this memo. On the day after the 10th July meeting with the GOC, the press carried statement issued by the UDA about it’s intent to fight the IRA. While killings by loyalists are mainly unattributed in early 1972, some of the UDA’s ‘acceptable vigilante’ actions up to and after 10th July includes at least 28 killings.  While the IRA leadership met with political representatives and were treated as opponents in security and political fields, the UDA met with the operational commander of the security forces, the GOC.

With hindsight, an indemnification policy is clearly visible in practice. If you doubt that, I’d suggest you read Bill Rolston and Mairead Gilmartin’s Unfinished Business. The significance of the 10th July 1972 memo is that there is a written ‘decision’ (J) that emerged from a high level meeting to that effect amongst a list of other ‘decisions’ that were publicly implemented and can be clearly identified in the historical record. Decision (D) also raises additional questions about the official standing of the operational role accorded to loyalist paramilitaries by the GOC and other senior security and political figures. In documentary terms, the 10th July memo may be as close as anyone will come to finding official documenting of policies that have been consistently denied in the face of considerable evidence.

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