Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

Henry Patterson on ‘Could Dublin have done more to stop the IRA’

Sun 15 September 2013, 3:29pm

Professor Henry Patterson had this interesting article in the Irish Times on Friday about the Irish government’s failure to tackle the Provisional IRA from 1970 onwards. Here I must declare an interest, Henry Patterson is my supervisor, but this is something I have written about myself.

Patterson has recently written a book on this subject called Ireland’s Violent Frontier which looks at the border security policies of the British and Irish governments during the Troubles.

In his book and in this article, Patterson is critical of the Irish governments response to the IRA campaign highlighting complaints from the British government that;

The Irish security forces were seen as being ineffective or turned a blind eye to IRA activities as long as they were directed North. In some cases members of the Garda were transferred away from the Border and there was also substantial increases in Garda and Army numbers in Border areas.

However, the focus of this increased security force presence was on IRA challenges to the stability of the South and possible loyalist incursions. The response to British pleas for more effective forms of co-operation was limited and patchy.

Patterson does note that there was some co-operation on the ground between both sides but this;

was often reliant on the personalities of individual policemen and what was perceived to be the attitude of Minister of Justice and government of the day.

He concludes by giving an assessment of where Eamon Gilmore could build on his recent remarks arguing;

the Irish Government should consider opening the State archives on these contentious issues in as comprehensive a manner as Saville. This would not end the battle over history in Northern Ireland but it would at least cut down on the amount of permissible lies about the past.

Could more disclosure from Dublin be one of the final pieces of the jigsaw we need to close the book on the past? It seems to be the most likely way to ever get some kind of truth about what happened during the Troubles.

On an interesting side note, while conducting my own research I came across this interesting poll from February 1973 in the Sunday Telegraph on Irish attitudes towards the IRA campaign.

Do you support the present IRA campaign of violence in NI as the best means of achieving unity?

Yes-15% No-85%

If not would you favour stronger action, or even internment, against IRA operations in NI from the South?

Yes-44% No-56%

John-Paul McCarthy has this piece on the topic in today’s Sunday Independent

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Comments (40)

  1. gendjinn (profile) says:

    A professor in social science knows (or should know barring gross incompetence) that any question asking “Could X have done Y to achieve Z?” can only be answered with a yes.

    If Britain with a population 5 times greater than Ireland, an army 40 times larger, and an economy that dwarfed Irelands couldn’t secure the border how can you reasonably expect Ireland to have been able to?

    If not would you favour stronger action, or even internment, against IRA operations in NI from the South?

    Surprising as it is, most people are opposed to locking people up without trial. That you could find even 44% supporting is frankly astonishing. Had internment been left out of the polling question the Yes would have jumped to near 100%.

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  2. Granni Trixie (profile) says:

    I read this article by HP yesterday and thought it was an interesting
    follow up on a week when unionist parties were claiming a ‘victory’ for the Irish acknowledging their part in sustaining the conflict. I also have been impressed at Pattersons other research for example he produced a book in 2006 concerning “the persistence of conflict”.
    Your own research sounds interesting,god luck with that.

    However what I object to are sectarian assumptions that this is solely a unionist/Protestant issue. I have heard many Catholics (such as myself) articulate a grievance against the South because they appeared to be creating safe havens for terrorists. what I am getting at also are assumptions that most Catholics/Nationalists approved of this. The IRA also appropriated a flag which came to represent something negative and which lies at the root of much animosity towards the south, something which is everybody’s business to overcome,not just one side of the community.

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  3. Charles_Gould (profile) says:

    David

    Very interesting blog item.

    You are lucky to have Prof Patterson as your PhD supervisor. That is an intellectual treat.

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  4. tmitch57 (profile) says:

    @David,

    Good luck with your research. From what I’ve seen the main greivance that London has with Dublin over The Troubles was the failure to properly extradite republican terrorist suspects particularly under Haughey in the 1980s. Haughey later did a 180 on this in the late 1980s. Otherwise I believe that the Garda and the Irish army did a good job of taking what measures they could to prevent terrorism considering budgetary restraints. If Haughey was so convinced that these “political criminals” couldn’t get a fair trial in the North, he should have tried them in the Republic with Garda and RUC providing testimony against them. But I think Haughey was reading the same polls that you were.

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  5. Barnshee (profile) says:

    “I believe that the Garda and the Irish army did a good job” my arse

    This would include the Garda from Burnfoot who turned up to hurl bricks and iron bars at the cops in William street ?

    f Britain with a population 5 times greater than Ireland, an army 40 times larger, and an economy that dwarfed Irelands couldn’t secure the border how can you reasonably expect Ireland to have been able to?”

    Never any intention to secure the border might be more appropriate- mind you the f”oot and mouth ” scares suddenly produced total security on the border – funny that

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  6. David McCann (profile) says:

    Charles, Granni and tmitch,

    Thanks for your good wishes and yes Henry is great to work with.

    I think the issue Henry is raising here in this piece and his book is that we need to broaden our focus of the violence of the Troubles away from just the British government.

    Before you say it,he is not arguing that we ignore the British government.Rather,he is saying in order to properly deal with the past,we need to realise key failures in some areas.

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  7. BluesJazz (profile) black spot says:

    The very least the Republic’s government could have done would allow British Army helicopter gunships free fly zones over the border counties, and permission for the SAS to operate with impunity within those areas.

    In fact, with the dissident threat, there are no compelling reasons not to allow such co-operation at present.

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  8. paulG (profile) says:

    The Republic’s Governments acted to neutralise Republican and Loyalist activites South of the border to prevent detabilsation of the State and protect it’s population from escalating Northern violence, as it should have. It also reflected the sympathy of it’s population to the plight of their fellow Gaelic Catholic neighbours.

    Only those most blinkered to the discrimination, oppression, pogroms and ultimately murders, propgated by the Stormont regime and backed by the British, could – with a straight face – ask why the Southern Government didn’t do more to support the British in their Military and Legal / illegal ventures.

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  9. sherdy (profile) says:

    David, I was reading your tome with the reasonable part of my brain until you quoted a survey in the Sunday Telegraph.
    That was similar impartiality to asking Netanyahu about an independent state for Palestinians.

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  10. David McCann (profile) says:

    I did see similar polls conducted by the Irish Times getting similar numbers during that period.

    Plus at that time in Feb 73 Ireland just elected a FG govt who pledged a hard line against the IRA. Plus the second party-FF had just months before banned SF from RTE and introduced the amendments to the Offences Against the State act.

    The numbers do reflect a general anti-IRA sentiment with limitations on what the public would want the government to do.

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  11. Ulick (profile) says:

    I’m sure “Dublin” could have done more to combat the IRA but they had no incentive or reason to do so. The British very clearly picked their side by organising various unionist militia, colluding in murder, interning innocents without evidence or trial, massacring protesters, as well as robbing banks and committing bloody murder in the south.

    The southern government did enough to stop themselves getting dragged into the conflict in the north without fatally destabilising their own state. That the likes of Henry Patterson and other establishment apologists believes they should have done more says more about them and their deliberate blind spots which ignores contemporary context in order to ride their own baseless hobby-horse. Patterson would surely have had the Irish government set the fuse for Dublin and Monaghan themselves, while reinforcing the Paras in Derry and summarily executing it’s own citizens, rather than turning a blind eye to others doing so.

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  12. Granni Trixie (profile) says:

    Ulick

    Two (or more) wrongs do not make a right. In essence, speaking as one who lived through the troubles in WB, the IRA did a terrible disservice to the people of Ni, including Catholics.

    The Unionist government were completely in the wrong not least in their attitudes to Catholics and in the discriminatory regime they oversaw. i think you reveal your own blind spots by the slurs you throw at others.

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  13. Dixie Elliott (profile) says:

    I must agree with Ulick, the British when not murdering Catholics themselves assisted loyalist killer gangs as did the RUC.

    As usual this is yet another shoody attempt at laying the blame solely at the door of the IRA.

    The IRA existed only as a handful of Republicans when Unionist gangs were murdering and bombing in the 1960s in an attempt to blame Republicans. Fearing concessions to Catholics they needed to bring the IRA bogeyman back into being and this is why the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee was created with the UPV/UVF as it’s killer gang.

    In 1966 this gang killed 3 people including a Protestant woman, unfortunate enough to live beside a Catholic owned pub.

    They also carried out bombings in both the North and the South, including water and electricity installations.

    All because Catholics demanded Civil Rights.

    Had Catholics not been treated as 2nd class citizens it is likely that the IRA might never have reemerged but, as I’ve pointed out, Unionists bigots needed the IRA even as a scare tactic so they pretended with deadly effect to be them until they came about themselves.

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  14. David McCann (profile) says:

    Uhhh NICRA wasn’t founded until 1967 and the first big protests didn’t come until 1968 but sure why let facts get in the way?

    The UVF reformed due to uneasyness at 50th anniversary of the Somme and a sense that the province was being undermined. They were clearly wrong and even if they were right that would not justify killing people.

    Also the PIRA emerged in Jan 1970-by which time One man, one vote, housing reform, local government reform and disbandment of the B-specials had all happened. That didn’t make NI rosey but still reform was happening due to NICRA campaign.

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  15. Turgon (profile) says:

    David,
    Interesting article but neither you, Henry Patterson nor the assorted commentators above have made any mention of the marked difference of approach taken by the RoI over the IRA’s 1956-62 terrorist campaign on the border (so called Operation Harvest). During that campaign the RoI governments (both FG and FF) used internment extensively.

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  16. David McCann (profile) says:

    Henry,

    Does talk about that in his book.

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  17. Dixie Elliott (profile) says:

    So David the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee came about in 1966 as a result of what?

    The point I was making and well you know it is that Unionist bigots needed the IRA when one didn’t exist so they set about pretending to be the IRA.

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  18. David McCann (profile) says:

    Came about as a result of fears about NI’s constitutional position in light of 1966. It had buggar all to do with civil rights-NICRA didn’t exist in 1966.

    Remember a lot of the UVF guys where working class protestants-many of whom did not have the vote in local government either.

    One the attacks in April 69-Yeah you’re right the UVF did that to make people think it was the IRA but from looking at newspapers from that period it was quickly apparent that it was the UVF and not the IRA.

    You’re right to say the UVF needed an IRA and vice versa-pretty pointless fighting a battle against no enemey is there?

    Anyway,We’re drifting off topic here. Happy to give you right of reply on what i’ve said but after that can we stay on topic.

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  19. BluesJazz (profile) black spot says:

    “the British when not murdering Catholics themselves”???

    Dixie, the Army (and the “British “) include substantial numbers of Catholics.
    Are you saying there is a major training module at RMA Sandhurst, Colchester etc on the evils of Rome? The ‘whore of Babylon’ etc. Are the Irish Guards and Gurkhas forced to read and learn about the benefits of the Reformation?
    That’s what you just posted.

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  20. David Crookes (profile) says:

    David, is it true that at any time in NI’s history there were any adult persons who were unable to vote in local government elections?

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  21. paulG (profile) says:

    David,

    “Also the PIRA emerged in Jan 1970-by which time One man, one vote, housing reform, local government reform and disbandment of the B-specials had all happened. That didn’t make NI rosey but still reform was happening due to NICRA campaign.”

    The RUC had also murdered several Catholics on the street and in their homes in the preceding months.

    They’d already upped the ante by reserving the right to life!

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  22. Charles_Gould (profile) says:

    Mr Crookes:
    1832: only 1 in 7 males could vote in UK elections, those with landed interests
    1867: urban men added, with property restrictions
    1918: property restrictions lifted for men across UK (incl NI) for Westminster elections but retained in local elections (in UK inc NI)
    *Adults between 18-21 not able to vote anywhere in UK until 1969
    *Local election universal sufferage was introduced in GB from 1948 with lifting of property restrictions in the Representation of the People Act but this reforme delayed to 1968 in Northern Ireland.
    *Differential age restrictions on women until 1928

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  23. Harry Flashman (profile) says:

    Could the Irish government have done more to secure the border and make life difficult of the IRA? Of course it could have, and the evidence of this is that when they felt like it the Irish government could suddenly stage massive security clampdowns at the drop of a hat and put the clampers on the provies big time when they wanted to.

    I think of occasions when senior businessmen were kidnapped or intelligence was gained that they were going to be captured and the Irish security forces swooped most effectively, qualms about shoot-to-kill were oddly lacking when it was the Gardai doing the shooting and “subversives” south of the border were on the receiving end.

    I well remember the hunt for Dessie O’Hare when sub-machine gun toting Gardai were manning checkpoints in the centre of Dublin, I enjoyed the blase demeanour I could adopt as a hard-bitten Northerner when my fellow Trinity students were expressing their excitement at the national emergency.

    Operation Mallard and the speed with which legislation could be rushed through the Dail to seize a million and a half quid in a Dundalk bank account believed to be the proceeds of Ben Dunne’s ransom show how fast the Republic could move when they wanted to.

    When it came to protecting the southern establishment the Irish were unmerciful. Ask a provie where he would rather have spent jail time, Portlaoise, or God help us Mountjoy, or the Maze and the answer will surprise no one with any knowledge of the barbaric conditions in Irish jails.

    So yes the Irish could have done so, but at what massive cost?

    As pointed out above the sixth-largest economy in the world with arguably the most professional and well-trained army in the planet had difficulties handling the provos. The bombs and killings in Belfast and for the most part Derry didn’t originate south of the border, but were organized under the noses of the toughest anti-terrorist police ever assembled, supported by twenty thousand or so full time and part time British troops, as well as the most ruthless special forces and the finest intelligence operatives in the world and backed up by the toughest anti-terror legislation drawn up outside of South Africa or Israel.

    The “Free State” might not have done all they could but in the lengthy list of sinners in the Troubles they’re not even mid-table.

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  24. weidm7 (profile) says:

    The very topic ignores the reality of the situation at the start of the troubles. It was the Irish state’s duty to support those oppossed to the sectarian, discriminatory state of Northern Ireland. Most history books agree that the south was lax on the IRA until the 70s at the earliest, this is no source of shame for the southern state or the Irish people.

    The south needs to grow a backbone and instead of worrying about cheap political gain in the south, they should re-affirm that NI was to put it lightly, a cold house for Catholics and in the historic situation, an armed uprising was inevitable. They can easily then say that the actions of the IRA weren’t justified under any circumstances, but that their emergence was inevitable as a result of conditions in NI.

    This would be a perfectly reasonable position to hold, and it would hold true to reality. It might even help to shift the pressure onto unionism as a whole but especially the DUP as the biggest unionist party and the UUP as the original overseers of this sectarian state, and even the British government, for an apology for the treatment of Catholics over the decades. A general apology from the British state for centuries of mistreatment and mismanagement in Ireland until very recently, would also be welcome.

    Instead the spineless southerners will instead jump at any opportunity to have a go at Sinn Féin or the IRA and to re-inforce the narrative of the crazy, savage IRA versus the peace-loving ‘people of Northern Ireland’ TM, as if there were such a thing, and as if the British Army or State weren’t even involved.

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  25. cynic2 (profile) says:

    The evidence at the Smithwick Tribunal was shocking and damning.

    Evidence in murder cases deliberately withheld and destroyed on the orders of politicians to hamper investigations into IRA crimes committed in Ireland. This went to the top in the Republic when Haughey was in power. But that was confined to one man and his cronys and after all – he was elected

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  26. Harry Flashman (profile) says:

    “This would include the Garda from Burnfoot who turned up to hurl bricks and iron bars at the cops in William street ?”

    Erm, it might be better to diplomatically skip that incident given that members of the “cops”, ie the Royal Ulster and Ulster Special constabularies, were not beneath chucking bricks, petrol bombs (yes, petrol bombs) and sectarian invective about the vicinity of Wiliam Street at the same time.

    The same cops who a few months earlier thought it would be good crack to go on a drunken rampage, smashing windows and beating up local residents in the middle of the night.

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  27. David Crookes (profile) says:

    Many thanks, Charles!

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  28. between the bridges (profile) says:

    Anyone who wants to deny that for most of the troubles the ROI was tacit in it’s support and at best turned a blind eye to PIRA activities. Has only to examine the total lock down of the border by southern security forces upon the deaths of cattle…http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/500-gardai-and-army-troops-move-to-seal-off-border-26097762.html

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  29. PaddyReilly (profile) says:

    Yes, Charles Haughey in particular could have done more to stop the I.R.A., because of course he armed the I.R.A. But the question is, why would he want to?

    Take the case of Major Fred Crawford. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_H._Crawford

    In 1914 he was one of two leaders responsible for the Larne gun running which armed the U.V.F. to overturn democratic rule and to prevent the non-violent resolutions of conflicts in Ireland. In this he was wholly successful. In 1921 he was placed on the honours list and awarded the C.B.E. In 1934 he wrote a book confessing to it all, and didn’t die till 1952. His CBE was never taken away.

    So you can see that in the world we come from, gun-running is a meritorious and praiseworthy activity, the sort of thing we get medals for. You can hardly expect that the Irish Government would not take the opportunity to do it, if they saw a need for it. It is only in your mythology that the letter U is sacrosanct, and the letter I inherently wicked.

    The difference between the 1956 campaign and the later one is that the 1956 affair was minimal and had no realistic chance of success. However by the 60s and 70s there was major urban unrest, creating refugees from the North in Dublin. A country as small as Ireland would be ruined by any influx of refugees, so it was essential to create a level field in the North.

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  30. denogla (profile) says:

    The problem is that the question: ‘Could Dublin have done more to stop the IRA?’ Is in itself a badly posed one, for two principal reasons: one, anti-IRA security policy was not the sole responsibility of the Dublin government (certainly not when IRA attacks occurred on the British side of the border), two, the question of whether or not the IRA could have been or was militarily defeated in a conventional sense remains an open one. The PIRA, even during the 1990s, was a rather different thing from the broken down organization of the 1940s and 1950s. Other posters are correct that Dublin was capable of successfully bringing in some pretty sweeping security measures when national security or interests were directly threatened (de Valera during the 1940s, foot and mouth, etc.). But to imply that the Republic was some kind of haven for the IRA overlooks the reality of how Dublin governments, particularly during the 1970s and when headed by FG were utterly opposed Irish republicanism, and is surely wrong in that sense. Read Ferriter’s recent book on Ireland in the 1970s for more on that.

    @weidm7, your proposition that ‘It was the Irish state’s duty to support those oppossed to the sectarian, discriminatory state of Northern Ireland’ seems like a fair enough one, but it is over-simplistic. If it is meant to imply that it was Dublin’s ‘duty’ to support the violent republicanism, it is also a mistaken one. At least, most of those who had been in power in Dublin during the 1970s would have thought so.

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  31. Barnshee (profile) says:

    “Erm, it might be better to diplomatically skip that incident given that members of the “cops”, ie the Royal Ulster and Ulster Special constabularies, were not beneath chucking bricks, petrol bombs (yes, petrol bombs) and sectarian invective about the vicinity of Wiliam Street at the same time.”

    Indeed they were however or own “home grown bastards” not “imported ”

    I can still see the look on the “guards ” face when he realised he had been ” clocked “– mind you not half a funny as his flight out of Sean McIvor’s pub in Burnfoot the following Saturday when (totally without foundation) he assumed the half dozen or so hill walkers who arrived in had “called to see him” I well remember (for whatever reason) Sean’s hugh expression of glee

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  32. Barnshee (profile) says:

    “Could Dublin have done more to stop the IRA?

    The Dublin Government had no intention of “stopping the IRA” the best that could be expected was inertia. In reality their actions ranged from tacit support to direct action in support of PIRA and its actions. From money collected in pubs to arms supplied.

    In my peregrinations I found it quite strange that the strong not to say virulent sympathy for PIRA was evident in West Cork and Clare was less so nearer the border.

    The game changers were the Dublin and Monaghan bombings The Republic had thought it was on the touch line (or in the stand) Suddenly it was on the pitch -and it did not like it.
    .

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  33. Gendjinn[4.25] Your second paragraph is the giveaway that all this unionist demands for Republic govt to apologise for alleged facilitating of Provos, is nothing but bragging rights. Have they never heard of the phrase, ‘You can’t prove a negative’? Naturally they offer no criticism of British govt for not securing the border, but that’s par for couyrse

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  34. Seamuscamp (profile) says:

    ‘Could Dublin have done more to stop the IRA’.
    Of course it could; but whether that “more” would have had much effect is a different matter. It could have re-introduced internment without trial; that certainly had an effect in NI, though perhaps not the one intended. It could have turned a blind eye to extra-judicial murders. It could have “balanced” the judiciary to ensure the “right” people were convicted. It could have fed information to gangs of murderers. But it would have remained an under-resourced bit-player.

    The actions taken by Dublin in 1956 (I was a QUB student at the time) were successful only because the violence was mainly a border-area one and had little enthusiasm from the Belfast Nationalist community. 1969 was a different kettle of fish.

    David McC
    Believe it or not Civil Rights issues existed before NICRA. But never mind, it’s always a good idea to praise your supervisor, even if he only has one simplistic eye and embarrassing riches in hindsight.

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  35. gendjinn (profile) says:

    David,

    Charles, Granni and tmitch,

    No rebuttal then? Conceding the points in their entirety.

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  36. Harry Flashman (profile) says:

    “I can still see the look on the “guards ” face when he realised he had been ” clocked “– mind you not half a funny as his flight out of Sean McIvor’s pub in Burnfoot the following Saturday”

    The Gardai in Donegal, particularly north Donegal, really were a law unto themselves weren’t they? It’s almost as if Dublin had completely forgotten about them and they could just do what they liked. Blokes like “Big J—” just seemed to come and go as they pleased and do whatever they wanted, and in whatever state of inebriation suited them.

    I suppose it’s no surprise that discipline eventually completely broke down there (qv Morris Tribunal) when you think back to their antics back then. Mind you it meant Donegal was a fun place to visit, kind of makes me think of places in SE Asia today.

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  37. Barnshee (profile) says:

    “The Gardai in Donegal, particularly north Donegal, really were a law unto themselves weren’t they? It’s almost as if Dublin had completely forgotten about them and they could just do what they liked. Blokes like “Big J—” just seemed to come and go as they pleased and do whatever they wanted, and in whatever state of inebriation suited them.”

    I remember well (unknowingly) giving a Guard in mufti a lift back from Fanad t and stopping in Burnfoot as he bought me a drink his parting comment “jesus you want to drive a bit slower on these roads” summed it up.

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  38. HeinzGuderian (profile) says:

    Yes. :)

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  39. Occasional Commentator (profile) says:

    The Irish republic should be glad that the British didn’t adopt the more proactive approach to belligerent or non-cooperative neighbouring states that the Israelis made use of.

    Bluesjazz said

    “The very least the Republic’s government could have done would allow British Army helicopter gunships free fly zones over the border counties, and permission for the SAS to operate with impunity within those areas.”

    If the UK goverenment had possessed sufficient backbone at the time, they wouldn’t have bothered to seek permission from the free state’s regime to do whatever they had to do within the territory of the 26 county entity.

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  40. FDM (profile) black spot says:

    Occasional Commentator (profile)

    18 September 2013 at 11:24 pm

    The Irish republic should be glad that the British didn’t adopt the more proactive approach to belligerent or non-cooperative neighbouring states that the Israelis made use of.

    Bluesjazz said

    “The very least the Republic’s government could have done would allow British Army helicopter gunships free fly zones over the border counties, and permission for the SAS to operate with impunity within those areas.”

    If the UK goverenment had possessed sufficient backbone at the time, they wouldn’t have bothered to seek permission from the free state’s regime to do whatever they had to do within the territory of the 26 county entity.
    ——————————

    Unionism reduced to fantasy war now for its kicks?

    “Could Dublin have done more to stop the IRA”?

    Couldn’t the British have done more? Perhaps not pulling their flag down from the pole at Dublin castle under the watchful gaze of the head of the IRA Michael Collins and running for the nearest ship?

    Just an idea. Reality beats fantasy, well for people who prefer to live in the real world.

    What do you think?
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