The Falls Curfew….

It only lasted for a single weekend in July 1970, but it had a lasting (and catastrophic) effect on relations between the Falls Road and the British army. This five minutes of raw footage taken whilst journalists were shown around the eerily quiet streets of the Falls, is weirdly evocative of the chill that subsequently descended on the area…Here’s the CAIN archive for the week leading up to the Curfew:

Friday 26 June 1970

Bernadette Devlin, Member of Parliament (MP), was arrested and jailed for six months for riotous behaviour during the ‘Battle of the Bogside’. There was rioting between the British Army and local residents in Derry following the news of the arrest. The riots spread to Belfast.

Saturday 27 June 1970
There was serious rioting in Belfast involving Protestants and Catholics. During the evening groups of Loyalist rioters began to make incursions into the Catholic Short Strand enclave of east Belfast. Catholics in the area believed that they were going to be burnt out of their homes and claimed that there were no British Army troops on the streets to protect the area. Members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) took up sniping positions in the grounds of St Matthew’s Catholic Church and engaged in a prolonged gun battle with the Loyalists. This was the most significant IRA operation to date. Across Belfast seven people were killed of whom five were Protestants shot by the IRA.

Sunday 28 June 1970
Around 500 Catholic workers at the Harland and Wolff shipyard were forced to leave their work by Protestant employees. Most of the Catholic workers were unable to return and lost their jobs. Serious rioting continued in Belfast.

Wednesday 1 July 1970
Reginald Maudling, then Home Secretary, paid a visit to Northern Ireland. [As he boarded the flight out of Northern Ireland again he was reported to have said: “For God’s sake bring me a large Scotch. What a bloody awful country!”.]
The Criminal Justice (Temporary Provisions) Act was passed by the Stormont government introducing a mandatory prison sentence of six months for rioting.

Thursday 2 July 1970
Neil Blaney was found not guilty of illegal arms importation by a Dublin jury. The ‘Arms Trial’ had begun on 28 May 1970. [The case against Charles Haughey continued until 23 October 1970.]
The Prevention of Incitement to Hatred Act (Northern Ireland) was introduced. [It proved difficult to secure convictions under the provisions of the Act and it was seldom enforced.]

Friday 3 July 1970
Falls Road Curfew
Beginning in the afternoon, the British Army carried out extensive house searches in the Falls Road area of Belfast for members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and IRA arms. A military curfew was imposed on the area for a period of 34 hours with movement of people heavily restricted. The house searches lasted for two days and involved considerable destruction to many houses and their contents. During the searches the army uncovered a lot of illegal arms and explosives. However the manner in which the searches were conducted broke any remaining goodwill between the Catholic community and the British Army. During the period of the curfew there were gun battles between both wings of the IRA and the Army. Four people were killed in the violence one of them deliberately run over by an Army vehicle.

Saturday 4 July 1970
The Falls Road curfew continued throughout the day.

Sunday 5 July 1970
At approximately nine in the morning the Falls Road curfew was lifted. [It was later reported that two Unionist ministers, William Long and John Brooke, had been driven through the area in British Army vehicles.]

It was the discovery of an arms find that triggered the wider action. Ed Moloney remarks in his classic analysis of the IRA:

“The puzzling question, though, was why the military had acted on the intelligence. The arms dump belonged to the Official IRA, the Provisionals rivals, and the area was at the time largely sympathetic to the Goulding faction. Although forced by events into a more militant pose, the Official IRA was not spoiling for a fight with British troops. The arms raid risked forcing the Officials into retaliation but did the Provisionals no harm at all. If the British were unable to distinguish between the two IRAs, as some observers have suggested, then they made a monumental blunder, for it was the Provisionals who gained most from the ensuing events.”