Talkback on Operation Banner from Whiterock…

Talkback yesterday is worth a listen (indeed the programme should be archived). It was recorded live at the Whiterock Leisure Centre. It has rich witness accounts from people who lived with the troubles at its height on their doorsteps, from newly weds to school teachers. It also has Gerry Fitt quoting James Callaghan in a phone call from a bookmaker’s shop in West Belfast, when he asked for the soldiers to be sent in. Callaghan told him, “It would be relatively easy to bring the army into Northern Ireland, but it would be the devil of a job to get it out”. Just over half an hour in, it has one of the few relatively heated exchanges, between Malachi O’Doherty and Gerry Kelly:

Malachi O’Doherty:

My sense is that some of us are talking about the army as though it were a change in the weather, as though it happened for no particular reason.

The IRA and the British Army of the early seventies were almost made for each other. That the army came in wasn’t just a unionist demand, Gerry Fitt had asked them to come in as well.

But the army came in ineptly led, and with many of their forces undisciplined, who were drunk and rude on the streets to young men like me. And provocative in their behaviour.

And then you had the organisation of the Provisional IRA determined to have a revolution. They had seen that the Civil Rights movement had invalidated the RUC, if you like, and they thought they could push on, and they were right in this calculation, to bring down the Stormont government. They brought it down within two years.

But for Gerry Kelly to be evasive about mistakes by the IRA. When the IRA bombed, albeit by accident, the Short Strand, an area they were committed to defending, and killed eight people in one bomb. A two minute warning, for the bomb in the Abercorn. Half the members of the IRA in the early seventies who died were killed by own goal bombs that went off, because kids who knew no better were sent out to drive bombs into the centre of Belfast to find a parking space for them with timers they had no access to.

So we have to be very careful about talking about the Army as if the Army just came by some determination to invade and oppress the Catholic people of Ireland.

Gerry Kelly:

I haven’t been evasive at all about the issue. [Malachi interrupts: Here you go again] What I said was.. Well, if you’d let me talk, that’s your usual response to these issues. You’d think you were ashamed of being a nationalist.

What I was saying, and I was saying it very clearly, so let me say it again, just in case Malachi wasn’t listening, and I was listening to him very carefully. The combatant forces, that includes the IRA, and I was in the IRA, made mistakes. They were wrong in some of the things that they did. And it was a war. Now I heard a British general on today saying it wasn’t a war, and we argue over whether it was a conflict or a war, but the fact is that over three thousand people have been killed. The fact is that it could have come to a conclusion much earlier. The fact is that the British government decided to deal with this as a security problem, as opposed to trying to deal with it in a conflict resolution situation.

Now it took well over two decades to get to that point. As a politician, as a Sinn Fein member I can say, that you can take the antecedents of the peace process way back into the eighties when we have been trying to bring this conflict to an negotiated solution and it took a very long time to do that. But we are where we are, and we have managed to put together a power sharing situation to deal with the issues of equality there are many issues ahead of us yet, but we have to the point which in my opinion we should have come to in the…. [Dunseith talks over the end]

  • Malachi’s memory of events is (as always) both selective and partial. He is the ultimate modern-day castle-catholic striving for credibility through his endemic and irrational hatred and bitterness for his own community. If The Provisonals had not been there to defend the Short Strand, then the area would have been simply raised to the ground in 1972.

    As a very frightened child living there I can vividly remember the attempts to burn down the district. The rapid gunfire coming down my street as loyalists attempted to murder everyone in sight. Utterly terrifying. I also remember the absolute heroism of a few brave volunteers who risked (and in one case) gave their lives to defend their people. They will never be forgotten.

  • Cruimh

    An impartial history of the Short strand would certainly make interesting reading. Nobody can defend the sort of violence visited on and from the area – maybe Mac remembers the shooting dead of 3 orangemen returning from a parade that sparked off the 1970 riots ?

  • Harry Flashman

    Macswiney, abusing Malachi O’Doherty along with Kevin Myers, John Hume, Eoghain Harris, Cahal Daly, Conor Cruise O’Brien, Gerry Fitt etc et bloody cetera, men who didn’t toe the Provie line 110% has been stock in trade of the “Republican Movement” for the best part of four decades now.

    It used to work, calling someone a ‘castle catholic’ or ‘west Brit’ was akin to being called a paedophile in Republican communities in the ’70s and ’80s but it isn’t enough now mate.

    Try countering his arguments. The Provos did send half trained boyos into Belfast city centre with bob-a-job bombs put together by fellas who were barely sober half the feckin’ time, I know of what I speak, I am related to one of Derry’s bomb makers in the 1970’s and the man could barely make a sandwich let alone a sophisticated improvised explosive device.

    When the charred remains of innocent men, women and children were being scraped off the pavements they were rushing to the phones to tell UTV how it was all a plot by the Brits to discredit them and how “adequate” warnings had been given. Yeah right, plant twenty seven bombs in a busy city centre on a Friday afternoon, give over a hundred warnings most of them hoaxes and then as a piece de resistance leave the last one at the bus station where terrified shoppers were fleeing to get the hell away! Fucking Provo Bastards!!!

    So what was it all for, eh? Well Gerry K tells us we now have a “power sharing” government. Guess what? You had that in 1974, the Prods didn’t like it but the Provos liked it even less my friend.

    In November of 1968 the NICRA demands were all but met, they had everything they wanted, but no, not enough for the backwoodsmen, and they slaughtered their neighbours for thirty years to get to a situation which they could have easily had in 1969.

    Now I do not absolve the die hard, obdurate Unionists of their responsibility for their part in that awful catclysm, the Loyalists should hang their heads in shame for what they did, chief among them the Revd Dr IRK Paisley, but it is truly nauseating to hear people like you in this day and age spout that dreary garbage about the brave IRA volunteers defending the Catholic population, they did nothing of the sort, they were merely mirror images of the Orange thugs they were fighting.

  • Patricia Mallon

    Well said Malachi…who certainly seemed to rproattle Gerry Ks cage. To me Kellys ‘nationalist’ tag smacked of sectarianism – what he really meant was “a catholic from West Belfast ought not to express (moral?) views such as those expressed by Malachi on the Talkback programme.
    Generally, I have found that lack of language for labelling people is increasingly an obstacle to progress in NI.

  • jone

    I see Gregory Campbell is not happy with the BBC’s coverage of Banner and has expressed his ire in a letter to the chief buck cat Mark Thompson.

    He states:

    “On a number of occasions I heard and watched as soldiers who had served either at the commencement or since the ‘troubles’ give their non political opinions while alongside them was a republican with obvious deeply held political views was interviewed.

    “This resulted in a disastrously one sided approach, with the responsibility for prolonging the violence appearing to lie with those who were dealing with the violence rather than those who were causing it.

    “The whole tenor of almost all of the interviews I heard and saw was that the Army were to blame for either overreacting or prolonging the problems by it’s overzealous attitude. No reporter that I witnessed made the point that the Army were in Northern Ireland because of the violence and mayhem caused by the terrorists. The presence and fortifications of the military were here because of the actions of the IRA and other terrorists. That is why the numbers of soldiers were reduced and the fortifications were removed, because the terrorists stopped terrorising.”

  • BOM

    Harry Flashman – your piece here is the most enthralling piece ever on this website.

    I totally agree with everything you have said as well as what everyone else has said here about the fact that the provos were as much a threat to the Nationalist people as the Loyalists and Brits.

    It is unfortunate that those in support of their campaign over the years seem to think they had the Nationalist population in mind at all times despite them giving the Official IRA as hard a time as they now give the SDLP!!!

    Roll on the day we have a Better Ireland!

  • eleanorbull

    “the absolute heroism of a few brave volunteers who risked (and in one case) gave their lives to defend their people. They will never be forgotten.”

    We will never forget Jimmy Sands.

  • lib2016

    It would seem that the revisionists are out in force this Summer but who are they trying to impress?

    We are in a post-colonial situation and unionism is in tatters. Nationalists form the vast majority of people on this island and their interpretation of history has prevailed, even at Westminster.

    For most of the world the IRA, however brutal, zealous,and wrongheaded were freedom fighters. The British, however disciplined were foreign oppressors.

    In that situation the British, as they have proved around the world and as they are proving now in Iraq and Afghanistan, simply can’t win in the longterm.

    It is unthinkable that our former Orange policestate could ever be re-imposed on NI, with or without the British Army. Since they can’t, in practice, be used what is the point of them staying here?

    Neither Brussels nor Washington will permit the NI situation to continue without a political solution being found.

    The DUP has entered a powersharing Executive because there is no practical alternative, just as there is no practical alternative for nationalists if they want to build a united society here.

  • Prince Eoghan

    >>It would seem that the revisionists are out in force this Summer but who are they trying to impress?<

  • Mick Fealty


    Surely every one is entitled to define their own narrative as they see it from their own experience – revisionists and all?

  • BOM

    The DUP has entered a powersharing Executive because there is no practical alternative, just as there is no practical alternative for nationalists if they want to build a united society here.

    Yes lib – didnt it take them a while to catch on? lol lol

    Pity there had to be people killed and maimed over the years to get back to where we started all those years ago!

  • confused

    asks “what is the point of them staying here” when referring to the British Army.
    The answer is simple —–to remind him and all others that NI is still part of UK.
    That might come as a shock and disappoinment to republicans.
    Don’t over value the influence of Brussels or Washington.

  • Harry Flashman

    Ah yes, “revisionist” I’d forgotten that other term of abuse reserved for Nationalists who refused to go along with the Provos’ groupthink. Designed to stifle debate and once more a demonstration of the increasing desperation of Republicans as they contemplate the utter defeat of all that they fought for, the horrific realisation that the whole damn thing was one futile, hopelessly pointless exercise.

    What was it all for?

    The thousands dead, the tens of thousands maimed, the broken dreams, the decades in prison, the destroyed livelihoods, the desolate homes, the widows, the ruined businesses, the orphans.

    What in Christ’s loving name was it all for?

  • Sean

    It was for freedom and equality something the pre 1972 Storomont wasters had no intention of sharing with the Catholics

  • Harry Flashman

    I lived in pre-1972 Northern Ireland as did the rest of my Catholic family, we were free, we were equal.

    If you have some self esteem issues Sean then let me suggest you seek psychiatric help rather than looking to justify the mass slaughter of thousands of men women and children.

  • The World’s Gone Mad

    Careful Harry – they’ll be calling you a self-hater next for not parroting the party-line.

    As for revisionism look no further than the naive ‘freedom and equality’ argument for what it was all about. Maybe the late 60s and early 70s PIRA with some justification could claim to be defenders of embattled Catholic/Nationalist enclaves, but really that was what it was all about for 30 years? The whole United Ireland/Brits Out thing was obviously just smoke and mirrors..

  • Garibaldy

    All historians are revisionist by nature. As for Irish revisionism, some good, some bad. Same as everywhere else, and for any subject discussed by historians etc.

    But revisionism is different than the falsification of history, or the reinterpretation of the past to suit the agenda of the present. And that, as TWGM points out, has been happening a lot in NI. I’ve seen a story from 1983 with Gerry Adams saying that a bill of rights had no place to play in the republican struggle, and I’ve laughed at hearing people like Paisley explain they wanted equal rights for all British citizens the whole time.

    The reality is that neither the Provos nor the DUP et al were that fussed about civil rights and equality until recently. And even now it’s often a smokescreen for self-interest.