“I’m just not convinced that the outcome we do have..”

Some snippets in the Irish Times from yesterday’s final panel discussion at John Hewitt Summer School, “Reflections on 1968”. Firstly from Paul Bew

“I have never felt self-congratulatory in any way about my involvement because it did precipitate a conflict which eventually claimed 3,500 lives, and that is inescapable,” he said. “It would be very cruel to say that what we have ended up with is a twilight home in east Belfast for retired gunmen, but are relations today between the communities really that different?” Referring to the seeming possibility of a modest reform programme having been carried out by Terence O’Neill’s government, Prof Bew said: “I’m just not convinced that the outcome we do have is any better than what we would’ve had, had the march not went ahead.”

And from Eamonn McCann

“The thought that this would lead to a re-emergence of militant Irish nationalism, which would in turn bring about the resurgence of militant loyalism, would simply never even have occurred to us,” he said. “What this was about, and what it has returned to, was equality of citizenship. History will record the Provisional IRA’s campaign as a continuation of the civil rights movement by inappropriate means.”

But the last word goes to the panel chairman, Malachi O’Doherty, quoting Bernadette McAliskey.

Chairing the event, Malachi O’Docherty told the audience that Bernadette McAliskey, who was unable to attend due to a family bereavement, had accepted the invitation by saying jokingly that “between the pomposity of Bew and the extravagance of McCann, I might look like the sane one”.

, , , ,

  • Garibaldy


    In 1969 the northern regime was clearly more than able to defend itself in terms of force. What the unionists really feared was the deligitimisation of their position inj political opinion in Britain. And they knew fine rightly that that was possible because they understood that the system was built on discrimination. The best thing that happened unionism was the launch of the terrorist campaign as it made them seem the reasonable ones.


    Of course they overreacted. As did elements in Britain that also facilitated the emergence of the Provos. The Cold War mentality was responsible. But in reality the republican movement or any other socialist group was not likely to win mass support in an island as conservative as Ireland, on both sides of the border.

  • “not likely to win mass support”

    I agree, Garibaldy. However, the actions of the militant socialists were more than capable of triggering inter-communal conflict any time the constitutional question arose. Hence my concerns about the lead-up to the next major anniversary: 2016.

    Political opinion in the rest of the UK was uninformed about political life in NI and was hardly likely to be enlightened by the selective propaganda distributed by the numerous CRM factions.

    Presumably the demand for the removal of the B Specials was based on the latter’s ability to frustrate militant insurrection. IIRC RUC numbers had been reduced and police stations had been closed following the earlier Troubles; the state apparatus was ill prepared to deal with the CRM confrontation and the Paisleyite reaction.

  • Garibaldy

    That’s one way of looking at it Nevin. The other is that the B Specials were so bigoted that they could not be relied upon to act in support of the law instead of breaking it, which is why people wanted it removed. The Prime Minister was well aware of the situation in NI due to previous correspondence with the CSJ, as well as pressure from within the Labour Party.

    I wouldn’t worry about the next major anniversary. Totally different circumstances to the past. And we should remember that although Peter Ward was murdered in 1966 it wasn’t the 50th anniversary that triggered the Troubles.

  • Garibaldy, the B Specials were really only used at times of insurrection and IIRC during WWII.

    CSJ was a very minor cog in the CRM and AFAIK it merely highlighted discrimination faced by Catholics. If it mentioned, say, the gentleman’s agreement in Newry re. housing allocation patronage please point me to the reference. The McCluskey’s seem to have been a bit slow to realise they were being conned: “The Republicans and Marxists took over. They spoiled everything” [Daily Telegraph 23August 1993]

    I’d have thought that important anniversaries would have had a major influence on the ‘forces of action and reaction’.