Mountbatten, the Narrow Water massacre, 30 years of Thatcher, even the WW2 anniversary, its a great time for stoking up the memories. In August 1969, was the Irish army on the brink of invading up the Buncrana road as a new RTE documentary seems to allege? As a student back home in Derry, I remember the tingles coursing down my spine when I watched the mild mannered Jack Lynch delivering his we shall not stand by speech on August 13 1969, as the petrol bombs and CS gas canisters flew only a few hundred yards but also a world away in the Bogside. I wondered if we should get the old folk out as they quietly delivered tea to the exhausted police back from the wretched front line. In and around Rossville St many were thinking the same. Clearly Lynch had to say something and perhaps his speech emphasised to the reluctant British the inevitability of intervention – theirs, that is. Even then and certainly not since, I did not believe that the Irish government would do anything so foolish as to invade. For them it would have been worse than their Suez crisis. Lynch realised his practical impotence and said as much to an RTE staffer in a quote I can’t find just after his broadcast. Leaving aside the mere matter of the British governments reaction, an incursion would probably have meant direct confrontation between the Irish army, the RUC and the B men, judging from the scale of the final flare -up in the hours before the army deployment. At best, however much the border was reluctantly recognised, the fundamental breach of international law would have meant a humiliating Irish withdrawal which would have badly damaged whatever moral authority they had for years. Invading sovereign terriitory however disputed remains a grave fundamental act even though on the ground at the time, the international repercussions were hardly on people’s minds. Hysterics on the republican side may have relished the idea of forcing the crisis to them it seemed like a momentt for realising their dreams – and certainly they did their best as we know from reports of the Irish army training Bogsiders and the Arms Trials. But Lynch was never among them and although slow to move, his view as always decisive.. See his speech only a couple of weeks later. So as Michael Winner would say, calm down dear!
I want to make it clear, however, once more, that we have no intention of using force to realise this desire. I said as recently as 28th August that it was and has been the Governments policy to seek the re-unification of the country by peaceful means.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London