Yes, IRA violence was remorseless, but what caused it? And who brought it to an end?

Martina Devlin with a timely observation:

A debate about the North has become intertwined with the presidential race — one which should have taken place at the time of the Good Friday Agreement more than 13 years ago, but was sidelined amid euphoria about peace in our time.

Quite so. It is an important debate. The problem is that partition has worked to the extent that the largest body of opinion in the Republic, feels ‘the North’ is an embarrassment to the rest of the island. As Malachi O’Doherty so memorably put it:

It’s not hard to see why the Troubles are an embarrassment. For one thing, they went on too long. They seemd to represent a society which was incapable of learning from the sensible and mannered intellectuals. The sensible and mannered intellectuals quickly ran out of things to say and concluded, therefore, that the violence was just an embarrassing lapse into barbarism. The North, as far as Dublin was concerned, was the attic in which the mad old uncle might be allowed to drink himself to death.

But there is another reason. For although the Troubles went on too long, there is a prevailing idea that they ended too easily. But they ended. And maybe the best thing is not to scrutinise how they ended or test the compromises by which they ended, in case we bring them back.

Well, they aren’t coming back. The killing went on too long for any easy return. We have a whole generation of radicals whose appetite for bloody rebellion has been sated, like Wilfred Owen’s passing image of a devil ‘sick of sinning’.

And with the strong entrance of Martin McGuinness into the southern democratic state that important debate is now being had on the hoof, as an aside to the more urgent task of electing a President.

Devlin then inveighs against the constitutionalist ‘revisionism’, presumably of Mitchell and others, by noting the sins of moderates, the ‘understrappers’ of injustice:

Herman Melville’s novel ‘White-Jacket’ contains the following passage: “You are the moderate man, the invaluable understrapper [underling] of the wicked man. You, the moderate man, may be used for wrong but are useless for right.” Melville was suggesting that moderates allow iniquity to be perpetuated because they do not challenge the status quo, and never support what is sometimes necessary to expunge tyranny — such as the tyranny of the Northern state, where ethnic cleansing lite was tolerated and citizens were denied fundamental human rights. There is more than one kind of violence.

This acceptance by revisionists of subjugation in the North allows them to claim it was wrong to resist the status quo, except peacefully. Conveniently, they forget how the agents of the state used rifles and batons to force civil rights campaigners off the streets.

They ignore statistics showing how one sector of Northern society was favoured for jobs and housing at the expense of another. Left to them, the Northern state would have stayed gerrymandered, defective, deviant.

Politicians in the Republic countenanced gross inequalities in the state on their doorstep, perpetuated against people who defined themselves as Irish. Few commentators or voters called them on it.

Yes, IRA violence was remorseless, but what caused it — and, more important, who helped bring it to an end? As history books about this period are written, whose names figure on their pages?

It seems like Eoghan Harris (for whom this campaign is not going well) has at last a worthy opponent!

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  • Alias

    “Alias, Cory wasn’t investigating the activities of Pat, including his relationships with his brothers and other members of the PRM.” – Nevin

    No one claimed he was. The claim was that Cory and Stevens, having access to the police files, were emphatic that there was no information to suggest that Finucane was a member of PIRA.

    As Cory put it:

    “…there is nothing in the RUC files which indicates that Patrick Finucane was a member of PIRA, the IRA or the INLA. It is apparent that two of his brothers were members of Republican organizations but a man cannot be held responsible for the criminal acts of his brothers. If this were not so, history would have held Abel as guilty as his murderous brother Cain.”

    The Senior Police Officer investigating said: “We have no evidence to suggest that Patrick Finucane was a member of PIRA”.

    The presiding coroner confirmed that: “The police refute the claim that Mr Finucane was a member of PIRA. He was just another law-abiding citizen going about his professional duties in a professional manner. He was well known both inside and outside the legal profession. He was regarded in police circles as very professional and he discharged his duties with vigour and professionalism”.

    All the above quotes come from the Cory Collusion Inquiry Report. With all due respect to you, Nevin, you are simply wrong to persist in impugning the character of Mr Finucane when the weight of the evidence is overwhelmingly against your claim.

    There is no doubt that the services of solicitors, accountants, and other professionals are essential to any large criminal organisation that earns large sums from illegal activity but there is nothing to suggest that Mr Finucane was in any way involved in any of that.

  • Nevin

    I thought you might say that, and it is understandable given the history you have lived through, but you miss the whole point of the political changes which have and will continue to take place within Irish republicanism.

    You suggest there are only armchair republicans or armed groups of republicans which pose a threat, which is with respect nonsense. Whilst I have no doubt all free peoples have the right to bear arms if they suffer occupation from a foreign army. If there are political alternatives available, given the military odds, they wold be wise to first put them to the test.

    Armed Republicanism needs special historical circumstances to make it worth a punt, these clearly do not exist today, whether they will in the future is anyones guess.

    You are following a line written by Irelands main enemy.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Limerick :

    I have not accused him of being a Provo.

    Well, you need to sort out your computer security, because someone using your account said this yesterday :

    “Since he was never convicted of PIRA membership we can never be sure that he was a Provo. However it seems there is a very strong possibility that he was. “

  • “You are following a line written by Irelands main enemy.”

    Mickhall, I’m not hung-up on the Ireland v England thingy; I look at a whole range of nuances.

    Those links that I’ve put up have been mainly from a diverse Irish Republican spectrum though the Dáil one from 1966 was from the wider Irish Nationalist family. They demonstrate that rights issues were cynically used to advance a United Ireland agenda, that the NICRA stuff was highly selective/sectarian propaganda and that the Irish government was determined that any ‘reform’ would be limited to NI.

    I’m quite concerned that this decade of anniversaries will produce similar but not necessarily the same turbulence that existed in the 1960s with its links to the anniversary of the 1916 uprising. Perhaps you make the mistake of leaving Unionists out of the equation, a mistake made by many who focus on the England v Ireland thingy.

    I didn’t follow in the footsteps of Paisley or Hume but when you look back over our history during the past two centuries – as A T Q Stewart does in The Narrow Ground – it’s not hard to see that the politics of confrontation quickly sets the respective mobs at each other’s throats; from stones to guns is but one short step.

    In the more recent past London and Dublin have both ‘cultivated’ the ‘good’ paramilitaries at the expense of decent generally law abiding Unionist and Nationalist politicians and to the detriment of democracy.

    I do get to see the changing face of Irish Republicanism (and other manifestations of politics) here in the Kingdom of Moyle but I’m not privy to other stuff that might be happening amongst game-changers such as the successors of Greaves. SF only picked up about half the Republican vote in the last council election; the other half went to those who dissent from the current SF narrative. One from each camp could allegedly expect a visit from Inspector Knacker but, as you may know, Knacker needs political clearance to proceed along the justice path; asking questions about such sensitive matters puts Knacker’s nose out-of-joint. SF HQ seems to have lost the plot in Moyle.

  • “No one claimed he was.”

    Alias, that’s the weakness of taking the narrow view and why the Cory report lacks much credibility. For example, the PRM ‘family’ isn’t just gunmen and bombers; it brings together a very diverse range of expertise. As Mitchel McLaughlin acknowledged, the Army Council is the controlling body.

    Correct me if I’m wrong but those police and coroner quotes are from the era of Hugh Annesley, not from the Jack Hermon one. The Dick Spring link that I posted further up demonstrates that Annesley ‘danced’ to the London and Dublin tune, unlike his predecessor.

    I’m a bit surprised that you put up a Cory quote that portrays any members of this family as criminals.

  • slappymcgroundout

    For one more contribution from me, well, not really me, since I’m not going to say much, and so, from Peter Taylor’s Loyalists:

    The defensive `wall’ of the new state was a formidable security apparatus that consisted of an armed police force and draconian laws against subversion. The new police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), reflected in its name the allegiance of the majority population and was aided by an armed force of special constables known as the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC). The largest and most effective arm of the USC was the `B’ Specials, a unit of 16,000 men who volunteered their services one night a week, on the understanding that they were only to be used in an emergency. Many of them were former members of the original Ulster Volunteer Force. They were unpaid, armed by the state and exclusively Protestant. The `B’ Specials, whose job was to keep an eye on potential subversives in their areas, were hated by nationalists, who saw them as a nakedly sectarian force, and revered by loyalists, who saw them as the defenders of their community and their state. Today loyalists and their politicians still speak warmly of the `B Men’ whom they fondly remember as their bulwark in a golden age when the their state was secure and the IRA kept firmly in its place. They also lament the ending of the Special Powers Act, the statute that gave the Northern Ireland Minister for Home Affairs sweeping powers to fight subversion without any undue concern for civil liberties. It was introduced in 1922 to combat the violence and was intended to last for only a year but finally became permanent until its abolition in 1972. It gave the Minister unprecedented powers to ban organizations, impose curfews, make arrests without warrant and intern suspects without trial.

    This was the state in which the young John Beresford Ash grew up. When he returned to Northern Ireland and the family home at Ashbrook in 1959 after Eton and a brief spell in the army in accordance with the family tradition, he was not happy at what he found, in particular in his home town of Derry where, although nationalists were in a majority, the electoral boundaries had been so gerrymandered that unionists ran the city. `It was an extraordinary situation,’ he said. `There was blatant discrimination against the Roman Catholic population. They were kept in certain wards so that regardless of their numbers, they could never have proper representation at local government level.’ John also saw that however hard they tried, many Catholics found it difficult to escape the poverty to which they had long been consigned because of the discriminatory nature of employment. Although in Derry itself there was work for Catholic women in the shirt factories along the banks of the River Foyle, there was little work for their menfolk, and what jobs there were were largely taken by Protestants. `I was the only Protestant person who employed Catholics here and so they were kept as a financial underclass. Consequently they never had any money and they couldn’t buy a house. The only housing they could get was public housing and that was all concentrated in one ward of the city. So they had a genuine grievance.’

    John saw trouble coming a decade before it erupted and, on his return to Northern Ireland, warned the Young Unionist Council of which he was a member that `if the Protestant people didn’t make some normal, reasonable concessions to normal, reasonable requests from the Catholic population, there was going to be big trouble ahead and they were riding for a fall’. To most unionists in those days, such thoughts bordered on treachery. John was told he was a `blow in’, did not know what he was talking about and should keep his mouth shut. Disgusted by the response and the clear indication that neither attitudes nor the situation were going to change, he gave up politics altogether. He did not even bother to resign but simply stopped going to meetings, as he watched violence flare in 1968 and Northern Ireland slip ever closer to the abyss.

  • Slappy, here’s a bit more of Taylor’s account:

    Author Peter Taylor interviewed John Beresford-Ash for his book, and recounted the latest in a series of attacks on Mr Beresford-Ash’s home, in 1998.

    The book said: “Again, John and his wife were asleep in bed when they heard a crash, but it was not followed by the sound of breaking glass. `We followed our by now set routine. As I came down the main staircase, I could see there was a tremendous glow of fire but this time it was outside the house not in. I flung open the door and to my absolute amazement saw five little fires in a semicircle about ten yards from end to end. I immediately realized what it was. We’d recently had a family photograph taken outside our front door for my sixtieth birthday that had been in the local papers.

    “‘There were five of us there, my three daughters and my wife and myself. I assumed this was meant to represent the five of us being burned.’

    There are echoes of the IRA of 1918 in the IRA of 1998, even if the latter was supposedly in a state of cessation.

  • slappymcgroundout

    Nevin, your point is?

    You can otherwise read more here. To include how he was taken into PIRA custody in the Bogside, with the PIRA believing that he was a British agent:

    I’ll let you tell me and the rest how we go from a friend to Catholics to being firebombed three times. Perhaps it wasn’t who you think it was.

    And even more, courtesy of Mr. Pensive Quill:

    Joshua Levine hadn’t long to wait to experience the absolutism that has afflicted Northern politics since the Plantation of Ulster in the sixteenth century. Indeed, on his way into Belfast from the International Airport in 2008 to begin research for his book, his taxi-driver offered that, ‘The Catholics are anti-Semitic, they support the PLO, but I’m a Presbyterian and we like you.’ The taxi-driver, with the self-assurance of a man who knows these things, informed Levine that, even though he was a Jew, he would be looked after when Jesus returned on the day of judgement because ‘Jews are going straight to heaven’ – presumably along with Presbyterian taxi-drivers (it doesn’t look too good for the rest of us though).

    If the taxi-driver’s fundamentalism raised Levine’s antenna, his next encounter with a member of the Protestant faith, John Beresford-Ash, was an altogether more pleasant experience. Levine described Beresford-Ash as ‘a wonderfully old-fashioned character, impeccably-mannered, entertaining, honest, and indiscreet’ The old man, from Ashbrook outside Derry, narrated the history of his planter forefathers, and how some had eaten rats during the Siege of Derry. Interestingly, Beresford- Ash recounts how, during a visit to Derry in 1971, he had been picked up by the IRA and interrogated by ‘an extraordinary character’, a man he described as ‘clean, fair-haired and very much younger than me’. Beresford-Ash goes on to say that ‘the man would one day rise to prominence in the republican movement’. One wonders to whom the indiscreet Beresford-Ash might have been referring?
    Sir Ken Bloomfield had been head of the civil service in the province from 1984 to his retirement in 1991. In his frank interview with Levine, he said: ‘An entity [Northern Ireland] was set up in which one lot was never going to be in charge. It was a recipe for disaster from the start! It really was!’ To his credit, Bloomfield went further, admitting that in his thirties, when he was in the Northern Ireland cabinet, he saw little wrong with there being few, if any, Catholics in the upper echelons of the civil service or public bodies, and his attitude, ‘Why are these people always moaning?’ mirrored that of most Unionists. This outlook is very much the reflection of that outlined by Lord Craigavon in 1934, when he said: We are a Protestant Parliament for a Protestant State.’ Sir Ken’s commendable forthrightness aside, his reflections prompted me to consider that perhaps unionists owe nationalists an apology for decades of misrule, though I doubt that that will ever happen given that the unionist community suffered greatly during the recent IRA campaign. Yet, while I don’t expect an apology from the unionists, I do think that the British government should issue one, and Sir Ken lays the foundations for such an approach: ‘I ultimately blame British governments [for unionist misrule] for not taking an interest in the whole situation. A whole lot of people have died because there was such a reluctance to get mixed in it. One just can’t shrug off a sovereign responsibility.’ One did.

    That last about sums it up. Or as the gal who narrates the Ulster Troubles series, says, the British decision to finally take interest in NI came to late and by the time it did, events proceeded according to their own inexorable logic.

  • “That last about sums it up.”

    Quite, Slappy, the conspiracies of Desmond Greaves et al were not just beyond our Ken, they were beyond London too. ‘Outsiders’ from London and Dublin can easily make a difficult situation worse and I can imagine John as a somewhat naive member of NICRA.

    And Joshua Levine elevates hope over experience, the sort of thing any occasional visitor can do:

    The breaking down of a few legends, the uncovering of a few truths, these are things that could encourage a more truthful and accountable society.

    They could begin to mend some old unhealed wounds. And they could prevent some new ones from being inflicted.

  • Limerick

    “Pat declared he was an active republican and I said no, I was an active unionist committed to the Ulster state and was very much a unionist.”


  • Rory Carr

    “The unnamed officer …” so, choosing anonymity then loses all credibility.

    But, in any case, let us accept all that this “unnamed officer” at face value, what then is the point you wish to make, Limerick? That Pat Finucane was a Reublican? Was that his crime as you see it? One that warranted summary execution?

  • Limerick


    Unlike republicans I do not believe that anyone deserves to be murdered.

  • Jimmy Sands

    You think Finucane ran into an old schoolfriend, and a politically unsympathetic one at that, and decided to blurt out he was in the RA?

    Give it up.

  • Limerick


    No. Clearly he ran into his old school friend and declared that he was ‘an active republican’. Why do you have a problem with that?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Why do you have a problem with that?

    In a discussion where you claimed, and then denied you claimed, that Finucane was probably an IRA men, you contributed someone else’s view that he was an “active republican”.

    Please stop trying to deny that you are making deliberate insinuations. It’s petty and cheap, schoolyard stuff.

  • “you contributed someone else’s view that he was an “active republican”.”

    CS, that story comes from today’s News Letter …

  • Limerick

    “In a discussion where you claimed, and then denied you claimed, that Finucane was probably an IRA men, you contributed someone else’s view that he was an “active republican”. ”

    Comrade Stalin,

    I said that there was a strong possibility that he was a Provo. That is not the same as saying that he was a Provo, which is what you claimed I had said. He told a Catholic policeman that he was “an active republican”. That is not an insinuation from me. It is what he claimed himself.

  • FFS

  • Murder is murder. There is never any justification. That’s why we are supposed to be a nation of laws.

  • between the bridges

    given the bomb in stroke city last night, just wanted to ask when did it end?

  • between the bridges

    ophs silly me! i keep forgetting about that pesky ‘R’