Interesting find by Relatives for Justice trawling the national archives in Kew in London, which…
…contains minutes of a meeting held at Stormont Castle on Monday July 10, 1972 – less than three weeks before Operation Motorman, when thousands of British soldiers stormed into the ‘no-go’ areas of the Bogside, Brandywell and Creggan, shooting dead two people.
The minutes also refer to plans “to be produced urgently for the containment of areas known to harbour bombers and gunmen.” Operation Motorman took place on 31st July 1972 (the same day Claudy bomb killed nine civilians). Neither of the two Derry fatalities were armed.
This is where the report gets interesting. The Derry Journal notes just how senior (and political) the attendees were:
It was attended by some of the most senior figures in the British government and the security services. Among those listed as present are William Whitelaw, the first Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who was appointed after the old parliament under Brian Faulkner at Stormont was prorogued.
Senior politicians Lord Windlesham, Paul Channon, and David Howell were also present alongside senior Stormont civil servant Kenneth Bloomfield.
The Deputy Chief Constable of the RUC and the GOC of the British army, the most senior soldier serving in the North, also attended the meeting. MI6 officer Frank Steele, who had opened up clandestine talks with the IRA in the same year, was also at the Stormont Castle meeting.
The meeting was held just three days after secret talks took place between IRA leaders and representatives of the British government. Those talks had taken place at Paul Channon’s Cheyne Walk home and involved senior republicans including Provisional IRA Chief of Staff, Sean MacStiofain, and Martin McGuinness.
The talks, which took place during an IRA truce, failed to find a solution and the truce ended with the IRA bomb attacks in Belfast on Bloody Friday.
Controversially, the meeting also discussed protecting soldiers from possible court action as a consequence of their actions. “The Army should not be inhibited in its campaign by the threat of Court proceedings and should therefore be suitably indemnified,” the minutes state.
This is interesting. If this was ever hardened into a motion and passed, it would have been a clear breach of law, and a straightforawrd justification for those who continue to believe a illegitimate shoot to kill policy was being pursued.
But the whilst the fact that iit was discussed at local level is proof that that such a policy was considered, there is no evidence that such was enacted. The motley crew involved in this meeting would have had no such power.
I suspect if any such document (a Cabinet Office minute confirming agreement for instance) did exist it is highly unlikely to have made its way to the Public Records Office this side of 100 years. And maybe not even then.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty