“Gerry Fitt Is a Brit” was what used to be said about the founder member of the SDLP and former member of the Irish Labour Party and then the Republican Labour Party. Republicans in the Dock Ward who were contemporaries of Fitt used to claim, based on what they knew of him, that they would vote unionist before they would vote for Fitt. The Irish News (££) today is running a story revealing that Fitt pressed the British government in December 1971 to blame the IRA for the bombing of McGurk’s Bar as part of a pretext for him to join talks without internment being ended.
The Irish News story is based on documents uncovered by Ciarán MacAirt and discussed in more detail here (with a copy of the original document). Briefly, Fitt had a meeting with Secretary of State, Reginald Maulding, on 22nd December 1971, which Maulding recorded in an extraordinary memo which has Fitt suggesting ways the British government could present circumstantial evidence that would support the fabricated story that the bombing of McGurks Bar was an IRA ‘own-goal’. What makes Fitt’s suggestions all the more cynical is the fact that, a couple of weeks before, his presence was widely reported at the funerals of at least one of those he was seeking to have a finger of suspicion pointed at.
It has long been established that the RUC and British Army units had a central role in the disinformation campaign, which the Stormont government and then British government continued against those present in the bar on 4th December 1971, the night it was destroyed. Up until now, it wasn’t publicly known that Fitt had also contributed to the same disinformation campaign which was aligned to a package of activities infamously initiated by Brigadier Frank Kitson and dealt with by Ciarán in his book about the bombing of McGurks.
Kitson has become something of a bogey man for republicans through his role in disinformation and pyschological operations (or, to give it it’s Orwellian name, Information Policy). At the same time, little of Kitson’s work since he first was deployed to Belfast in August 1969 is in the public record or properly documented. John Kelly, who was centrally involved in the IRA during events in Belfast in 1969, described how Kitson sought out meetings with leading nationalist and republican figures in August and September 1969. Not that this necessarily meant that Kitson would also have met Fitt, but it seems highly likely and it would be interesting to know what Fitt told him and how that informed British policy in the north, and Belfast in particular.
Equally intriguing, in this context is a document @JarlathKearney tweeted a couple of weeks ago which was taken from another secret NIO file, from 1976.
New: Secret NIO 1976 file CJ4/1389 ‘The Rep. Move.’ Paper II, Para.6: “SDLP have failed to deliver. We created it.” pic.twitter.com/Rvia2EdJHo
— Jarlath Kearney (@JarlathKearney) May 28, 2014
“We [the NIO] created it [the SDLP]”.
A fairly damning claim. But one that has a bit more traction given what is emerging about Fitt, since he had a central role in the formation of the SDLP in 1970. It now looks like it is time to significantly re-appraise Fitt”s contribution to how events unfolded, specifically in terms of what advice and information he was passing to the British government. It won’t change the past, but it might contribute to a better understanding of how it unfolded.