Roy Mason, the last to believe in outright IRA defeat

Roy Mason who has died aged 91 was  Northern Ireland Secretary of State  from 1976 to the end of the Labour government in 1979. He was  “short in stature and long in self confidence “ as David McKittrick  rightly described him. He even designed his own peculiarly vented and lapelled tight fitting light khaki suits. When I last met him a few years ago at the launch of a Northern Ireland stamp, he was eloquent about his collection. He retained heavy police security at home and on the road for many years after his retirement .

Proud of being a blunt Barnsley lad, he was  temperamentally at odds with the Irish love of long discourse  for its own sake. This fed through into his firmly law and order approach, as in an early news conference when he rashly promised to   “send the terrorists reeling.”  His style was in sharp contrast to the hand wringing of his predecessor Merlyn Rees who had presided over the disaster of the UWC strike and its aftermath which included an IRA ceasefire.  For much of 1975, sporadic talks between IRA representatives and British officials took place, punctuated by continuing violence. The IRA seemed to have thought that the British might now be prepared  to withdraw (there had been plenty of talk about it), and the British government believed that the IRA were becoming stretched to the point of defeat. If so, both were delusions, although arguments continue about whether that truce was a lost opportunity.

By the time Mason took over from Rees in September 1976, paramilitary violence was reaching a new peak that as it turned out, was never exceeded. Nearly 600 were killed in 1975-76. The period featured a terrible upsurge of loyalist murders, the IRA’s  Kingsmills massacre followed by Harold Wilson’s announcement of an  SAS deployment in south Armagh,  and the assassination of the British ambassador to Dublin.  Shortly after the Labour government was succeeded by Thatcher in 1979 came the Warrenpoint massacre and the Mountbatten assassination. That spelled out the ultimate failure of a mainly  “security “ approach.  Mason’s time was the last and perhaps the only period when the British government seem to have thought straightforward military defeat was viable.

Mason also  took  initiatives in economic development. The extremely costly de Lorean car project was his baby and as much of a failure as  his security policy.  Gerry Fitt, blaming Mason for over harsh security  policies and  with Gerry Adams  breathing down his neck in West Belfast , voted Labour  down  in the vote of confidence that brought Thatcher to power after the 1979 election. A whole new learning curve began from zero.

The best that can be said of Roy Mason was that he was a committed and determined politician who followed his own star. His predecessor Rees who was a deeply conscientious man was no less committed. They were both examples of a basic problem that bedevilled British policy throughout,  up to 1994. This was a fundamental lack of consistency and continuity of approach which left Northern Ireland over exposed to electoral cycles and to the personal approach of ministers, none of whom started out with much knowledge or interest in our affairs. Mason placed excessive reliance  on his background as Defence Secretary and had I believe, as little respect for our politicians as he had for the paramilitaries.  His shade might be forgiven for both.

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  • By the time of Thatcher the British had their people well placed inside the IRA and were steering it to ceasefire and accommodation in administering British institutions in Northern Ireland. Mason wielded the big stick. After came the carrots.

  • Ulick

    Utter baseless nonsense. The conflict continued for 20 years after Mason. Thatcher and him contributed nothing worthwhile to Ireland other than more headstones.

  • chrisjones2

    Well she did offer the hunger strikers deal that was rejected and hidden from them …….

  • chrisjones2

    Well Mason must have taken comfort that in the end he saw the IRA effectively neutered and defeated

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Which of course saw the bomb being slowly eclipsed by the ballot box and Gerry’s eventual elevation to Bishop of Louth. Does anyone have any sources on how early MI5 infiltrated the Ra?

  • Brian Walker

    Fair point John. I haven’t forgotten Joe Hendron but I got ahead of myself Sinn Fein had ben legalised in 1975 and had manned the incident centres during the truce. But they did not stand in the 1979 election. It was pretty clear even then though that the northerners wanted to develop a political strategy beyond simplistic “Brits Out” and were restive under the nominal authority of the old southern fundamentalists from the days of “Brownie” in 1973.

  • Turgon

    This post from Walker is pretty poor. Roy Mason was the one who sent the SAS after the IRA and Martin McGuinness said of him “Mason beat the shit out of us”

    Mason was not, however, interested in a military victory as Walker dishonestly asserts. Rather he believed in governing the province in a fair and just fashion under the rule of law. In that context he indeed faced down the IRA but did likewise to Paisley.

    Unfortunately preceding and succeeding NI secretaries of state did not try his strategy but rather went down the route of assorted initiatives to “solve” the problem.

    Mason saw more clearly that the problem is insoluble but rather then it should be managed and that is by fairness under the rule of law for all.

    Had that strategy been applied consistently it is quite possible that the IRA campaign would have died down and stopped sooner with less deaths and whatever settlement might then have been achieved might have offered less to the terrorists of both sorts.

    Mason was also a talented cabinet minister who actually had reduced the military as defence secretary so trying to cast him as a warmonger is dishonest: remember the 1966 Defence review. Walker seems to ignore it because it does not fit his narrative that the only solution was the disastrous one Blair helped create.

  • Turgon

    This post from Walker is very incomplete and seems designed to fit with a narrative rather than be even remotely historically accurate. Roy Mason was indeed the one who sent the SAS after the IRA and Martin McGuinness said of him “Mason beat the s**t out of us”

    Mason was not, however, interested in a military victory as Walker asserts. A military victory in the context of a campaign such as the IRA’s was a nonsense. Rather Mason believed in governing the province in a fair and just fashion under the rule of law. In that context he indeed faced down the IRA but did likewise to Paisley.

    Unfortunately preceding and succeeding NI secretaries of state did not try his strategy but rather went down the route of assorted initiatives to “solve” the problem.

    Mason saw more clearly that the problem is insoluble but rather then it should be managed and that is by fairness under the rule of law for all.

    Had that strategy been applied consistently it is quite possible that the IRA campaign would have died down and stopped sooner with less deaths and whatever settlement might then have been achieved might have offered less to the terrorists of both sorts.

    Mason was also a talented cabinet minister who actually had reduced the military as defence secretary so trying to cast him as a warmonger is dishonest: remember the 1966 Defence review. Walker seems to ignore it because it does not fit his narrative that the only solution was the disastrous one Blair helped create.

  • Brian O’Neill

    How early? Right from 1916. Back in the 30’s the IRA Chief of Staff was even a Gardai informant:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Hayes_%28Irish_republican%29

    How De Valera asked UK to smear IRA chief Sean Russellhttp://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-12848272

    Some other links:
    http://sluggerotoole.com/2011/12/21/ingram-claim-leaked-half-ira-leadership-were-working-for-the-british/

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/jul/03/inquest-denis-donaldson-mi5-sinn-fein-gerry-adams

    http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/iras-ghq-riddled-with-informers-26231534.html

    The problem with the internet is once you go down the rabbit hole you see conspiracy’s everywhere. God knows what is true.

  • Barneyt

    Do you not think he would have risked an escalation? I suspect it would have brought the campaign to the “mainland” and in particular to the financial heartland a lot sooner than it did. It certainly would have been met with a change in strategy.

    It is right to ask the question of all sides in any conflict, “what do they want…what is their ambition”….as painful as it might be.

  • Nicholas Whyte

    One thing that really wasn’t known at the time (talking here specifically about Mason’s term) was the extent of popular support for Republicanism. Sinn Fein’s current electoral success blinds us to the fact that Albert Price had got only 12% in West Belfast in the first 1974 Westminster election, and in the 1977 local elections, with turnouts around 90%, Alliance and Republican Clubs scrapped for the SDLP’s electoral leavings there. From the available evidence, support for political violence appeared to be so low that it might be containable by purely security means. There were a few contrary indications (not least the appalling level of killing in late 1976 and early 1977, surely pointing to more than sporadic popular support), but I’m sure that’s what Mason believed.

    I suspect it’s also what the Provos feared, if Martin McGuinness’s alleged quote is anything to go by. The two factors that shifted things were, on the Nationalist side, the impact of the hunger strikes as a mobilising factor for Republicans, and on the Unionist side, the resolute lack of generosity of the leadership under West and Molyneaux (and Paisley) in failing to move away from demands for majority rule and offer partnership with Catholics.They did not realise that the British in general would rather keep up direct rule indefinitely than allow a one-sided devolved government to resume, and Mason failed in his duty to make this clear.

  • Robin Keogh

    “…the only solution was the one Blair helped to create”. Whatever one might think of Tony Blair, he was the GB PM that oversaw the end of the conflict and invested much time and energy into bringing the war to an end. How is it a disaster to now live in a region that despite its problems, no longer has to deal with such extreme levels of discrimination, sectarianism and killings? Or am I misreading you?

  • Robin Keogh

    It must be remembered that whatever efforts were previously attempted to solve the conflict, arguably it wasn’t until the economic heart of London was bombed did we see a seismic shift in London’s attitude.

  • Robin Keogh

    LOL, Keep telling urself that, u may even end up believing it yourself.

  • Nicholas Whyte

    Indeed. The hunger strikes weren’t planned as a gateway to electoral politics. Having said that, even without the FST by-election there would anyway have been the May 1981 local elections – which saw some success for Republican candidates, not much by today’s standards but more than there had been previously – and the 1981 Dail election (though success there turned out to be more of a flash in the pan, with another 16 years passing before SF got a TD). Yes, the by-election success provided an important focal point, but I think the electoral route was becoming inevitable anyway.

  • Brian Walker

    Nicholas,
    There’s a lot in what you say. Mason demonstrated the limits of security policy. Those limits though were considerable and probably were the most eloquent proof available that the Brits were not about to pull out out in the aftermath of the UWC Strike. Politically I go back to the watershed of Sunningdale. It could not have survived tacit middle class and militant loyalist opposition and the almost frivolous Unionist bone headedness..

    But instead of trying to build a new platform, both main UK parties
    improvised, and that’s putting it kindly. Tinkering with the consent principle merely undermined it without putting anything in its place, until the very imperfect Anglo-Irish Agreement. There was pious talk of bipartisanship in this period but that only amounted to “ your turn to wing it for a bit.”

    Strategically, filling the Maze with sentenced rather than
    interned Provos gave them a new cause. The dirty protest was born as we know what that led to.

    Sinn Fein was a label for occasionally getting on telly, such as Jimmy and the venomous Maire Drumm and random IRA men who spoke as community leaders and mediators. Who remembers Seamus Loughran today?

    Garret saw Sinn Fein coming but he floundered in detail, preferring to protest about trivial matters like British army border incursions for fear of being outflanked by Haughey.

    Myself I was relieved when Sinn Fein emerged as an active political force in keeping with their mounting support which was I thought was at least rational the longer the campaign staggered on. The Brits were always going to get blamed for prolonging it. And the place did not blow up after the hunger strike.

    What were the ” constitutional ” politicians doing anyway? Paisley leading a failed Jack Cade’s rebellion in Ballymena, Molyneaux hiding in his London flat. And Hume giving encores of his then new single transferable speech throughout Europe and America, anywhere except Belfast, ,

    The terribly sad thing was surely that it took so appallingly
    long for the elements to come together in such a wee place: the governments, the parties after a fashion, and the paramilitaries, particularly the republican leadership, who were tempered in steel ( or bathed in blood if you prefer), unlike the here- today, gone- tomorrow middle ranking Brits who, you might have thought would have outclassed them but didn’t. Until Major and Reynolds and finally Blair and Ahern.

  • Granni Trixie

    Nick

    You make a really good point. Context is everything not least from what we can glean from the analysis in literature published at the start of the troubles which is much less focused on hearts and mind change (ie cultural) so much as
    meeting force with force and Taking on board civil rights movement thinking on need for structural change.

    I experienced some of this myself (Until 1972 and Bloody Sunday which altered my thinking). I and my neighbours living beside Lenadoon really did think of the riots etc as law and order problems which it was up to the police to deal with.

    Then the police became part of the problem and the problem became more and more complex. Eddie Moxon Brownes image of the Ni problem sticks in my mind – that it came to consist of a series of problems and what you did to alleviate one could exasserbate the others (he had a neat little diagram to vividly show this).

  • Nevin

    “By the time Mason took over from Rees in September 1976, paramilitary violence was reaching a new peak that as it turned out, was never exceeded.”

    The figures for ’76 are much as they were for ’74 and there was a significant decline during much of the Mason era. The snapshot from Sutton lists deaths of Catholics, Protestants and not from Northern Ireland.

  • Reader

    …and that’s how the IRA got their United Ireland…
    Oh, wait, no they didn’t.

  • Brian Walker

    “The hunger strikes weren’t planned as a gateway to electoral politics” indeed. That would have been carrying premeditation too far. but they were quickly exploited as I know form my direct knowledge. and would have been, even without FST.

  • Stephen

    What are you basing this nonsense on?

  • Stephen

    Slightly delusional in your analysis there Chris. The IRA were not defeated they on their own terms opted for the political path which has resulted in McGuinness being the co leader of your country.

  • chrisjones2

    I am afraid the delusion is all yours. The Brits skillfully managed SF into defeat. The IRA was hollowed out militarily and shepherded into peace. I am delighted that you claim this as a Republican victory – one where SF Ministers sit as part of a NI Executive within the UK and where every Bill they pass requires the assent of Her Majesty before it becomes law

    There is lots of hot air about Irish Language etc but it is an utter military defeat and de facto a political one too.

    Always remember that at one point Tony Blair’s Special Advisor was helping Gerry write his speeches.

  • chrisjones2

    THe process started under Thatcher and accelerated under Major. Blair was just there when it happened

  • chrisjones2

    Nope …the shift was there it was just that SF needed them to go out with a bang

    And by the way the bigger problem was always convincing the Unionists not the Brits who were more savvy, dispassionate and sophisticated than the backwoodsmen and numpties of the UUP and DUP

  • chrisjones2

    O’Rawe’s evidence , the cabinet papers etc. Or as Thomas Hennessy Summed it up

    “The documents prove that O’Rawe is at least half right, and do nothing to prove he is wrong. The British proposal was for a statement, in which the government would offer more flexibility on prison conditions (without directly giving in to specific demands). Thatcher’s own edits were all over the draft, which was to be shown to the IRA and released only if it agreed that the terms were sufficient to end the strike.

    At this critical point, when a viable deal was on the table, the IRA leadership outside the prison rejected the offer, apparently because of its “tone” rather than its substance. Thatcher and her then secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Humphrey Atkins, regarded this as the end of the matter. Those negotiating on behalf of the prisoners had calculated that it might be the start of a dialogue in which they could gain more concessions. In other words, they tried to play a game of brinkmanship, only for their channel to the government to be shut down. Six more prisoners died.”

    http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/03/lady-was-turning-margaret-thatcher%E2%80%99s-battle-ira-thomas-hennessy

    So the SF Leadership’s humpiness about tone cost 6 men’s lives ….but hey it gathered more votes so it wasn’t all bad!

  • chrisjones2

    Does it matter? The green sheep have been penned and the Brits keep throwing bags of nuts into the pen to keep them happy while they are politically fleeced and the SF Farmers are all rewarded with chauffeur driven tractors so they can more easily take them to market

    Baaaaaaaaa

  • chrisjones2

    …and what will they accept …what is their point of compromise?

  • chrisjones2

    Don’t taunt them now, no matter how delicious it all is.

  • james

    That’s how the likes of Adams and McGuinness rode the Nationalist people to personal power, prestige and wealth.

  • james

    Bernadette McAlliskey should really have aimed her incendiary speechifying (“…if Britain let’s one man or woman die inside those prisons….”) at the Sinn Fein leadership, not the British government then.

  • james

    Four legs good, two legs bad…

  • Cue Bono

    Don’t kid yourself Robin. In the end even their ‘impregnable’ south Armagh sniper team was being kicked about a farmyard by the SAS.

  • Cue Bono

    Some people wonder who the real Stakeknife is.

  • Cue Bono

    The IRA first started bombing London in support of their ‘gallant allies’ the Nazis. The Luftwaffe bombed the centre of London into rubble, but it did not cause any seismic shift in London’s attitude to defeating them. To suggest that a couple of Provo bombs caused a seismic shift is laughable.

  • Turgon

    Now Nevin that is just not acceptable. It undermines the whole “Mason’s strategy was wrong” narrative which is the basis for this piece. That and the fact as observed by John Mooney that IRA violence had little political support. The problem is that the whole thesis outlined by Brian Walker is in contradiction to the simple facts and figures.

  • Zeno

    Yeah, it was all over once they worked out it was cheaper to just give all the leaders jobs, and I include the loyalist terrorists as well.

  • Robin Keogh

    Well if you cant tell the difference between the economic heart of England between the 1940s and the 1990s I am afriaid u are beyond help

  • Robin Keogh

    Oh but we will get.., ten years, twenty years or thirty years, I dont care at all, no hurry, no matter how many polls we have to have remember, we only have to be lucky once.

  • Nevin

    This next snapshot shows that the deaths attributed to the state forces, republican paramilitaries and loyalist paramilitaries. The killings by paramilitaries were greatly curtailed during the Mason era, not least those by loyalists:

  • Robin Keogh

    Yes and i resent very much the fact that Catholics cant power share, that Dublin has no say in the Norths affairs, that Sinn Fein has been smashed, That the old Stormont regime is still in place, the UDR is till roaming the streets, the RUC is policeing the state…. oh wait thats not the case at all….gently gently catchy monkey…slow steady and sure.

  • chrisjones2

    So what? If that is what people vote for that is democracy. I really dont care.

    But like many Republicans you seem suffused with a sense of gloating hatred for those who disagree with you. I should be careful. You might be lucky in say 20 years but the polls now show that you may never attain your dream and may end in bitterness. That would be the waste of a life so tread carefully

  • chrisjones2

    your problem is that there is no sign of the monkey

    Still meantime your leaders are enjoying making hay. By the way are Gerrys speeches still written nin London?

    Baaa baaa

  • Robin Keogh

    Yes but they are all things that people like yourself said would never happen, they were wrong then just as you are wrong now. You are clearly the one with the bitterness and the hatred. You scrape the bottom of the barrel for anything that might point to continued unionist domination ending up with nothing more than splinters in your argument. I enjoy debating with people who disagree with me, I am open to learning from others and despite the troubled history of these islands i dont allow it to colour my hope for the future. You resent the relationship between republicans and the British establishment, because you correctly identify the detante as a precurser to Irish Unity and a necessarry plank in the project. You see i dont need to see a UI happen as much as you need the status quo to survive and thats the fundamental difference between progressives and regressives. And ultimately the same is true of most republicans. I dont care if I die before Unity is achieved, believe me, my life is fulfilling enough so whatever is said about me when i depart, a wasted life will certainly not be one of them.

  • Robin Keogh

    Ah yes the baaa baaaa nugget again, when your Brian runs dry you seem to make some starnge noises. So much for respecting the views of those opposed to your own sheepish opinions. I have no idea who writes Gerrys speeches, although i suspect he is shorft furry and eats lots of bananas.

  • Louis E.

    If ireland is ever united,it must at all costs be under a Monarchy and never a republic!!!

  • chrisjones2

    “people like yourself” What does that mean? What am i like? How do you know?

    “people like yourself said would never happen,said would never happen,”

    When did i say that.

    “You scrape the bottom of the barrel for anything that might point to continued unionist domination”

    Where did I say that?

    ” You resent the relationship between republicans and the British establishment,”

    No I dont. I welcome it as part of the British strategy. I just see the relationship differently to you

    “you need the status quo to survive”

    What are you ranting about? Why do I need the status quo to survive. .

    “my life is fulfilling enough” good . I am glad . But recognise the risks – thats all I said. And the tone of your post reinforces the dangers you face – you face, not me

  • Reader

    Robin Keogh: I dont care at all, no hurry, no matter how many polls we have to have remember, we only have to be lucky once.
    That was always true. There was no need to fire a single shot.

  • Mike the First

    Thanks Nevin. Would be interesting to see Brian comment on this and how it affects the narrative thrust of his piece.

  • Zeno
  • chrisjones2

    You have a thing about monkeys?

    Seriously though when you are evaluating what really was happening in the process that is one of the most telling moments – when the leader of SF was relying on Jonathan Powell to help write his speeches

    Perhaps in 20 years – Republic or not – we will look back on SF in these terms

    ‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
    Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

  • Robin Keogh

    Yes under Queen Robin the first

  • Cue Bono

    If you can’t tell the difference between the Provos of the 1970s and the dishevelled mess that was left in the 1990s then I am afraid that you are beyond help. The war against Nazi Germany bankrupted our country, but it didn’t lead to a British surrender. It is absolutely hilarious that republlicans have convinced themselves that they somehow forced the British into negotiations via a couple of bombs in London.

    The terms that they got were always open to them. Stop murdering people and we will talk to you. Destroy your weapons and accept the rule of law and we will allow you to assist in the British administration of Northern Ireland.

  • Cue Bono

    Why would the UDR need to be roaming the streets when the Provos have been defeated and disarmed? The PSNI (incorporating the RUGC) are of course very much still here. In fact iirc they arrested your Dear Leader last year.

  • Reader

    chrisjones2: Don’t taunt them now, no matter how delicious it all is.
    That isn’t really the point. There is a move – swallowed whole by some of the younger Shinners – to suggest that the IRA had objectives other than a United Ireland. If it was merely a fig-leaf for the soaks of the old brigade, I would leave them to it. But it’s more than that – it’s an attempt to re-write history to condemn everyone who resisted either the IRA or even just their methods.
    So just to be perfectly clear; the IRA’s fundamental declared objective, throughout the troubles, was a United Ireland. Now the republican movement is signed up to the principle of consent.

  • james

    Indeed! Our revenge will be the laughter of….no…scrub that last bit….our revenge will be uhmm armani suits, soft jobs for all the chaps, and big salaries. The average industrial wage…as calculated by the SF Economics department.

  • james

    Queen Elizabeth?

  • james

    Maskey, you say? 🙂

  • Louis E.

    Who the monarch is is of lesser importance than the continuation of the 3000 years of monarchy in Ireland.

  • chrisjones2

    the IRA’s fundamental declared objective, throughout the troubles, was ….power and money.

  • tmitch57

    The seismic shift in attitude took place within the Republican Movement (Dundalk and W. Belfast) not in London. Both in 1973 and in 1993 the main features of the peace deals were power sharing and a majority of the electorate of the province determining its constitutional allegiance.

  • Robin Keogh

    I dont approve of violence except in self defense – Thats what triggered the first shot, and the rest …….

  • Robin Keogh

    I disagree, in 1973 Unionism had the power and violence to destroy the power-sharing arrangement and to use loyalists and their supporters to create havoc through widespread strikes and intimidation. The Britsih caved in. In the 1990’s the British decided that Unionism would either do what it was told or be left behind, that was the seismic shift to beat all shifts.

  • tmitch57

    The loyalists and Republicans were both self excluding in 1973-74; in the 1990s first the Republicans came in and then the loyalists came in as a reaction to that. London didn’t support the settlement in May 1974 for several reasons. First, it was the creation of Ted Heath and Willie Whitelaw so that Harold Wilson felt no sense of ownership. Heath proved that he wasn’t that committed to NI when he switched NI secretaries in Dec. 1973 before the crucial Sunningdale Conference and then called a general election for February for purely mainland political reasons. Second, the army didn’t think that it had the manpower to take on both the IRA and the UDA and UVF, who had the support of the unionist population. Third, the army lacked the technical expertise to be able to run the power plants. It may be that in Tony Blair the Northern Ireland conflict had found its equivalent of Jimmy Carter in the Middle East: a politician who was committed to resolving that conflict above any domestic political goal.

    You are right in that there was a big difference between the attitudes of the leadership of the UUP, DUP, and Vanguard in 1974 with that of the Trimble camp within the UUP in 1996-98. But remember that Faulkner in 1973-74 wasn’t that different from Trimble in 1996-98 and that Trimble suffered major defections to the DUP in 2001. But the differences between Faulkner and Trimble pale compared to those between MacStiofain, Adams, Twomey et al. in 1973-74 and McGuinness, Adams, and the rest of the Republican leadership in 1997-98.

  • james

    Uhmm…..?

  • Mister_Joe

    This reminds me of a wonderful statement – “For every complicated situation, there is a simple solution – which is wrong.”

  • Nevin

    He may have moved on to another yarn, Mike 🙂

  • tmitch57

    Actually the IRA’s first bombing campaign in England was in 1939 before the start of WWII. It largely ended because of the outbreak of WWII. The alliance happened after the IRA’s S Campaign, not before.

  • Cue Bono

    It ended because the IRA were interned on both sides of the border, and beause the IRA Chief of Staff’s stomach burst open on a Nazi U Boat.

  • Gerry Lynch

    An important point. Also worth noting that the first Republican bombing campaign in Britain was much earlier: the Fenian dynamite campaign in the 1880s (or was there one even before that?) It’s a well-worn tactic but one that never achieved anything beyond orphaning English children and putting the Irish community in Britain in grave fear and sometimes real danger.

    Interesting that the execution of Larkin, Allen and O’Brien at Manchester in the 1860s saw sympathy processions numbering into the thousands in towns with large Irish populations in England and Scotland. Hard to imagine from this perspective.

  • Gerry Lynch

    Hard to think of Mason’s security policy as being, within its inherent limitations, anything but a definite success. Violence was reduced dramatically, and never came close to its previous level. Loyalist paramilitaries were dramatically weakened, to recover only many years later under Johnny Adair, Billy Wright, et al, who pursued violence for its own sake too much to be bought off as informers.

    What really stands out in retrospect is how much the 1980s were a wasted decade. There is nothing fundamentally known about the Northern Ireland conflict now that was not known in 1979. In hindsight, Unionism would have secured a much better settlement by sitting in a few cross-border talking shops, probably securing real cross-border co-operation on security and a severe clampdown on the IRA in the Republic as quid pro quo, sitting on a few meaningless cross-border quangos and ceding some Ministries to the SDLP in a power-sharing government. The same factors within NI that led to the IRA ceasefire in 1994 would still have applied, and the late 1990s revolution in technology which rendered the “urban guerilla concept” incapable of inflicting serious damage in Britain would still have happened.

    The surge in young Catholics on to the electoral register in the 1990s, who formed the first generation of Catholics who would mostly lead reasonably prosperous and secure lives in NI, would have been very different. It would have occurred with an SDLP growing in strength electorally propelled by people like them (as SDLP votes did surge between 1989 and 1998, when Sinn Féin really took off); and the Stickies a persistent and slowly growing factor in working-class Catholic communities, even attracting a few leftish Loyalist votes. who might have developed an Assembly faction strong enough to survive as a credible DL and perhaps Irish Labour element in the North. Sinn Féin’s rivals for the Catholic vote would have been much more credible.

    But strategic thinking has never been Unionism’s strong point. It has never understood that if the Union were ever really in peril, they would need a stable and inclusive NI to be the anchorpoint of any No campaign, as it was in Scotland.

    But back to Roy Mason: he couldn’t have a credible strategy to achieve a political settlement, because the actors he needed to play their parts weren’t interested. So he went for a military strategy and it was as successful as it ever could have been. Right-wing Labour social patriot types really aren’t my cup of tea politically, but in terms of political success in a tough job, the reducing death counts speak for themselves. And every one of them represents some poor cratur who got home safely to their family one night.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “The war against Nazi Germany bankrupted our country, but it didn’t lead to a British surrender.”

    But try and imagine Britain carrying on without Germany attacking the USSR and Japan simply taking the crippling oil embargo from the USA on the chin for a few more years. Britain carried on only because others entered the war, not from some decreed script writ on stone for all eternity.

    And regarding, “It is absolutely hilarious that republlicans have convinced themselves that they somehow forced the British into negotiations via a couple of bombs in London” you appear to have mislaid what actually happened in the scramble to meet Republican requirements just after the Canary Wharf bomb.

    I know they are exagerating the general effect of bombing campaign to justify what was a series of obscene atrocities in all its various forms, to my mind. But they hit the nail firmly on the head by attacking the British Financial System’s credibility directly at Canary Wharf, in a way that demolishing everything of any real value here, and murdering numbers their fellow “natives” never could! And the message for the young of the political “welcome” extended by the negotiators after this one action has clearly privilidged forms of “extremism lite” as the royal road to political success and an Armani suit or two for the next few decades at least.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The legitimate claimant, King Francis, the rather more direct heir of James II & VII, I’d hope! We’ve had enough lies over the past three hundred years already.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franz,_Duke_of_Bavaria

    Then perhaps we can get on with getting him back on the other two thrones of the three kingdoms and forget this silly United Kingdom concept.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Robin, come on now, you’re not even an O’Neill!!!!! My old friend Hugo, perhaps, should be a lot higher up the queue!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Ricciardi_O%27Neill

  • james

    I actually know a chap who bears the nickname of King Francis! Expertly divides his time between the pub and the bookies. Apt enough choice for the role as envisaged by you. Are we thinking of the same man? I believe the gent I’m referring to hails originally from Belcoo.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Ah, but can he claim descent from the Stuarts, and deploy the support of the entire legitimist lobby? An interesting little detail is that his grandson was born in London, while his father was working on a city desk, the first of the legitimate royal line to be born in London since James III & IX. I look forward to seeing him in Dublin Castle, knocking some sense into the parvenu huxters who are running the show for us at present north and south!

    And hey, was your man not that fellow with the crown and the bike in that episode of “Father Ted” with the prize sheep?

  • james

    Hahahaha I don’t own a tv, I must confess, and wouln’t have the RTE about the house if I did! It being a Protestant house and all. But he may well have been for all I know 😉

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Don’t have a TV myself, used to make some of the programmes years back, so I know what goes into them, but was “Father Ted” not commissioned by Channel 4, rather than RTE?

    If you’re really motivated, it was an episode in Series 3, ” Chirpy Burpy Cheap Sheep.”

  • james

    I have seen an episode, and on channel 4, a necessary bit of research having been accused of an uncanny resemblance to one of the characters. Which was a damnable untruth! Just assumed it was an RTE product for some reason. Interesting job you must have had.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Interesting, but then all my various jobs over the years have been more of a pleasure than a labour. Just as William Morris thought all work should be for everyone, lucky me! I did some live action production and documentary at times, but a lot of my work was animation, commercials and (unfortunately) music videos, all here and in the U.S. Did not work on “Father Ted” myself, but enjoyed the writing for its uncanny accuracy to real life.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    People talk about the supposed failure of the security approach. But here are the death tolls for the years around Mason’s period as SoS – he was 1976-79 remember:
    1974 – 294 deaths
    1975 – 260 deaths
    1976 – 295 deaths
    1977 – 111 deaths
    1978 – 81 deaths
    1979 – 121 deaths
    It never got above 120 again in any year thereafter.

    What happened was the security operation got a lot smarter. The paramilitaries had to adapt and scale down their activities. Of course you can never stop nutters like that completely, but Mason clearly deserves some credit for the reduced death tolls on his watch.

    Also, the security operation ultimately won, didn’t it? Paramilitaries on both sides infiltrated and demoralised, ending up having to find a way of ending violence that even they had come to realise ultimately was pointless. This was largely due to relentless security operations against them and the determination to keep pressing them. Mason’s determination to apply the law and justice to the paramilitaries set the template for that.

    Mason was just the man NI needed at that time – a good no nonsense Labour man, who cared about social justice bit also had zero tolerance for the self-serving bull of the paramilitaries and their apologists. He got it spot on.

  • Cue Bono

    Britain stood completely alone in 1940 after the fall of France and a long time before Germany invaded Russia or Japan attacked the USA. So your claim that Britain ony carried on because others joined the war is patent nonsense.

    The British financial system’s credibility was not even dented by the Canary Wharf bomb, and murder of two innocent civilians, so again patent nonsense. They had tried the same thing in 93 and the result was: “As a result of the Baltic Exchange and Bishopsgate bomb attacks,
    City-based companies were well-prepared to deal with the aftermath of
    the September 11 attacks
    in 2001, with a spokesman for the Corporation of London stating: “After
    the IRA bombs, firms redoubled their disaster recovery plans and the
    City recovered remarkably quickly. It has left the City pretty
    well-prepared for this sort of thing now.”” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1993_Bishopsgate_bombing#Reaction

    The Provos sneaked their 96 bomb in under relaxed security because they were supposed to be on ceasefire. They only had one crack at it before the ring of steel went back in, and the bomber was immediately caught.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Such a joy to hear a real patriot claim black is lambs wool white again, CB! I was still in London for film work in ’96 a great deal, and many of my friends were in the city. The air of panic was palpable, and the prevailing mood was “give them anything, just don’t let them effect our share prices”. John Major speedily dropped the demand for IRA decommissioning as a step in the talks in his panic to get them bad boys into the negotiations again, and I cannot think of any clearer proof that he was effectively “bombed to the table” by this! No stiff upper lip anywhere I was around at the time.

    “Ring of steel”, eh? I was staying with family at the Middle Temple during these trips, and there was nothing but bitter complaint from everyone, neighbours and those I’d run into in Middle Temple Lane, about the unpreparedness of the authorities, and that in what was one of the most protected places in London during the troubles!

    And any sensitive reading of Britain’s condition in 1940/41 (without the my country right or wrong “white stick” selectivity, that is) would show you that Britain would never have defeated Germany if they had not been seriously helped by the other belligerents of the last three war years. We are very lucky that this debility was never put to the test and all that they lost was their Empire.

  • Cue Bono

    Another rant backed up by nothing other than your unverified ‘personal experiences’ Seann. Always a sure sign that you know you have been caught out again.

    I was about in 96 myself and the prevailing attitude that I met was “Right let’s roll up our sleeves and finish these evil bar stewards off once and for all.” Little did we know that half of them were already batting for Britain and the other half were too stupid to realise it.

    It is the very fact that Britain stood alone in 1940 full in the knowledge that they stood absolutely zero chance of winning that makes what they did so courageous. Their finest hour. That seems to have skipped clean over your head.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh dear, but at least I did experience these things, I did not simply read a paper or sit in front of a TV News programme and absorb what I was expected to think! What a pity that “the half batting for Britain” ( I don’t disagree!) did not warn our wise masters of the potential disaster, or even worse, that the warning needed to be ignored so as not to expose sources, Coventry Blitz 1940 style!

    “Unverified” is a wee bit strong, in the light of how much public coverage was given to the effect of the bombing on Britain’s financial credit in the world, and the alacrity with which poor John Major was frog marched by his supporters into begging the bomber’s friends in their political wing to start talking to him again speaks for itself! Anecdotal my stories may be, but very very well attested at the time. Although I must say, I can only applaud your own resolute desire to personally not give in to violence and save British tax payers money in the way that the rest of the British so clearly demanded. You were going to pay for the continuation of the intense security campaign yourself, I imagine?

    And yes, standing alone in 1940 was courageous, although wiser heads had suggested that perhaps supporting Józef Piłsudski or even that awful Señor Mussolini in the early years of National Socialist control of Germany when both vociferously demanded that Hitler must be stopped in his mad career! This would have been perhaps less “courageous” perhaps, hitting chaps when they were still down and out from 1918, but rather cheaper in the long run. That way Britain might perhaps have not been so utterly discredited as a world power by their poor showing in the early war years (obvious to the rest of the world if not to her uncritical admirers), and the post war world might not have been handed to Stalin and the “American Empire” (Gore Vidal’s phrase, not mine), on a golden platter! Not that I carry any torch for the British Empire, even if I took it for granted all through my childhood that I’d find a life long billet in the Imperial Administration as several of my uncles had! You still could indulge in fantasy in the 1950s, but such pipe dreams of British as a powerful and significant nation sound perfectly hollow nowadays to those of us who have woken up.

  • Cue Bono

    I remember that cavalcade well. “It’s victory! So it is.”

    Poor, deluded fools.

  • Cue Bono

    “poor John Major was frog marched by his supporters into begging the
    bomber’s friends in their political wing to start talking to him again
    speaks for itself!”

    Laughable nonsense.

    “That way Britain might perhaps have not been so utterly discredited as a
    world power by their poor showing in the early war years”

    They delivered the first ever major defeat on the Nazis in 1940 when they were standing alone. Google ‘The Battle of Britain’, but remember to take off your green tinged glasses first.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    At least, CB, the mild UV filter on my lenses cuts out the propaganda glare and lets me see what actually went on at the time (well attested, over and above my own direct experience of London that week). Try removing the twin historical eye patches

    Ho humm, the “Battle of Britain”, eh! You’ll not be surprised to learn that I had family in that show, but I won’t offer you their personal reminiscence. As I remember war time claims, fighter command totally destroyed the Luftwaffe several times over at that point, although they in turn lost considerably more aircraft than they actually possessed if one was to believe Gobbels. While I’m rather a fan of Dowding (who was most shabbily treated for his honourable attempt to hold Britain to the terms of the Hague Conventions against Harris’s passion for the war crime of Area Bombing) I think you’ll find that the real hero of the Battle of Britain was the English Channel. Even with this advantage over Poland and France, statistically both sides lost about the same proportion of trained airmen, so the “Battle of Airstrip One” needs some careful unpacking to gauge its real significance. But even that degree of success would have perhaps been only a temporary blip between the 1939 declaration of war and a serious request for peace terms if Britain had continued unaided into 1942……

  • Cue Bono

    Denigrating the significance of the Battle of Britain now. Pitiful stuff.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    No, CB, just being a realist! Without the Channel, the continuous rout of the British Expeditionary Force would have simply rolled on until Churchill sued for peace. Do you honestly think that the clear skill with which the German army outmanoeuvred every attempt at holding them by the French and British armies they fought in 1940 would have somehow vanished on the sacred soil of England?

    And my point was that the laziness with which the governing classes of England left Hitler free to develop his war machine had gone nowhere (still evident in the crude penny saving of Thatcher’s heirs, to whom, of course, personal cuts do not apply). Courage there certainly there was, but to be spent like water by the Donkeys who were still in very much charge (“Lions led by Donkeys”, WWI comment). Churchill may have sounded good (and I’d debate that myself) but his hair brained war schemes began to totter over into actual atrocity with Area Bombing, and his demand that Poison Gas was available close to every front led to only British deaths with the consequent accidents.

    The single most important thing that my grandfather’s example as a soldier taught me was to remove the rose tinted glasses in any situation if you really want to survive. Another thing, as I’d written to Joe_Hoggs on another thread here, is no matter how critical you may be of your foes, it is your ability to be even more critical to your own people that is the real strength, something SF for one seem utterly unable to learn for all their PR skills. What I’m writing is not intended as gratuitous insult, its honest evaluation without the distractions of the cheer leaders cliches that are always weaknesses! History, to be at all useful, should be about what really happened, not what the Ministry of Information wanted you to think when it has finally congealed into the glutinous mass that forms the greater substance of “Our Island Story” and its like in every land. To quote you from above, “pitiful stuff”!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Just for the record, I should perhaps make it clear to the McCarthy Tribunal here assembled that I’m no more a supporter of SF than I’m a supporter of the three big Unionist gangs. As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m no ones dog in this particular fight, as a pacifist and one time NICRA, I’m honestly concerned for the genuine good of the entire community and not for any self referencing faction no matter how bright and shiny!

    And as I say in my longer piece below, this tendency to try and cheer your selves up in a world growing colder by the day for Unionists by selecting some comforting details of events to make it look as if Britain was a successful “top dog” who never caved in to threat in the Troubles is a weakness that helps only SF, who can present Unionists to the “real people” like those in the United States (for one) as rigid, unrealistic and intransigent jokes. But it’s only human nature to try and pull a few threads of “amour propre” over the nakedness of the truth to keep out the cold winds of reality. However, the failure to honestly evaluate the real shape of history is just as dangerous as reliance on any other inaccurate map, it gets you terribly lost, rather than to where you’d want to go. Sure, you get your laughs on Slugger, yes, but SF got the ear of the Clintons……now that was “Victory”……