“No more than 300 [of the dead] were terrorists, a ratio of three to one. That is why we are still there”.

Bizarre tragicomic episode yesterday on the legacy issue which reveals the politics-on-stilts nature of the discourse around legacy, demonstrates SF intolerance of questions that undermine their own contention that the 1700 plus killings by the Provisionals “don’t count”.

When Gerry Moriarty merely pressed them on that point the whole presser appeared to collapse (VIDEO, BelTel) under the weight of its own, apparently unconsidered, internal contradictions.

Here’s Gerry probing firstly Michelle, then Gerry Kelly, then Michelle again…

When further pressed on how Sinn Féin could stand over describing the British government as the main conflict protagonist, he replied, “They were the main protagonists. They are a government. They had 31,000 troops here, they had a standing army of some 150,000. So it is not unreasonable to say that they were the main protagonist,” he said.

When asked about the casualties caused by the IRA, Ms O’Neill interjected to say people “could spend all day getting into the conversation you want to have” or they could engage in building bridges and healing the wounds of the past.

“That is what we are about,” she added. “This is about trying to move this forward, about trying to give families access to mechanisms that they have been demanding time and time again.”

With such overwhelming odds, the real question to be asked of Ms O’Neill’s new found enthusiasm for building bridges, is that why the Provisionals ever believed they could turn the Brits over militarily? [Or what bridges she thought they’d been building? – Ed]

Perhaps they believed the Kitson counterinsurgency handbook the British were clearly following at the start, with the Falls Curfew, Internment, Ballymurphy and Bloody Sunday, would eventually justify their long war. If so, it proved a false premise.

As Alex Evans noted on Global Dashboard back in 2009, from the early to mid-70s onwards the British switched to a long defensive with the result that the insurgents did most of the civilian damage (the largest single group of casualties, security forces being next largest).

In conversation with a retired British colonel, Evans recalled him saying that:

Of the three thousand, about seventeen hundred were civilians….of the remaining, a thousand were British soldiers [sic]. No more than three hundred were terrorists, a ratio of three to one. Speaking very softly, he said: “And that is why we are still there”. [Emphasis added]


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