Paul Foot et al.

Army reign of terror

(August 1971)

From Socialist Worker, 21 August 1971.
Reprinted in Chris Harman (ed.), In the Heat of the Struggle, Bookmarks, London 1993, pp.50-1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Special analysis by Paul Foot, Brian Trench, Jimmy Grealy and Chris Harman

THE most savage terrorism of all, that of the British army, is on the loose in Belfast. All pretence that Northern Ireland is a democracy has been cast aside.

Men have been imprisoned without charge or trial. Many will be held there for years. The few who have been released tell of torture practised by the British army and the Northern Ireland police.

In the streets a score or more of people have been killed, most of them from the nationalist section of the population. Already, thousands of people are streaming in terror out of Belfast into primitive refugee camps in Southern Ireland.

The British government claims that it has had to introduce internment – imprisonment without trial – in order to ‘clear out the murderers’. The British press has backed up Heath and Maudling by continual talk of ‘terrorists’.

Most of the killing, however, has been carried out not by the IRA but by the British army and the bigoted thugs in the Orange Order.

Two years ago, the homes of working-class people in the Falls Road, Belfast, and other areas, were attacked by crazed mobs of police and armed Orangemen. A dozen or more people were killed.

Government ministers and newspaper owners in Belfast knew full well who was responsible for those murders. Official government inquiries admitted that the police were to blame.

No one was put on trial, let alone interned, for this indiscriminate murder. The present arrests have nothing to do with stopping violence. Leaders of both wings of the IRA have repeatedly made it clear that they are opposed to attacks on the Protestant section of the population

Their ‘crime’ in the eyes of the British government is that they have armed themselves to defend the lives of Catholic workers from attacks by armed Orangemen and that they want the British troops out of Ireland.

In the name of ‘peace’, violence has been deliberately provoked by Northern Ireland and Westminster governments. The 20 deaths and all which follow are directly the responsibility of Messrs Heath, Maudling and Faulkner.

The basis of the Northern Ireland state for 50 years has been religious hatred. By deliberately fostering a loathing for Catholics among the Protestant working class, the big landowners, industrialists and their British backers have clung to popular support.

Protestants have been given marginal privileges to distract them from unemployment and slum housing. They have been organised into bodies like the Orange Order, which every few years launches murderous attacks upon Catholic areas.

Two years ago the British government was forced to introduce reforms designed, it was claimed, to end discrimination against Catholics. In doing so, it undermined the foundation of rule through the Stormont regime.

The British government, however, is not prepared to see Stormont collapse without a struggle. Every gesture of opposition to reform from the right wing of the Unionist Party and the supporters of Ian Paisley, has been greeted with concessions from the British government.

The decision to intern was taken to appease the Unionist right wing, which for more than a year has placed internment top of the list of its demands upon the government.

What has been the reaction of British liberalism and the British Labour Party to this flagrant breach of the ‘traditional civil liberties’ for which, laughably, the United Kingdom is meant to stand? Unanimously, the British press has approved the decision to intern. Little or nothing has been allowed in their pages to disturb the solidarity between the press and the British troops. The facts about internment have not been sought. In the rare instances where journalists have discovered some of the truth about the internment camps, the editors have consigned their reports to the waste paper basket.

The reaction of the Labour Party has been in direct violation of everything for which the labour movement stands. Mr Harold Wilson is in the Scillies, apparendy out of contact with the worst breach of civil liberties in the UK for a hundred years. Mr. Callaghan, Labour’s Home Affairs spokesman, has described the internment as ‘a gamble’. He obviously hopes it will succeed. He has uttered not one word about the brutality, let alone the principle, of internment.

But Harold Wilson, James Callaghan and all the editors in the world cannot stop the resistance. In Northern Ireland, the resistance rules in the beleaguered areas. From five o’clock in the morning the streets are full of people determined to ensure that the ‘snatch squads’ will not surprise them again.

Irish people, socialists and republicans in Britain must rally to support their countrymen and comrades in the North of Ireland.


Last updated on 20.12.2004