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Peter Hadden

State Terror

(September 1984)

From Militant Irish Monthly, Issue 124, September 1984.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

On January 30, 1972, paratroopers shot dead 13 unarmed demonstrators in Derry in the event which will be remembered as Bloody Sunday. Last Sunday, 13 August 1984, although only one person died, also deserves the title Bloody Sunday.

The result of the vicious police terror in Andersonstown, Belfast – with lethal plastic bullets fired into a peaceful crowd – was one man, Sean Downes, dead, and many hospitalised and injured.

Later police accounts of what happened were bare-faced lies. The RUC claimed that they fired plastic bullets only to protect themselves and that they were “attacked and obstructed by groups in the crowd”.

The truth is the RUC waded through the crowd firing plastic bullets in all directions and wielding batons. Sean Downes was behind a group of policemen, one of whom turned and shot him point blank in the chest.


The statement of the Chief Constable that he was a rioter is a disgraceful lie. Likewise the accusation that the police were “attacked and obstructed” by groups within the crowd is ridiculous. The demonstrators were men, women and children sitting on the road. They were charged on all sides by the RUC and could not get out of the way. Hence the pandemonium and panic. The plastic bullets were fired directly at people sitting, standing and even those trying to shield themselves by lying on the ground,

The events of last Sunday rank alongside the worst of the state terror which has become part and parcel of life in Northern Ireland over the last decade and a half. Northern Ireland has always been used as the training ground to perfect methods which could later be used against the labour movement both there and in Britain. The miners’ strike is the living proof of this.

But there is a warning for the entire labour movement in what happened last Sunday. Even the severe repression experienced by the miners is still mild compared to what the state forces are getting away with in Northern Ireland. Plastic bullets are not yet used to break picket lines, let alone are they fired at people’s heads and bodies, including at children, from a distance of a few feet.

The British ruling class dare not introduce these and other techniques used in Northern Ireland against the labour movement in Britain as yet. But if they are allowed to get away with these things on the streets of West Belfast, they will find it easier to introduce them to Britain, perhaps first to deal with riots such as Toxteth or Brixton, and then later to deal with strikers and pickets.

Neither in Northern Ireland nor in Britain can the labour movement let events like last Sunday go unchallenged. The ferocious police assault on a peaceful crowd and the murder of Sean Downes was for the sole purpose of preventing Martin Galvin of Noraid from speaking – what was challenged by this action was the right to free speech and the right to peacefully demonstrate.

Since Sunday the general response of the labour and trade union leadership has been one of silence. Labour’s Northern Ireland spokesman, Clive Soley, while talking of excessive police force has also given the police an excuse for what they did, by saying they were put in an “impossible situation”. To ignore or give any semblance of credence to state terror is the most dangerous and irresponsible position for the labour movement to adopt.

The miners’ strike should have been enough to educate the leaders of the movement that as far as the ruling class are concerned, it is Northern Ireland today and the British working class tomorrow.

To oppose repression is not to give any degree of support to the Provisionals or any other paramilitary group. It has been the futile and divisive methods of the Provos which has provided the state with the excuse to step up repression. It is a fact that last Sunday’s anti-internment march, organised by Sinn Fein, was a small demonstration of a couple of thousand people, including a large number from Britain and America. It was completely divorced from the labour movement in Northern Ireland.

Were the labour and trade union movement to clearly campaign against repression in Northern Ireland, the result would not be to boost the Provos. On the contrary, it is the present position of silence, of half support to the state actions, which gains support for the Provos.

The history of the Northern Ireland troubles has shown that the efforts of the Provos, Sinn Fein or any other sectarian or paramilitary group cannot resist repression. It is only the labour and trade union movement, by using its industrial muscle which can force the ruling class to retreat on its methods.

Yet the thousands of people roused by anger to attend Monday night’s black flag march to the scene of Sean Downes’ death in West Belfast heard no condemnations from the labour and trade union leaders. They see no struggle against repression being fought by the unions’ leaders. Hence they are pushed, by the lack of any alternative, behind the protests of Sinn Fein.

The result of the repression or last Sunday and the lack of response by the labour movement will be to give a boost to Sinn Fein. Twelve years ago the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry prompted thousands of Catholic youth to flock to the Provisionals. Today the futility of the Provisionals’ tactics is much clearer even to Catholic youth. Nonetheless, the danger is that, because they are given no alternative means of struggle, a number of youth will again turn to these methods. It is not sufficient for the labour and trade union movement to condemn these youth. The movement has a responsibility to show them that there is an alternative and better way to fight back against the capitalist system which spawns this repression.

The labour movement is on record as opposing the use of plastic bullets. A resolution to this effect moved by Derry Trades Council, was passed two years ago by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. It is now time that the labour movement in Britain and Ireland mounted a serious campaign to have these weapons banned. By campaigning independently of all sectarian-based groups and by explaining the class implications of these weapons and of repression in general, the movement can unite Catholic and Protestant workers in Northern Ireland with workers in Britain on this question. Last Sunday has shown that the British ruling class have no solution to the problems of Northern. Ireland. Behind all the smoke screen of talks and government “initiatives” lies the reality of rule by repression.

Workers’ unity

However, the sectarian and paramilitary organisations represent no way forward either. While defending the right of people like Martin Galvin to speak, the labour movement must also explain the blind alley represented by the right wing, nationalist and sectarian ideas of such people.

The only way forward in Northern Ireland lies through the unity of the working class and the struggle for a socialist solution. Only within and around the labour and trade union movement can this unity be achieved.

Last Sunday must be taken by the labour movement as a signal that the time has come to advance its own class alternative. It must oppose the methods of the army and police who cannot protect workers. The movement should stand for the withdrawal of troops, the disbandment of the RUC and their replacement by a trade union defence force to ensure that sectarian attacks do not take place.

It should immediately move to build a political base in Northern Ireland, a socialist Labour Party, which could provide this generation of youth, who want to struggle against the miseries of capitalism, with the vehicle in which to do so. In this way the movement can concretely show to the youth, both Catholic and Protestant, that there is an alternative to the sectarians and the paramilitaries.

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