At a press briefing on May 3rd, 1983, Bishop Cathal Daly declared that a vote for Sinn Fein was ‘a wasted vote’ , and that people should think seriously before risking being seen as ‘supporting violence’ . As polling day approached , the rising crescendo of calls from Bishop Daly and other members of the Catholic hierarchy became increasingly explicit in their support for the SDLP. Against the background of this intervention into the arena of nationalist party politics , Patricia Collins sketches the role played by the leadership of the Catholic Church over the past fourteen years against nationalist resistance .
From ‘IRIS’ magazine , July 1983.

Sinn Fein’s rising profile has been seen to pose a threat not only to the SDLP it was also seen by the Catholic hierarchy to be a threat to their influence on the nationalist community . At the end of 1982 , Fr Denis Faul made this revealing declaration – ” The Provisionals are now posing as politicians ….they are competing with the Church as moral spokesmen for the Catholic community..” The Church’s declared ‘battle for the hearts and minds’ of half a million nationalists was on !

In the occupied six counties , the Catholic church has often been described as a ‘quasi-state within the state’ : in urban areas especially , unemployed Catholics could spend their entire lives having little contact with the institutions of the Orange state other than signing on the dole and being harassed by the RUC .

From baptism to burial , the Catholic church was at the centre of a network which includes charities , credit unions , residents’ associations and youth groups , and the Catholic hierarchy has tried its best to maintain that system , by fighting to retain control of Catholic schools and displaying increasing awareness of the problems of poverty and unemployment . Bishop Cahal Daly’s condemnation , in his 1983 Lenten Pastoral , of “…the great injustice all around us ….(the) bad housing (and) the masses of unemployed and their dependants..” is a far cry from the suggestion his predecessor , Bishop William Philbin, made to a meeting of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society in 1965 , that the Catholic church “…helps people who , although their incomes were adequate , found themselves in distress due to mismanagement of their household budgets..”


Repression is not just bullets and the kick on the door at dawn. Repression is an integrated imperialist policy to deal with a risen people which encompasses all facets of social and political life.
From ‘IRIS’ magazine , July/August 1982.

Every single policy executed by the British state in the North of Ireland is geared towards their over-riding objective – to defeat the PIRA and ‘normalise’ the situation . (‘1169…’ Comment : how ironic that matters developed to the point where the PIRA surrendered , changed into ‘suits’ and joined with their foe in an attempt to normalise the British presence !)

We cannot separate ‘reform’ from ‘repression’ as though they were the carrot and the stick – both are part and parcel of the politics of repression . (‘1169…’ Comment : that statement was , at the time , aimed at the Workers Party , the SDLP and Fianna Fail : it was used to point-out to supporters of those parties the futility of attempting to ‘use’ Stormont as a ‘stepping stone’ to Irish unity . However , the ‘preacher’ turned…) Since British troops were deployed on the streets of the North in 1969 until today , there has been an expansion and refining of military operations against the nationalist people . In a very real sense , Ireland has become a ‘laboratory of repression’ for Western imperialism as a whole – a place to test weapons , surveillance equipment and counter-insurgency tactics generally .

Including its local forces of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and Ulster (sic) Defence Regiment (UDR) , the British government has 35,000 armed personnel at its command to ‘control’ a nationalist population of 500,000 – that is a ratio of 1 soldier/RUC member to every 15 people…….

Between December 1983 and May 1987 , over 25 republican or nationalist funerals were systematically attacked by the RUC as a matter of deliberate British policy . The objective was to drive mourners off the streets so that later Britain could claim dwindling support for republicanism as ‘evidenced’ by the small numbers attending IRA funerals . As Jane Plunkett reports , the opposite happened . More and more people came out to defend the remains of republican dead , the RUC were exposed as being as brutal and sectarian as ever , and these two factors , combined with damaging international news coverage , eventually forced the British government to reverse its policy of attacking republican funerals .
From ‘IRIS’ magazine , October 1987.

Events at the funeral in Magherafelt of IRA Volunteer Antoine Mac Giolla Bhrighde on December 4th , 1984 , suggested that the aim of British policy was nothing less than the banning from funerals of every symbol of the national struggle . As Antoine MacGiolla Bhrighde’s coffin , covered only with a Tricolour , was carried from the family home , scores of RUC men kicked and punched their way to the front of the house in an unsuccessful attempt to seize the flag .

On the wishes of the dead man’s distressed mother , the Tricolour was removed in the hope of preventing further incidents and injury , but the RUC showed that they had no interest in coming to an accommodation with the bereaved families , and that instead their aim was to impose their ‘control’ , their ‘power’ , on Irish republican funerals – for even after the Tricolour was removed , they continued to harass mourners and used their jeeps to ‘split’ the crowd of mourners and used one of their vehicles to ram the car in which the family of Antoine MacGiolla Bhrighde was travelling in – this was an attempt by the RUC to cut in directly behind the hearse . At this point the family bravely halted the funeral and , after a 20 minute delay , the RUC thugs withdrew in their Land Rovers.

On the 10th December , 1984 , the Bishop of Down and Connor , Cahal Daly, made a well-publicised speech proclaming the ‘legitimacy and rightness’ of what he termed “..the British dimension in Northern Ireland…”

About 11sixtynine

A mother of three (and a Granny!) and a political activist , living in Dublin , Ireland.
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