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.

In 1976 , the Irish Council Of Churches issued a report , in which they stated – ” (There should be)…action by the Churches to ensure that their worship is not exploited by paramilitary organisations at funerals and commemorations .” There had however already been ‘action’ : in December 1975 , the Tricolour-draped coffin of IRA Volunteer Paul ‘Basil’ Fox had been turned away from St Paul’s Church on the Falls Road in Belfast . The same ‘action’ was not in evidence in other churches when dead UVF and UDA members and , indeed , Catholic RUC and UDR men , were being buried .

1976 saw the rise (and fall) of the ‘Peace Movement’, which was strongly supported , aided and financed by the British government and the Churches (….like these people, that is..) . The support the emerging ‘Peace People’ received from the Catholic Hierarchy manifested itself in many ways – permission to use church grounds and premises , direct involvement of nuns , priests and church activists such as those of the Legion of Mary in the organisation of rallies and meetings, and moral support through statements and articles .

When the Peace People’s circus crashed , it became clear that the IRA was here to stay (…until British agents within it managed to rise to the position where they attempted to constitutionalise it in 1986 , an act which resulted in the Provisional’s military arm eventually morphing into that which it is today : a semi-‘official’ , semi-military outfit , ‘allowed’ by the political establishment to run financial scams and carry-out ‘internal housekeeping’ activity, as long as they no longer challenge ‘the system’ ) . The Catholic hierarchy looked to other means of helping to ‘normalise’ the Six Counties (…and found new allies, too..)…….

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.

From 1970 (after a brief initial ‘honeymoon’ period) to 1972 , the British government followed a policy of naked repression on the assumption that the IRA could be defeated by a swift blow which would also separate it from its social support . Thus we had the massive internment of the early years and the now publicly admitted torture of internees, the Falls Road curfew of 1970, and Bloody Sunday in 1972, the latter being a massacre which showed the failure of the policy to ‘separate’ the IRA ‘fish’ from the ‘water’ of the nationalist community by these methods .

Henceforth a judicious blend of repression and ‘reform’ would be employed , and great effort was made to groom a respectable nationalist political voice- the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) – which could be used by the British in a counter-insurgency context because , bought off from time to time with a few meaningless ‘reforms’ (like this, for example) it could be portrayed as the legitimate voice of the nationalist people .

The more astute British leaders recognised the need for a more ’rounded’ approach to the problem . One military strategist Colonel Robin Eveleigh, in a book entitled ‘Peace-Keeping In A Democratic Society : Lessons Of Northern Ireland’, (sic) published in 1978 , put it like this ” A campaign against terrorist-backed insurrection is not a military campaign alone : it is possible for the military to repress an area into a sort of calm , but the trouble will burst out again as soon as their pressure is reduced . Such a campaign is not only political or only an economic one . Nor is such a campaign a question of social services , welfare or housing . In a counter-terrorist campaign , the battle runs across every level and every activity of society . Thus the conflict must be seen by Government in terms of co-ordinating the whole social system . “ Yes , indeed…….

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.

On the night of December 19th , 1984 , the IRA fired three volleys of shots over the coffin of Seán McIlvenna, who had been killed on Active Service in Armagh . Yet the following day’s funeral was the occasion for one of the largest RUC operations ever seen in West Belfast ; an RUC force estimated at nearly 1,000 lined the funeral route and saturated Milltown Cemetery and nearby nationalist areas , and about 30 RUC Land Rovers intruded inside the cemetery , with many more outside .

In an atmosphere of high tension , mourners had to link arms to protect Seán McIlvenna’s coffin , which was draped with a Tricolour and bore a single red rose , placed there by his widow , Patricia . For over thirty minutes the funeral had to be halted after RUC Land Rovers attempted to split the cortege .

The end of the grief-filled month for republicans of December in 1984 saw the funeral , on December 23rd , of young Derry IRA Volunteer Ciaran Fleming – and the most gratuitously violent RUC attack of the year on any funeral . Many of the RUC had come in full riot gear of helmet , shield and body armour , to show that they were intent on violent disruption . Several times during a tense and exhausting funeral which lasted three full hours , the RUC baton-charged the mourners , which encouraged near-by children , standing on a wall , to throw stones at them in reprisal : the RUC then fired at least four plastic bullets into the funeral cortege , seriously injuring two people . During the afternoon , numerous mourners suffered bloody head wounds and one man was knocked unconscious by the RUC . Stewards were often forced to halt the proceedings because of this harassment but , despite the RUC’s terror , the people stood firm and , in a twilight Bogside, three uniformed IRA Volunteers stepped out of the crowd and paid the IRA’s traditional salute to their fallen comrade , as a forest of arms were raised in clenched-fist salute . Finally , thanks to the courage of thousands of nationalists , Volunteer Ciaran Fleming was laid to rest . By now , it was pitch black…….

About 11sixtynine

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