THE CATHOLIC HIERARCHY – PROPPING-UP THE ORANGE STATE…….
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.
The role of the Catholic hierarchy in not only failing to support , but consciously undermining , the republican hunger-strikes of 1980 and 1981 against attempted criminalisation by Westminster , and finally being instrumental in their collapse , has been well documented . It was a crucial period in time in the relationship between the Catholic church and the nationalist people . The lesson of the Church’s role was not lost on the republican prisoners, who described Fr Denis Faul, the Catholic chaplain in the H-Blocks, as “…a conniving , treacherous man..” and the role of the Catholic hierarchy throughout the hunger-strikes as “…misleading and immoral..”.
Nor was the lesson lost on the tens of thousands who had supported the republican prisoners : when the time had come to confront the British government , the Catholic hierarchy had backed down and asked the dying prisoners to abandon their fight instead . They then turned to the heartbroken families and distilled the poison of defeat in them . To that hierarchy , anything was better than destabilising the ‘State’ .
Never since 1969 had the hierarchy found it so difficult to steer a course between the ‘twin dangers’ of supporting the so-called ‘men of violence’ and risking alienating its flock . The hunger-strike was the watershed : martyrdom had to belong exclusively to the Church , it could not be ‘allowed’ to ‘fall’ to the IRA , and the hierarchy was prepared to lose some of its followers for the sake of this stand , but it was confident that it would win them back later on…….
THE POLITICS OF REPRESSION …….
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.
The British were hoping that war weariness could succeed in demoralising the nationalist resistance , the spearhead of which -the IRA- was dubbed a ‘criminal’ element (the‘godfathers’) * to be dealt with through a concerted intelligence/military campaign in a renewed effort to isolate it from its nationalist base of support . (‘1169…’ Comment*: it is now the Provisional organisation [the then ‘criminal godfathers’ etc] which seeks to dismiss those they refer to today as ‘dissidents’ as “criminal godfathers” ! The ‘worm’ [snake?] has truly turned…)
To remove the colonial war stigma , British troops were to gradually withdraw leaving local troops – UDR and RUC – in the frontline . This was known as ‘Ulsterisation’ in an analogy with the ‘Vietnamisation’ practised earlier by the American government .
To ensure that life would return to ‘normal’ in the nationalist ghettos once the ‘criminal’ elements were removed , the British government made an effort to improve economic conditions – a few factories were set up in nationalist areas , but the international recession of 1975 and after meant that investment was minimal . The last ‘white elephant’ from this policy – the De Lorean motor company in Belfast – has recently closed down . Houses were built but with over 50 per cent unemployment in nationalist areas most people cannot afford the rent , and increasingly the ‘impartial’ Housing Executive has been exposed as a tool of British counter-insurgency strategy . Huge ‘leisure centres’ were built so that the people could while away their time playing squash and swimming – and hopefully forgetting about the war . Social services were modernised and community groups encouraged…….
REPUBLICAN MOURNERS DEFEAT RUC…….
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.
The British government , encouraged by the silence of the Irish establishment , extended their harassment to two funerals which , at the request of relatives , were to be private , that of Tony Gough in Derry in February 1986 and of Belfastman Jim McKernan, both of whom had been shot dead on active service by British crown forces . When Jim McKernan’s funeral began on September 16th , 1986 , Andersonstown was again saturated with hundreds of British forces , including scores of jeeps . The start of the funeral was delayed for 30 minutes while Jim McKernan’s white-faced widow appealed to the RUC to pull back , assuring them there would be no Irish Republican Guard of Honour . But the RUC ignored her and took no notice of her repeated request .
The mourners , who numbered more than a thousand , were aggressively hemmed-in by RUC Land Rovers and , outside the wake house , RUC men on the roofs of other Land Rovers aimed their weapons at the crowd , and armed RUC thugs also walked along-side the hearse . In Milltown Cemetery, according to the ‘Irish News’ report – ” (British) soldiers took up positions behind gravestones and the RUC refused to allow anyone other than their own armed members to walk alongside the hearse from the cemetery gates to the Republican Plot.. “
Events at these two private funerals were an unspoken admission that the British authorities’ target was not simply the symbols of the struggle for national freedom – IRA Firing Parties , berets , gloves or Tricolours – their broader aim was to repress the risen nationalist people into submission and to intimidate all public displays of support for those engaged in the armed struggle. However , on that same day – September 16th , 1986 – another funeral was also being held in Belfast : that of a UVF man . The RUC behaved in a very respectable manner at that event…….
(PLEASE NOTE : we will be taking a short break from normal posting over the Christmas period – today , Friday 21st December , will be the last day this year that we will do one of our ‘usual’ posts , although we will post details of how the CABHAIR swim went and possibly a few other similar-type posts. We will return to ‘normal’ early in the New Year. Go raibh maith agat! Sharon.)