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.

There were more arrests and house raids by the British Army and the RUC in nationalist areas in the three months that followed the end of the hunger-strike in October 1981 than there had been throughout the rest of that year . There was also a flurry of condemnations of the IRA by a variety of clergymen : on November 13th , 1981 , Fr Denis Faul called on people to inform – ” Everybody has a duty to tell the authorities if they know anything about the commission of murder…” (‘1169…’ Comment : sounds familar – a member of the ‘establishment’ encouraging people to inform on republicans to the British…)

Another attempt by Fr Faul to undermine nationalist resistance consisted of issuing statements calling on people to pass on information to ‘responsible’ people such as priests and teachers – immediately , dozens of teachers got together to publish an advertisement in the press that they would have no part in this scheme . This frontal assault on Irish republicanism has to be seen in the context of the low ebb of morale in the nationalist community at the end of the hunger-strike , which lasted well into the summer of 1982 . The RUC’s use of paid informers, increased repression , and continuous condemnations of the armed struggle , against a backdrop of economic deprivation created a feeling of deep despondency .

Meanwhile the Catholic hierarchy was busy trying to win back the hearts and minds of its alienated flock in a two-pronged drive : towards the young and the unemployed , and against the ‘evil of violence’ . The Catholic schools , which in at least one British television programme during the hunger-strike had lyrically been described as “havens of peace” in the midst of a “strife-torn community” , were once again used to promote Pax Britannica. Throughout 1982 , the clergy and some of the teaching staff of Catholic schools , in conjunction with the staff of Protestant state schools , and the Irish Council of Churches, were busy discussing ways and means of turning youth away from ‘violence’ , and promoting ‘peace’ in the schools . ‘Reconciliation’ meetings with students of other denominations , prayers for killed RUC and UDR personnel , even the language used at school assemblies , were examined…….

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.

Despite British government ‘improvements’ , not all was milk and honey in the nationalist areas . This was precisely the period (around 1977) when repression was intensified , but it was part of a co-ordinated civil and military management of the six-county statelet – it was in fact an attempt at ‘co-ordinating the whole social system’ , as Robin Evelegh had said .

That the British ‘normalisation’ policy has since failed should not detract from its importance – it is a coherent policy which could be used again both here and abroad to counter an insurrectionary movement in an industrialised urban society where all-out naked repression is not politically viable. (‘1169…’ Comment : how ironic that those that , in 1982, expressed that sentiment should , within four years of doing so , not only fall for that same British ploy but proceed to actually assist with the normalisation policy!) The media found this type of repression less news-worthy than the street battles and massive British army activity of earlier days , but it is no less dangerous and requires a rounded and cohesive political response from the resistance organisations.

There are several reasons for the failure of the British ‘normalisation’ policy : economic conditions did not allow for a full-blown ‘bread and circuses’ approach to pacify the people . The money was simply not there to provide a substantial improvement in social conditions . The propaganda aspect was also quite weak because the abnormality of the torture centres and the conditions in the H-Blocks and Armagh soon filtered through abroad . The policy , in short , never had much credibility with the nationalist people themselves who continued their support for the IRA and its aims and objectives . The ‘Criminalisation’ policy – which involved turning prisoners-of-war into common criminals – was defeated by the blanket protest and then the hunger-strike. In fact , the brutal degradation it involved not only failed , but actually caused a ferment of nationalist resistance which pulled the struggle out of its relative isolation of the mid-seventies…….

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 that same day – September 16th , 1986 – also in Belfast , the RUC looked-on at a respectful distance as the UVF’s military commander in Belfast , John Bingham, was given a military-style funeral – the RUC made no attempt to remove the flag of the illegal UVF or the hat and gloves from the coffin of Bingham , whom the IRA identified as the leader of a sectarian murder gang which had killed at least five Belfast Catholics .

For many nationalists , the day’s events were proof that the inbuilt violence and sectarianism of the Six-County statelet were as strong as ever – the previous November’s ‘London-Dublin Agreement’ or no . With deep anger running in nationalist areas , priests of IRA Volunteer Jim McKernan’s parish publicly condemned the RUC’s “…disgraceful intrusion..” , expressing concern that it “…no doubt has pushed some young hotheads closer to involvement with the IRA..”

Bishop Cahal Daly asked prominent unionist politicians to ‘explain’ their presence at the funeral of UVF leader John Bingham , but still did not condemn RUC attacks on the funerals of republicans . British military hardware was put on display in Belfast again the following month – on October 24th 1986 – at the private funeral of republican veteran James ‘Spotter’ Murphy , who had died in London aged 61 . The New Barnsley area had been sealed off since the previous evening and mourners at the funeral were outnumbered by heavily armed British forces . Dozens of riot-clad RUC men and British soldiers , some with tracker dogs , patrolled the church grounds while Requiem Mass was being said . This again left the Catholic hierarchy with no choice but to publicly ‘voice their concern’ over the conduct of the British forces…….

About 11sixtynine

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