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 Dublin on February 17th 1983 , the ill-named ‘Irish Commission for Justice and Peace’ launched their new ‘Peace Education Programme’ . This was , amongst other things , an attempt by the Catholic hierarchy to act on the high unemployment rate but it was a rather awkward attempt : in parts of the six counties , the St Vincent de Paul Society tried to organise community workshops to ‘take people off the dole queue’ but , in one such scheme in the Dungannon area , people felt they were being exploited as they were ‘bringing down the live register’ but were losing what little money they were entitled to in supplementary benefits .

In March 1983 , in an obvious and belated attempt to undermine Sinn Fein’s widespread success , through its proliferating advice centres in Belfast , in providing help to nationalist people on the whole range of social issues , Bishop Cahal Daly called his clergy together and asked that at least one priest in each parish involve himself in social issues and , in early April 1983 , he went further – he announced the appointment , for the first time in 120 years , of two auxiliary bishops in the Down and Connor diocese, Canon Patrick Walsh and Fr Anthony Farquhar, to co-ordinate the Church’s involvement in social issues , primarily in West Belfast . Without admitting openly that the rising profile of Sinn Fein was the motive for the Church’s novel concern , Bishop Daly stated – ” We’re deeply concerned about the deprivation and unemployment , the whole complex of bad housing , deprived environment , the neglected and

rejected in society.” The political thinking of the Catholic hierarchy has never been expressed so often and so loudly as it has during the previous few months : on October 17th , 1982 , the Very Reverend Fr William Philbin, Bishop of Down and Connor , retired and was replaced by Bishop Cahal Daly . If the timing of this move – three days before the Assembly elections – was coincidental , the choice of man was deliberate : an up-front bishop for a front-line diocese . A bishop versed in the social sciences , who could cope with the falling church attendances , and sufficiently articulate to hold his own in the charged political atmosphere of the North of Ireland…….

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 policy of ‘Ulsterisation’ probably proceeded too rapidly , as the RUC was left in an exposed position (vis a vis the IRA ) and the British Army had to resume its ‘dominant position’ . The Republican prisoners , the IRA and the people themselves all combined to defeat the ‘normalisation’ policy and thwarted the hoped-for defeat of the resistance by the early 1980’s .

The insoluble contradiction in British policy is that it cannot succeed without repression yet repression only breeds increased resistance. The people have not been ‘bought off’ by ‘reforms’ which have been paltry enough anyway. The true colours of British intransigence were brought out fully in their cold indifference to the 1981 hunger-strike deaths.

Today , in the wake of the hunger-strike , resistance continues with a new degree of support which far outstrips that of the ‘civil rights’ period : a new generation of fighters is emerging , and it is evident to everyone * that the only ‘British solution’ is a British withdrawal……. (‘1169..’ Comment * : not the case , unfortunately – there are those who now sit comfortably in Leinster House and/or Stormont that once claimed to be fighting for a British withdrawal and , indeed , profess to still seek that outcome. However , they are quite content to assist Westminster in administering its ‘rule’ in six Irish counties – and accept a salary and pension for doing so – whilst dismissing those who continue to try and ‘break the connection’ as “dissidents/terrorists with no mandate…” . Those ‘half-way housers’ – quislings- have always been around , but have always been by-passed by Republicans and left , heavy-hearted as they no doubt are, to console themselves by self-delusion that they done the best they could…)

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.

Nuns and priests of the Corpus Christi parish complained of the RUC’s “…insensitive conduct..” and accused them of breaking assurances . Fr Jim Donaghy said in a statement to the press : ” As children were leaving church , and as the mourners were assembling for the removal of the remains to the cemetery , the RUC and the soldiers kept their guns trained on them . Later in the cemetery , five RUC men , mounted on Land Rovers , directed their weapons at the backs of those standing at the graveside.” Cahal Daly, who that very same morning officiated at a Jubilee Mass at the same chapel , again failed to speak out .

At the funerals of individuals killed during the recent INLA feud, British forces of occupation often outnumbered the mourners : those who attended the funerals of Thomas ‘Ta’ Power and John Gerard O’Reilly were attacked by the Brits , as were those who attended the funeral of Mary McGlinchey in Bellaghy in February 1987 . Her father had announced in advance that this would be a private burial , but the RUC again staged a show of strength , provocatively walking alongside pallbearers and bationing several mourners during scuffles .

Relatives and mourners were manhandled by the RUC at the funerals of Newryman Thomas Maguire in March 1987 and of Tony McCluskey that same month , in Armagh . Both were private funerals . On February 21st 1987 , the RUC effectively seized control of the burial of Michael Kearney in Belfast , demanding that the Irish Tricolour not be displayed and that there be no guard of honour : mourners were ordered to walk behind the coffin in three lines and they and the coffin itself were flanked on either side by lines of RUC and British soldiers . This , the RUC hoped , would be the shape of things to come…….

About 11sixtynine

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