Five minutes after the IRA Mark 10 mortars were launched , the first of them exploded , but it fell short of its target , Newry RUC Barracks , and blasted a five foot hole in its perimeter wall . A second mortar followed but exploded in mid-air breaking the leg of a teenage boy and injuring 25 civilians and two RUC men . None of the other mortars went off .
It was an insane but calculated gamble by the IRA : if the mortars had fallen short they would have ploughed into a row of terraced houses killing and maiming dozens but , on the other hand , had the attempt succeeded as planned the mortars would have caused carnage inside the RUC barracks . Afterwards British Army bomb experts reckoned that up to 40 RUC members and British soldiers could have been killed – almost enough , as one BA source put it , for the IRA to ‘blast their way back to the negotiating table’ .
A faulty firing mechanism had prevented the IRA from inflicting on the Northern ‘security forces’ their heaviest casualties yet . If the Newry mortaring had succeeded it would have put the Warrenpoint operation of August 1979, in which 18 British soldiers were killed , into the shadows . It would also have transformed 1980 ‘security statistics’ into a grim catalogue of death and sent flurries of foreign journalists over to Ireland for yet another series of lengthy analyses of Europe’s longest surviving guerrilla army . That the IRA have survived to remain that sort of threat not only to the British Army and RUC but to any hope that the British government has of creating a peaceful internal settlement * is due in the main to a massive re-organisation of the Army that was carried out from 1977 onwards . ( * ‘1169…’ Comment – now , for shame , they sell themselves to Westminster and Leinster House as “a bulwark” against Irish republicanism!)
ARMAGH JAIL – NO LET UP IN REPRESSION.
Arrested on active service in April 1976 and sentenced at her ‘trial’ eight months later to 14 years imprisonment , Belfast republican Mairead Farrell became one of the first women POW’s to take part in the protest for political status . Later on she was involved in the ‘no wash’ escalation of the protest in Armagh Jail , and in December 1980 she was one of three women prisoners to join the first hunger-strike . Here , in a smuggled communication to this magazine , she writes about the strip searches , prison work and isolation that are features of the prison regime’s repression in Armagh.
From ‘IRIS’ magazine , July 1983.
” During the last seven years that I have been imprisoned in Armagh Jail my comrades and I have endured much from the prison administration’s ever-changing attitude . Now , three months after the termination of our ‘no work’ protest, the conditions have deteriorated , the regime is more repressive , and the punishments more severe and excessive . I hope here to give you an insight into this present-day situation in Armagh , where the new prison regime has resorted to the familiar tactic of ‘divide and conquer’ in every aspect of prison routine .
Considering the overall prison population of the North there are very few women prisoners – all of these are held in Armagh . Republicans form the vast majority of the total , and at present there are 28 sentenced republicans and seven on remand , scattered throughout the jail . Within the prison building there are three separate structures housing prisoners – ‘A’ , ‘B’ and ‘C’ wings – each of which is completely isolated from the others . Inside each of these wings there are two landings , one blocked off from the other with no contact possible between the two . This is geared to further isolating republicans in the jail , with the number of prisoners on each landing not exceeding nine . This in fact is not a prison , but many prisons within a prison .
The purpose of dividing republicans into small units is one of surveillance and control , it is not primarily a security measure but more a means to determine any weaknesses in individuals which the administration hope to exploit for their own ends . The whole atmosphere is hostile and oppressive , with every movement , spoken word and general habit chronicled by Prison Screws on the landings and scrutinised by the prison administration daily . One cannot help feeling like a caged animal walking up and down with every twitch monitored , analysed and filed away for further use against us . Or so they believe . It’s a popular boast of the present regime that they know all we say and do , but they choose to forget that their mania for surveillance does not reveal what’s in our minds , and that’s what counts……. “
OPERATIONAL COMMENTS OF A BRITISH ARMY OFFICER…….
British Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Dewar of the Royal Green Jackets has served in Cyprus , Borneo and Malaya , as well as in the Occupied Six Irish Counties . He has written three previous books – ‘Internal Security Weapons And Equipment Of The World’ and ‘Brushfire Wars’ . The extracts reproduced here are from ‘The British Army In Northern Ireland’ , which was published by ‘Arms and Armour Press’ in 1985 . The underlined comments in this article are ours . This article reflects the operational thinking of a British military commander , more so than his political or ideological outlook.
From ‘IRIS’ magazine , October 1987.
The plan must be constantly up-dated and checked to ensure that one is a step ahead of the enemy . Above all , British Army patrol commanders must be debriefed by the Company Commander after each patrol . Only in that way can the intelligence ‘jigsaw’ be kept up to date – the most insignificant snippet may be of value at a later date ie that a new family have moved into a particular house .
The patrol commander , his briefing complete , leads his four-person patrol to the sandbugged bunker by the entrance to the base : pointing their rifles into the bunker they cock their weapons and run zigzagging out of the gate and are then instantly ‘on patrol’ away from the comparative safety of the company base where , even if they can be mortared , they at least cannot be shot at . As the patrol commander leads his patrol into the area he has been told to investigate he will be conscious of several things : perhaps most importantly of all he will be looking into every window and doorway , every street corner and hedgerow for a possible telltale sign of an ambush – something glinting in the sun , an open window , a curtain moving , something that could be construed as a signal by perhaps boys to a waiting gunman or bomber .
He will also be responsible for keeping his patrol together , watching each soldier and ensuring that he/she is carrying out their allotted task . He will be navigating – however familiar he and the patrol are with the area , he does have to be aware all the time of precisely where he is because , in the event of a ‘contact’ he must be able to report instantly over the radio where he is and in what street . He will be responsible for communicating over his Pye pocket-phone with British Army Company HQ and with other patrols out on the ground supporting him or working with him and , most important of all , he will be carrying out whatever the patrol task is . It will be he who has to fill in a written patrol report after the patrol , he who it will be who carries out identity checks and/or checks the occupants of vehicles at a Vehicle Check Point . In short , the pressure will be on the Patrol Commander (JNCO [‘Junior Non Commissioned Officer’] ) all the time…….