Without that 1977 re-organisation the IRA would in all probability now be a spent force and its leaders in jail or back home at their fireplaces dreaming of what had been or what might have been . Two factors led to that re-organisation : the most important was the success of the RUC arresting and extracting ‘confessions’ from IRA Volunteers and leaders : between 1976 and 1977 when the interrogators of Castlereagh and elsewhere were working overtime , over 2,500 people , mostly IRA , were convicted of ‘murder’ , ‘attempted murder’ and arms and explosives offences .
Such was the ‘success’ of the ‘criminalisation policy’ , as it was called , that the then British Secretary of State , Roy Mason, and his security chiefs at one time thought they had actually pulled it off and defeated the IRA . ” We were almost defeated,” admitted one present Provo leader . The second important factor was the effect of the post-Feakle ceasefire and peace talks of 1975/76 on the thinking of leading Provisional strategists . That ceasefire brought certain short term gains for the IRA – ‘Incident Centres’ to monitor British Army infringements of the ceasefire were set up and talks were held between IRA leaders and British civil servants at which the carrot of British withdrawal was dangled tantalisingly over Provo noses .
But the ceasefire also created major long term problems for the Provos : it provoked a bloody loyalist backlash which tied-up IRA resource and questioned long-held republican assumptions about the loyalist community . It also gained the British Army and RUC time to recover from the trauma of 1974 and to collect vital intelligence on an increasingly open and careless IRA . In addition it allowed the British to formulate a radical change in ‘security policy’ of which the present H Blocks and Castlereagh were part…….
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.
” Since the installation of the present regime a year ago , there has been a marked increase in pettiness and severe punishments . The manner in which this is employed I can only describe as a two-fold tactic designed to divide republican POW’s and break their resistance to the system . The first technique is obvious – constant punishment by long spells in solitary confinement , loss of remission and all so-called ‘privileges’ , so as to inflict as much suffering as possible in preparation for the second technique .
This involves a relaxation in the situation with a promise of more to come provided ‘you keep your nose clean’ . It’s as though the prison regime model their treatment of prisoners on the principle of ‘teaching a dog new tricks’ – do what we tell you well and the reward will be yours , with the possibility of bigger and better rewards in the pipeline. Then suddenly the breathing space is over and things revert to the more familiar pattern of harsh punishments , leaving the taste of what life could be like if only republicans would stop being republicans!
When the ‘no work’ protest ended , these techniques were put into operation immediately in an orchestrated attempt to break the POW’s . In the first fortnight , most republican prisoners had received more punishment than would have been possible during a month on protest . This punishment reached the heights in severity with many women spending days , and in some cases months , in solitary confinement . With the failure of this two-fold tactic the prison authorities have to content themselves with continuous punishments meted out on petty pretexts , trying to beat the republican spirit into submission……. “
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.
British Army ‘success’ in the North of Ireland is based upon accurate and comprehensive intelligence : the intelligence effort is organised by the Battalion Intelligence Officer , whose staff is specially augmented for a North of Ireland tour and which will probably consist of a warrant officer , perhaps two senior NCO’s and a number of junior NCO’s and riflemen . They will gather their intelligence from the following – patrol reports from the companies of the battalion on the ground , close liaison with the RUC and Special Branch , information provided by the intelligence staff at Brigade Headquarters and from their own contacts among the civil population within the battalion area of responsibility .
Intelligence is , of course , a continuous process . An incoming Intelligence Officer will inherit a great deal of data from his predecessor and will , during his ‘shift’ , add to it and sift through it . More important , he will cast a fresh eye on the same information and perhaps come up with a solution that had evaded his predecessor .
The main tasks of the Intelligence Cell are to build up and maintain an up-to-date and accurate ‘rogues gallery’ of all suspected IRA and other republican paramilitary activists and sympathisers in the battalion area , to pinpoint weapons and explosives hides , to provide the RUC with any relevant information that will produce the evidence necessary for an arrest and to collate any useful information that will enhance the battalion’s operational capability .
In the early 1970’s the emphasis was very much on overt patrolling but today it is public knowledge that there is a greater emphasis on covert operations…….