With hindsight the IRA was the net loser from the 1975/76 ceasefire and the subject itself remains a major and bitter bone of contention within the Movement . The ceasefire forced on the Provisionals a major political , military and strategic re-think of which the 1977 military re-organisation was an integral part . It also paved the way for a change in the leadership of the IRA ; the present 7-person Army Council is dominated by Northern ‘hawks’ and radicals who vow never to speak to Westminster again except from a position of absolute strength (‘1169…’ Comment – strong handgrip anyway. Almost like Martin is hanging-on for his [political] life….) .
The result of the re-think was two fundamental changes in policy : the first was the concept of ‘the long way’ which was first outlined by Jimmy Drumm , ironically one of those intimately involved in the ceasefire talks with the British government . That concept was articulated by him at Bodenstown in June 1977 as was the second major change – the political one .
The political change involved pushing the IRA and Sinn Fein in a radical direction and to involvement in trade union , poverty , housing and unemployment issues – what Sinn Fein President Ruairi O Bradaigh now calls “…occupying ground vacated by the Sticks (‘Official Sinn Fein’) ….” . That particular move has been far from as successful or complete as its architects planned and has caused the greatest tensions within the Republican Movement since the Official/Provisional split of 1970. The fact that it has been at all successful rests entirely on the fact that those responsible for the military rebirth of the IRA were also those backing the advocates of radicalism . In republican politics the sword has always been mightier than the pen and this time in the IRA’s history both sword and pen were pointing in the same direction……. (‘1169…’ Comment : it was obvious to some at the time , and suspected by others , that some of those rising through the ranks of the Movement wanted to ‘point the pen’ towards constitutionalism and destroy ‘the sword’ on their way there.)
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.
” A prime example of this is the continuation of strip searching despite the public outcry it provoked . The NIO have attempted to play down this degrading practice by saying that it is necessary when moving high security-risk prisoners to and from the jail , while a notice displayed in the strip-search area states that all prisoners must be stripped naked leaving and entering the jail because of ‘prohibited articles’ being smuggled in .
This refers to the incident last November which sparked off the strip searching when two ‘YOP’s’ (‘ordinary prisoners’) stole the keys of a magistrate’s car “for a laugh” while in RUC custody and brought them back into the jail . The two ‘YOP’s’ have since been released . Ironic ? Maybe , but having listened to three women who have endured this disgusting practice daily for months , as have those in the Black informer trial, I can only think of the enormous mental effect this must have at what is already a stressful period .
Each of these women has been stripped over 135 times . This is not ‘in the interests of security’ , it is psychological torture . The prison administration have agreed it is an unnecessary practice , yet it continues because it’s a new-found weapon in the attempt to rob republicans of dignity……. ”
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 covert operations in the North of Ireland result in more preventive that reactive operations . In rural areas , close observation platoons dig into hides for long periods and watch known border crossing-points or known IRA houses. They can then steer other patrols on to the enemy if they see them.
In urban areas , British Army Observation Posts are set up in derelict houses and on rooftops : in one incident , in Belfast , a BA platoon Commander had set up an OP in a derelict semi-detatched house , with a good area of observation and field of fire looking down to the Springfield Road . After the OP had been in position for two days , a shot rang out from what sounded like the other side of the wall against which the three men in the OP were leaning .
After extricating themselves from their cramped positions , they were just in time to see a gunman disappearing around a street corner 150 yards away . It transpired that the gunman had taken up a position very quietly several hours before , in the other of the two semi-detatched houses , which was lived in , and had fired a shot at a BA patrol on the Springfield Road , but missed . This is illustrative of that sort of cat and mouse game that is played out in the backstreets of Belfast .
[END of ‘OPERATIONAL COMMENTS OF A BRITISH ARMY OFFICER’]
(Next- “Shedding Dreams” ; from October 1987)