Although the re-organisation of the IRA has undoubtedly revitalised the Provos the most significant aspect of that development is that it demonstrated for the first time since the start of the IRA’s campaign that the initiative in security matters was now with the British .
In 1970 , 1971 and 1973 the Provisional IRA had toyed with the concept of ‘cells’ or ‘active service units’ : in 1973 they actually formed a number of such units with 40 men in Andersonstown in West Belfast . But those changes , if they had come about would have been voluntary ; this latest re-organisation was a matter of survival to the organisation , and made it a more efficient killing organisation but it has necessitated a drastic reduction in the numbers of active service Volunteers in their ranks .
A joint RUC/British Army assessment last winter put the IRA’s strength throughout the North of Ireland at around the 300 mark with perhaps as many as 3,000 active sympathisers providing safe houses , transport etc . To put that into proper context the strength of the 1st Battalion of the Belfast Brigade of the IRA in 1972 was 300 with the same in reserve ; the total strength of the IRA in that year was between 1,500 and 2,000 . Instead of growing , as guerrilla armies have to if ultimate victory is to be realised , the Provisional IRA is actually declining in strength…….
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.
” It is plain to see that there is a need for segregation along these lines in Armagh Jail . It is true to say that we do not have a republican/loyalist-type situation here as is the case in the H-Blocks, but the need for segregation is still a major issue .
In my opinion the future ahead for republican POW’s in Armagh looks grim because of the attitude we’re met with on these important issues . It is such a small jail with a low population of inmates that one would think a reasonable existence would be possible with little difficulty . It is , of course , but not under the present circumstances , as for the past year the prison regime has been , and continues to be , geared towards punishment alone and there is no sign that this will change . “
[END of ‘ARMAGH JAIL – NO LET UP IN REPRESSION’]
(Next : ‘Resistance On All Fronts ‘ – an interview with the IRA . From 1982)
The Class Of ’76:(Top row L. to R.) Charlie Fagan (Arthur’s brother) , Dickie Glenholmes (Jnr) , Ciaran ‘Zack’ Smyth (served 9 years in jail) , Philip Rooney (served 8 and a half years) , Seany McVeigh (served 10 years). (Bottom row L. to R.) Eugene Gilmartin (serving life in the H-Blocks) , Arthur O Faogain.
The ghettos of Belfast and Derry are filled with stories such as this one. It is not unique. Young men and women, because of the partition of this country by the British, are killed, imprisoned and maimed.
By Artur O Faogain.
From ‘IRIS’ magazine , October 1987.
” The cries and moans of bewildering pain drew people quickly to the scene . The bomb’s work ‘efficiently’ done , the old public house collapsed . People dug in hope , lights glaring, as the black bodybags filled . Five coffins side-by-side stretched across the street . The British Army watched noisily from the air . Loyalist attacks like this continued throughout the summer .
I suppose we should all have considered ourselves lucky to have escaped unhurt during that warm summer of 1975 but no , not for us the worry of death . We were young . My mother was waiting up for me when I came in late that night – clearing my mouth so as not to sound too drunk , I told her of the news I had heard earlier : ‘Paul was shot. But I was talking to a fella who was there and he said Paul walked to the ambulance and he looked alright.’ I sat down and waited for her reaction , but she just looked straight at me and said – ‘He’s dead , son. He died in hospital.’ Paul was buried on a sunny day in September as we stood silently by his grave . Silenced by its infinity.
Not long afterwards I started work . My first pay packet , though small , felt like a million . Girls , clothes and music became our priority . The loyalist attacks still continued as did the reprisals . The Sticks and the IRA began a feud that October , similar to the INLA-Stick feud of the previous summer , but bloodier . It too ended with no victor bar the British who , judging correctly that it was safe to do so , gave their sentry posts a fresh coat of paint during the in-fighting . But they were simply waiting for the dust to settle before putting the boot in . While nobody expected to do time over the feud , it was a problem that had to be sorted out , we were told , before getting down once more to the real business of fighting the Brits . But imprisoned some of us were , and still are , because of that feud . The ceasefire started falling apart during the summer and by November it seemed to be over . In Belfast the IRA’s response to its ending was minimal . The ceasefire , feuds and sectarian killings had undermined the purpose of the IRA……. ”