Last week former Tory MEP Daniel Hannan wrote an op-ed for the Washington Examiner entitled “Ireland just stepped back from democracy.” The op-ed argued that the Sinn Féin wave in the recent election undermined Irish democracy because of the past of Sinn Fein and their links to the IRA and paramilitary violence. But attempts by Hannan and others to pin the Troubles solely on the fault of the Provisional IRA totally ignore the crimes his government and their Unionist paramilitary allies committed during the troubles.
And if Sinn Fein’s links with violence undermine Irish democracy surely the direct involvement of the British state in violence and torture in Northern Ireland calls into question Britain’s own commitment to democracy.
Britain was responsible for the colonisation of Ireland from the late 12 century (circa 1169 AD) until the 21st century; nearly 800 years of colonial oppression. Even when they were forced to leave, the British forced the partition of the country.
Subsequently, Catholics and Nationalists in Northern Ireland were denied equal rights, subjected to gerrymandering to exclude them from the democratic process, and continuously brutalised and harassed by the tyrannical RUC.
This system would only be changed following concerted protests by John Hume and the Civil Rights Movement.
The British legacy in Ireland is one of bloodshed, imperialism, and terror.
In 1971, the British government enacted a policy of internment whereby suspects could be detained indefinitely without trial or due process. Furthermore this policy was disproportionately – and almost exclusively – aimed at the nationalist community.
Operations such as Operation Demetrius entailed the mass arrest and interment of suspected members of the Provisional IRA. Raids were conducted in the dead of the night, whilst suspects were asleep and with their families. The tactics used were calculated to incite the greatest amount of fear possible in Nationalist communities.
Some of those who were picked up during the operation were tortured using what was called the five methods. This is the testimony of one such internee, Patrick McClean:
“I spent the first 48 hours period with the other detainees at Magilligan Camp. At the end of these initial 48 hours, a hood was pulled over my head and I was handcuffed and subjected to verbal and personal abuse, which included the threat of being dropped from a helicopter while it was in the air. I was then dragged out to the helicopter, being kicked and struck about the body with batons on the way. After what seemed about one hour in the helicopter I was thrown from it and kicked and batoned into what I took to be a lorry.”
This torture was designed to induce confessions to be used in the Diplock Courts, which were special courts which sat without a jury, and to essentially allow for these “criminals” to be locked away. The British state perverted the course of justice and tortured and deprived innocent people of years of their lives. Just ask the Guildford Four/Maguire Seven, who were imprisoned for 15-16 years for crimes they did not commit!
The British Government actively colluded, conspired and worked with loyalist paramilitaries, and in other instances turned a blind eye to their misconduct. Several members of the Ulster Defence Regiment were also found to be members of loyalist paramilitaries – and UDR weapons often ended up in the hands of loyalist paramilitaries.
Active efforts were made to cover up this link by British service members. The RUC protected the Ulster Volunteer Force, giving them immunity as informers and absolving them from weapons searches. At one point, 85% of intelligence utilised by loyalists to commit attacks was from British security forces.
The so-called Glennane Gang – an alliance of loyalist paramilitaries, soldiers of the Ulster Defence Regiment, and the police officers from the Royal Ulster Constabulary – who terrorised the Catholic/Nationalist communities of Northern Ireland, was a particularly vile example of this cooperation.
The legacy of this group is the Miami Showband Massacre, the Dublin & Monaghan bombings, and the Hillcrest Bar Bombing. Furthermore, the Cassel Report (2006) revealed that senior British military figures knew of this gang and their actions and did nothing.
What is the difference between this situation, and say the nexus between the Lebanese government & Hezbollah? I would say to Mr Hannan that this collusion represents, not just a step away from democracy, but a sprint away from democracy!
The approach of British authorities in Northern Ireland can be characterised by one event “Bloody Sunday.” On the 30th of January 1972, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association organised a peaceful protest against internment. The response of British forces? The shooting of 26 unarmed civilians – killing 14. The subsequent Salville report found that:
“None of the casualties shot by soldiers of Support Company was armed with a firearm or (with the probable exception of Gerald Donaghey) a bomb of any description. None was posing any threat of causing death or serious injury. In no case was any warning given before soldiers opened fire.”
“We have concluded that none of them fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombers. No one threw or threatened to throw a nail or petrol bomb at the soldiers on Bloody Sunday.”
And the cherry on top? Lord Salville concluded that British troops knowingly submitted false testimony to justify their shooting. And this is before we delve into collusion between the British army and loyalist paramilitaries, the refusal of the British government to engage with the Hunger strikers only to grant all their requests after their deaths, internment and torture, the targeting of unarmed civilians – the list goes on. Hardly the actions expected of the armed forces of a “democratic nation.”
Sinn Féin and the IRA are certainly no angels and they do have blood on their hands. But compared to the violence inflicted by the British Empire the IRA were small-scale amateurs. British politicians are in no position to lecture Sinn Fein, or Ireland itself, on democracy and the use of force.