“When the army arrived in Northern Ireland, why was peace and stability not restored?”

Interesting letter in the Irish News from my old friend Trevor Ringland, reproduced here without further comment:

The deaths of 11 people In Ballymurphy during August 1971 were a tragic consequence of the events that led to the army being deployed on our streets. I sincerely hope the families are successful in their quest to establish the truth about what happened.

In the mid-70s my father, who was a policeman, wrote a paper titled, ‘The use of the army in the civil environment’. His work highlighted that while Northern Ireland would have descended into civil war without the army, it was not suitably trained for operating in the type of conflict that was unfolding. It was a necessary but blunt instrument. Soldiers were trained for the battlefield where survival depended on ‘reacting’ to events rather than ‘responding’, which forms the basis of policing.

They gained experience on the ground, saving many lives, but also taking them. Altogether they were involved in around 300 deaths. Whether justified or not they were all still tragic. It should also be remembered that more than 700 soldiers were killed and thousands more injured,

With this is mind, it’s important that the inquests examine not only all aspects of the incidents that occurred, but also the context against which they happened. When the army arrived in Northern Ireland, why was peace and stability not restored?

After all, they were welcomed initially by all reasonable people but particularly by the vast majority of the nationalist part of our community. What changed that resulted in gun battles occurring on our streets after their deployment?

The 1974 documentary ‘Children In Crossfire’ highlighted effectively the environment of hatred that was created by our extremes.

It is so important that the future is different and that is why the families should tell us more about those who were killed so that we better understand the people they were. It is vital we tell our young of the real consequences of conflict.

Also, while I can appreciate the families having little sympathy for the soldiers involved, we need to recognise the tragedy of the deaths of those who happened to also be members of the security services.

This should not be viewed as ‘whataboutery’ but rather a sharing of the tragedy that touched too many in our society so we all understand better what happened here.

As a community, we need to show maturity as we work through the legacy issues. The families from Ballymurphy deserve their opportunity to tell what happened to them, but specific incidents cannot be considered in isolation.

Without a more balanced outlook, we risk pandering to an ongoing campaign aimed at spreading the idea that the republican campaign of violence, its hatred of the ‘other’ and undermining the state were justified.

This is an ongoing challenge for Irish nationalism in particular, as we mark 50 years since the Northern Ireland Civil Rights movement and as we move into an intense spell of anniversaries that will last for another 30 to 40 years.

If nationalist civic, religious and political leaders across the island really have decided that the IRA campaign was regrettable, but at some level justified, then it sends a worrying message to their neighbours from a British – Irish tradition.

Mick Fealty – Slugger O’toole


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