Loyalist Internees Were Detained For Political Reasons
On 9th August 1971 Operation Demetrius swung into action—in dawn raids across Northern Ireland the British Army backed by the RUC rounded up almost 350 known Republicans and detained them in a variety of holding centres. There followed a massive upsurge in violence that continued incessantly and also had the effect of acting as a recruiting drive for the IRA. Although many Provisionals were amongst those in the first round up there were a number of Official IRA men captured as well.
The Irish Historical writer and journalist Tim Pat Coogan claimed that at the time the British Government had suggested to the then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Brian Faulkner that he should include a nominal number of Loyalists in the swoops but that Faulkner had refused. However eighteen months later, on the 1st February 1973 internment was indeed introduced for Loyalists at a time when Northern Ireland seemed to be heading for Civil War. In protestant communities there to was a fierce reaction to the detention of Loyalists. Protests led to disturbances which culminated in a day of serious trouble on the 7th February—a day when a strike was called by the United Loyalist Council—spearheaded by Vanguard leader Bill Craig. Four people died as a result of the violence that day—a UVF man—a UDA man—a fireman and a soldier—who was actually wounded but subsequently died from his injuries a few weeks later. An interesting note on the first Loyalist internees is that symbolically they represented both mainstream organisations—UVF and UDA. One man from each organisation. Between February 1973 and late 1975 when internment was finally abolished 107 Loyalists were detained—some for the duration of that time and others on more than one occasion. As was the case with Republicans some of the information used to arrest people was flimsy to say the least and there were cases of wrongful arrest. In the majority of cases in the compounds of Long Kesh the allegations levelled against the detainees were never proven—many were ludicrous and merely designed to take someone off the streets. Now it has emerged through records accessed from London’s Public Record Office that the decision to intern Loyalists almost forty years ago was a political one and designed as an evening up measure. Not that this information will be of any consolation to those who suffered the indignity of being imprisoned under false pretences or indeed their families who experienced many hardships during the years of incarceration. A legal case is now pending whereby the Loyalist internees are suing the Ministry of Defence—the RUC, The Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Office for unlawful detention and false imprisonment. Compensation may well be forthcoming but this is of little or no consequence to those who were interned. And it may also be a little on the late side for an apology—many old internees have since passed away or been killed during the conflict. Unusually though, it might give just a tiny bit of satisfaction to hear that for once the auld Loyalists were actually hard done by and wronged. It makes a change because in recent years they have been blamed for most of the wrong doing during the conflict or indeed been the sole cause of it.