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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Lynch Pins
Eamon McCann • 25.05.03

Taoiseach Jack Lynch told the British ambassador in 1972 that voters in the South "could not care less" about Irish unity. Lynch also offered to withdraw the Irish Government's human rights case against Britain over the treatment of detainees in the North if Britain agreed to end internment.

The remarks came at an hour-long meeting between Lynch and ambassador Sir John Peck at Garda headquarters in Cork at 12.30am on July 31st, hours before the 4am launch of Operation Motorman, the British Army occupation of Nationalist "no-go" areas in Derry. Lynch, in Cork campaigning in a by-election, had asked for the meeting after being given advance notice of Motorman the previous evening.

In telegrams to the Northern Ireland Office and Premier Edward Heath, Peck reported:"I asked (Lynch) how serious an issue reunification had been in the by-election and how much it mattered to the Irish people as a whole. His answer amounted to saying that they could not care less. As far as he was concerned, he wanted peace and justice in the North and close friendship and cooperation with us."

The telegrams are among documents recently retrieved from the Public Records Office at Kew by the human rights group, British-Irish Rights Watch.

Peck stressed that towards the end of the meeting, "The conversation became, to say the least, informal. Mr. Lynch was exhausted by long days of electioneering and spoke with a freedom which should not be recorded for use against him."

The ambassador continued: "As Mr. Lynch seemed extremely helpful and relaxed, I said that if all went well in the North it was a thousand pities that the Irish had the Strasbourg millstone around their necks. When I began to expand on the bad consequences, he said: 'All right, what about a horse trade?' I asked what, and he replied, 'The remaining internees.' I said, 'Do you mean that if we released them you would withdraw your application?' To which he replied with a firm yes."

The reference was to the case brought by Lynch's Government against the British Government the previous year alleging that interrogation techniques used by British soldiers against internees had breached the European human rights charter. A number of internees had been deprived of food, water and sleep, made to stand leaning against walls for prolonged periods supported only by their fingertips and had been subjected to continuous "white noise". The result was extreme disorientation and lasting trauma. The Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg was eventually to convict Britain of breaching the human rights charter.

Peck does not record any reaction from Lynch to his suggestion that the Strasbourg case represented a millstone around the neck of the Irish Government, the accuser, rather than of the British Government, the accused.

According to Peck, Lynch asked what more the Irish Government could do to help after the no-go areas had been occupied. "He supposed there might be an influx of fugitive IRA. The special courts would continue to function and the border would continue to be patrolled and watched."

Peck added: "The upshot is that his Government will do all that they can to discourage violent reactions and precipitate striking of attitudes. There are four pre-requisites for the support of the Irish Governmnt and people, the latter of which could turn very nasty." The pre-requisites were set out as a quick political follow-up, action against barricaded Protestant areas; new measures against Loyalist murderers of Catholics and every effort to avoid civilian casualties during Motorman.

"He will probably put out a statement on these lines during the morning," Peck reported. "It may contain an unconvincing grumble that we did not allow time for the barricades to be taken down."

The British Government was so concerned about international reaction to possible civilian casualties during Motorman that two days before the operation it sent diplomatic signals to world leaders giving a detailed justification of its intended action.

The documents obtained by British-Irish Rights Watch show that British ministers had given army commanders permission to use heavy weapons including rocket launchers in built-up areas in the event of IRA resistance to the occupation of the "no-go" areas.

The leaders contacted by Prime MInister Heath included US President Richard Nixon, President Pompidou of Franch, German Chancellor Willy Brand, the leaders of other Common Market states and of Canada, Australia and New Zealand and Pope Paul VI.

The signals, dated July 29th 1972, claimed that, "Everything possible has been done to set the affairs of the province on a new course. Unfortunately, our efforts have been thwarted by the actions of the Provisional IRA." Referring to "Bloody Friday" in Belfast eight days earlier, when the Provisional IRA detonated 20 bombs in just over an hour, killing nine civilians and injuring more than a hundred, the British Government declared that, "The actions of the terrorists have aroused feelings of horror and revulsion among Roman Catholics and Protestants alike..In this situation, the possibilty of political progress has been receding...We need to end a situation in which they have safe havens from which they can come out at will to destroy and shoot...Our operations are are, of course, aimed only at the terrorists and gunmen."

A "Top Secret" document of July 26th drawn up by Cabinet Secretary Burke Trend and initialled by Prime MInister Heath said: "I understand that the Secretary of State for Defence envisages that Company Commanders should be authorised to use Carl Gustav rocket launchers (such as have been used to detonate bombs in cars) against premises from which heavy firing is being directed against the security forces. This may entail substantial casualties."

The Carl Gustav is a Swedish-designed bazooka-style rocket launcher intended for use against armoured battlefield targets.

In the event, two men were shot dead by soldiers during Motorman, Seamus Bradley, 19, a member of the Provisional IRA, and Daniel Hegarty, 16.

Trend's document made clear that Motorman was an element in a general escalation of British Army activity taking advantage of revulsion against Bloody Friday. "It is important to exploit quickly a situation in which firm and effective action by the Army appears acceptable to a wide range of opinion, including a significant proportion of Catholics. If this opportunity is not not taken, it may be very difficult to pursue any operational policy which holds out any hope of making significant inroads into IRA strength...It is the Army's view that such inroads cannot be made without maintaining a strong level of military presence in the IRA dominated areas over a period of several months. The presence must be accompanied by the ability to interrogate suspects and to remove from the streets by one method or another those who are believed to be the principle leaders and most active terrorists."

One of the factors in ministers' minds was the failure of the current security strategy. "The Army's search operations have been based on old or almost non-existent intelligence," wrote Trend. "Their success has been exaggerated for political and PR reasons. Such yields as have been obtained were principally due to chance...The degree of antagonism these operations are likely to arouse will probably increase as the memory of 21st July fades and the Army's searches are seen to be random and resulting in searches of houses and arrests of individuals with no direct connection with the hard-line Provisional IRA.'

British Cabinet Ministers in 1972 felt frustrated by the difficulties of combatting the IRA while keeping within the law.

A Northern Ireland Office memorandum to the Cabinet Office dated July 27th refers to individuals who "do not themselves indulge over-much in specific acts of terrorism, but rather organise them...We are in a position under existing law and powers whereby we cannot deal with (them) even after we have caught them, other than by internment. And this, as you know, is a poison which might kill all further politial initiatives."

Northern Ireland Secretary William Whitelaw's chief official, Sir William Nield, suggested "a system of special courts whose function would not be to convict accused persons of criminal offences but to judge whether they were guilty of certain specified conduct and commit them to 'preventive detention' if they were." The measure "would apply to conduct involving complicity in any degree with terrorism generally...Any person would be allowed to effect an arrest if there was reasonable suspicion of complicity...Any list of suspects published by the authority of the Chief Constable of the RUC would be conclusive evidence that there was a reasonable suspicion."

Special courts were envisaged consisting of "a judge of the Supreme Court sitting with any other judge of the Supreme Court or a county court judge or a resident magistrate. There would be no jury, no preliminary hearing of evidence by an examining magistrate and the proceedings would be in camera. The ordinary laws of evidence would not apply; the court would simply be enjoined to to have regard to the probative value of evidence laid before them. The court would be obliged to inform the accused at least of the general tenor of the evidence against him and to hear him or his counsel in his defence...There would be a right of appeal to the Court of Appeal of Northern Ireland sitting in camera...Preventive detention is quite far removed from the present concept of internment. Naturally, anyone who could be brought before a criminal court would be and it could be provided that acquital in a criminal court was no bar to proceedings for preventive detention."

In the event, preventive detention was never introduced. Instead, the phasing out of internment was marked by the introduction of a policy of "criminalisation", involving the reorganisation of interrogation methods and locations.

"The object of interrogation is to obtain reliable inforamtion with the maximum of speed, not to obtain evidence," declared a secret Government memorandum issued a few days after Motorman.

"The responsibility for obtaining a statement in compliance with the Judges' Rules for use in evidence rests with the CID and has no relevance to the interrogation process conducted by the Special Branch."

Under "General Procedures", the memo declared that, "Interrogation is a contest of wills and psychological attack is called for. The interrogator has the advantage that from the moment of arrest the subject may be under mental strain to a greater or lesser degree...Due advantage will be taken of this by the interrogator. " The memo recommends that "facilities for medical inspection and treatment should be readily available at all times but (doctors) should NOT in any sense supervise the subject's treatment at the hands of guards or interrogators."

A separate MoD memorandum, dated August 3rd 1972 and directed to the Northern Ireland Office, said that, "In the view of the GOC, interrogation following Operation Motorman cannot be effectively carried out simply by using the existing facilities at RUC stations...The GOC therefore advises, and the Ministry of Defence endorses this advice, that the RUC should be authorised to establish three Police Offices for the purposes of interrogation---one in Ballykelly (for Londonderry), one in RUC premises at Castlereagh (for Belfast) and one in Armagh for the country areas."

A "Top Secret" Cabinet Office document issued a week earlier, just before Motorman, suggested Government concern about the attitude of the Special Branch to the mooted new interrogation procedures. "The scale of the interrogation and the willingness of the RUC Special Branch to conduct it," were identified as possible difficulties. The Special Branch had been the prime target of protest against the interrogation methods previously. "They have recently become uncooperative in this respect; but the Attorney General hopes that the Special Branch will accept his assurance that, provided that they adhere to lawful methods of interrogation, they will have nothing to fear."

The memo revealed that Defence Minister Lord Carrington had advocated the transfer of operational control of the Special Branch to the Army's GOC and the Director of Intelligence but that Northern Secretary William Whitelaw "was strongly opposed to this course on grounds of RUC morale."

Interrogations in the new Police Offices were to become the subject of fierce controversy later in the 1970s, with allegations of systematic ill-treatment, particularly at Castlereagh and at Gough Barracks, Armagh. The offices were closed following an inquiry into revelations on a London Weekend Television programme in 1979 in which two police doctors said that serious injuries on a large number of detainees could not have been self-inflicted.

Concern at "considerable sympathy" within the RUC and the UDR for the UDA was expressed in a "Top Secret" memorandum from the Northern Ireland Office to the Cabinet Office in July 1972.

"The Secretary of State's anxiety is that he is not opposed by one violent and subversive force, the IRA, but by two, the IRA and the UDA," declared the memo. "And moreover, the Army can neither ally with the one nor the other, because both are challenging the authority of the Government; nor can they take on both at once with anything like their present strength, quite apart from the considerable sympathy for the UDA which two and a half years of bombings has aroused in the Army's auxiliary security forces, ie the Ulster Defence Force (sic) and the Royal Ulster Constabulary."

The minute of a meeting on July 20th involving Heath, Whitelaw, Defence Minister Carrington and the Chief of the General Staff, Michael Carver, records that, "Pressures were developing within the Army for more aggressive action against the IRA. This attitude was shared by some senior officers. In general, the Army disliked having to operate in direct opposition to the Protestants."



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

26 May 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Lynch Pins
Eamon McCann


Send in the Sandbag
Anthony McIntyre


Trial By Media

British Irish Rights Watch


We Love the Andytout News Information Minister
Comical Livvy


The Letters page has been updated.


23 May 2003


A Fair Trial
Bernadette McKevitt


Anthony McIntyre


Connolly on Religion, Women and Sex

Liam O Ruairc


Gareth O Connor
Joe Dillon


To the Citizens of Europe
Davy Carlin


A New Morning
Annie Higgins




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