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Left Archive: Law (?) and Orders: The Belfast ‘Curfew’ of 3-5 July 1970, Central Citizens’ Defence Committee July 3, 2010

Posted by Garibaldy in Central Citizens' Defence Committee, History, Irish Left Online Document Archive, Northern Ireland.
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CCDC Law (?) Order

40 years ago today, at about 4.30pm, the RUC and British army raided 24 Balkan Street in the Falls, looking for arms. The incident was to spark what the United Irishman of August 1970 described as “the biggest military engagement since 1916 between units of the Irish Republican Army and British Crown forces”, and resulted in 3,000 British troops, backed by helicopters and armoured cars, placing an illegal curfew on around 60 streets in the lower Falls. The curfew lasted from 10pm on Friday July 3rd until 8am on Sunday morning, with a two hour break on the Saturday evening for people to buy essentials. Four men were killed, all of them by the British army, amid mass arrests and house searches. Three were shot dead, and one was deliberately run over. This document describes the deaths of Charles O’Neill, William Burns, Patrick Elliman, and Zbigniew Uglik. It also gives a detailed description of the hardships experienced by the civilian population as a result of the curfew itself, and as a result of the actions of the British troops, many of whom engaged in an orgy of destruction and looting. The British seized about 100 weapons, 25 lbs of explosives, 21,0000 rounds and some radio equipment and gas masks. In the weeks after the curfew, the Central Citizens’ Defence Committee conducted a survey of the residents within the area placed under curfew, and the pamphlet provides a invaluable insight into the experience of the local population. A sense of how intense the fighting was and the scale of the British army operation can be seen in its own statistics: its men fired 1,454 live rounds, and deployed 218 CS gas grenades and 1,355 gas canisters. Many of the latter were fired into the area from a large catapult attached to the back of an army jeep like a medieval siege engine. And no, I’m not making that up.

The Central Citizens’ Defence Committee was founded on August 16th 1969 on the initiative of Jim Sullivan, adjutant of the Belfast Command of the Irish Republican Army. Sullivan was its first Chair. It acted as the coordinating body for the various defence groups that had sprung up in the various areas in August 1969 and after. It rapidly expanded, and at one point, according to Paul Arthur, 95 delegates represented 75,000 people. The wide-ranging nature of the body can be seen in the fact that while Sullivan continued to play a leading role in it, it also included some of the local priests from St. Peter’s Cathedral and people connected to the Nationalist Party and to Gerry Fitt and Paddy Devlin, the Westminster and Stormont MPs for the area. It wasn’t a left organisation, but it included significant left-wing elements, and its account of the Falls curfew certainly deserves a place in our archive.

This document was produced in September 1970. It was written by Seán Óg Ó Fearghail, with a foreword from Mícheál Ó Dathlaoich (Michael Dolley, a Member of the Royal Irish Academy and lecturer at Queen’s). The British Army believed Ó Dathlaoich to be the real author. The British Army were concerned enough by it to rapidly produce a detailed response that was sent to media outlets. The document starts with a brief historical overview; gives a detailed account of the events that led to the curfew and the curfew itself (one, it must be said, that downplays the extent of the resistance to the British army); and the second part of the document is a breakdown of the result of the CCDC’s survey of the residents, which was conducted by teams of mainly students, with the curfewed areas being broken up into different zones, as explained in the document. Although in many respects, a largely factual and narrative account, it does have a clear analysis, and lays the blame for what happened squarely at the door of the British Army for its overreaction, and the document accuses the army of implementing a pre-planned strategy.

The historical overview describes the social, economic and living conditions within the area, and stresses the religiosity of the people, as well as the large number of ex-British servicemen in the area. The account is at pains to stress the respectability of the area, reflecting the extent to which the Catholic church and the local social elite had become involved in the CCDC. It also provides a quick description of the civil rights campaign, the outbreak of the Troubles, and the weekend before the curfew (June 27th/28th), when serious sectarian violence had led to six deaths in the Crumlin Road and the Short Strand, with the emerging Provisionals responsible for them all, including that of a Catholic accidentally shot dead while cooperating with the Provisionals in the Short Strand. As noted already, the account of the incidents that led to the curfew blames the British Army for not ignoring the hurling of a few stones, and instead choosing to respond with CS gas, and repeatedly failing to back away from confrontation instead of further provoking it. It also notes the recklessness of army actions that endangered civilians, but also describes the throwing of homemade hand grenades at the military by the Provisionals that escalated the situation, and which they admitted to the Irish Times of July 7th 1970 had been a mistake. It stresses the contempt with which both the hierarchy and the troops on the ground treated both the CCDC and elected politcians trying to bring things to a halt – Devlin was threatened with death by troops holding him – and the mistreatment of civilians, their homes, and their property. At the same time, however, there is a reluctance to smear the names of entire army units, and it goes out of its way in part II, the survey, to point out that many of the soldiers behaved well. Among the headings for Part II of the hardships faced by civilians are Shortage of Food, Loss of Liberty, Financial Hardship, Cruelty to Animals, and Brutality of Troops.

The Conclusion lays the blame for the Curfew squarely at the door of General Sir Ian Freeland, General Officer Commanding and Director of Operations for the British Army in Northern Ireland, and warns that the curfew may be seen by future historians as a significant step in the alienation of the non-unionist population. It also goes out of its way to point out that a formal curfew had been called, as the British had taken to denying this due to its illegality. It attacks the army for the deaths of the civilians, and its claims to have killed two snipers whose bodies were moved out of the area, while again downplaying the extent of the resistance. All in all, this is a superb insight into the curfew, and into how some important sections of public opinion felt about it.

Apart from the inherent interest of the document itself as a source, it is worth taking a minute to consider the wider significance of the curfew. In retrospect, we can see it as the first expression of a new and more hardline policy being introduced by the British military, the new Tory government (elected June 18th 1970) and the Stormont regime. The murders of the four civilians as a result of utterly reckless and dangerous firing by the military, and the false claims about killing snipers whose bodies have disappeared to justify the killing of innocent civilians are all too familiar, especially two weeks after the Saville report was published. Having said that, the claims that from the curfew on, the non-unionist population considered itself at war with the British are not accurate either.

There has been a lot of myth making about the curfew, and it has become the centre of disputes over what happened and how it is remembered. The area was a stronghold of the IRA, with the Provisionals numbering only about 12 to perhaps 150 members of the IRA, the Auxiliaries and the Fianna. The IRA (Official) version has always been that the Provisionals were ordered to throw the nail bombs at the soldiers, and then withdraw from the area to leave the IRA to fight it out with the British. A small number of Provisionals did stay behind – possibly against orders, as the Irish Times interview alluded to above says that the Provisionals as an organisation were not active in the area – including Brendan Hughes, who gave several accounts of his activities before his death. By his own account in Voices from the Grave, the Provisionals were involved in a five or six minute gun battle before hunkering down and sitting it out. The fighting lasted from around 8pm until 3 or 4am. The Provisionals have also always stressed the part played by their members in the march of the women that is claimed to have broken the curfew on the Sunday. For the 35th anniversary, the Provisionals produced a DVD about the curfew, and for the 40th, they centred a commemoration around the march of the women. As is clear from the CCDC document, the curfew was already finished, although that would not have been known to those marching.

The reason for the Provisional stress on the march was because they could not reasonably claim the credit for the fighting, although it seems that in recent years, since the DVD at least, there has been an attempt to annexe the military resistance to their cause, just as several members of the IRA (Official) killed as late as 1972 now appear on the Provisional roll of honour. The list of stories covered for the first edition of the new monthly An Phoblacht includes the following. “The Falls Curfew, the Defence of Ardoyne and the Battle of St Matthews”, which suggests an attempt to portray the curfew as part of a seamless whole in which the Provisionals stepped forward as the defenders of the oppressed catholic community, although I haven’t read the paper, and so could be wrong there, and will be happy to be corrected.

The IRA and Republican Clubs were quite clear in claiming credit for the fighting, and I think it is fair to say that the curfew is remembered as the set-piece battle of the IRA in its Belfast heartland, involving as it did large numbers of people and many important figures in the history and development of The Workers’ Party, including the likes of Jim Sullivan, Liam McMillen, and Joe McCann. And for the fortieth anniversary, a large group of Workers’ Party members who were involved in the curfew as members of D Company have produced a pamphlet (called The Story of the Falls Curfew) putting down their experience and analysis of the curfew, and combatting what they see as the attempts by others to write them out of the story of the curfew, or to misrepresent their motives for taking the actions they did. This is not just the Provisionals, but also those journalists and historians who have claimed they felt they had something to prove in competition with the Provisionals after the events of the previous weekend. They point out that a desire to defend their area was not the same as a desire to be seeing as the defenders of the Catholics. The pamphlet includes an account of another event alluded to by Brendan Hughes in Voices from the Grave, when IRA volunteers pulled guns to prevent a Catholic sectarian mob, of which Hughes was a member, burning Protestant homes as a way of stressing the differences between the two.

The media coverage of the 40th anniversary has reflected these ongoing issues about historical memory. Alan Murray, in the Belfast Telegraph on June 23rd, described the ongoing sense of injustice felt by the families of two Protestant men shot dead by the Provisionals during the violence at the Short Strand on 27th June. They feel that their relatives were innocent men, shot dead by sectarian gunmen, and that every year their memory is smeared to hide the truth. The Andersonstown News has for its past few editions been running stories about the curfew, including interviews with Workers’ Party members who were active that night and with some of those involved in the women’s march, detailing how they “broke” the curfew. Another story with another woman talks about the curfew being over before the march. A few of these stories have been among the small number from each edition that get posted on the website, and likewise some of the texts discussing them have been published online too. It’s interesting to note what stories and texts from the printed editions have been left offline. You can still find British soldiers who believe that the bodies of two snipers were successfully hidden, and that the shooting was by and large justified. The curfew remains a very good example of how during the Troubles, competing versions of history were fostered for political reasons, and how myths can take hold and become unshakeable truth in popular memory.

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Comments»

1. Budapestkick - July 3, 2010

Wow, great find.

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2. Garibaldy - July 3, 2010

Kudos to WBS, who had a copy already. I just did the intro.

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3. HAL - July 3, 2010

Earlier on some other thread,the idea that the IRA would use weapons to defend protestants was ridiculed and then this pops up.Is there any other examples of the IRA defending protestants and I dont mean stewarding riots or marches

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4. WorldbyStorm - July 3, 2010

Just to say that it was donated to me a couple of years back. So I can’t take any credit!

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5. Blissett - July 4, 2010

Sounds fascinating, look forward to reading it. The write up is good as well, although I would note that this – ‘competing versions of history were fostered for political reasons, and how myths can take hold and become unshakeable truth in popular memory.’ – cuts both ways, and im not sure I buy the version which has the revisionist sectarian Provos as antithesis to the gallant anti sectarian OIRA. To say the least, there were many shades of grey in the events of the time.

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6. Garibaldy - July 4, 2010

Cheers Blissett. I included the points about the soliders as the competing versions of history thing cuts numerous ways, as you point out yourself.

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7. Jim Monaghan - July 4, 2010

Hal
I have no problem praising stopping the burning out of Protestants which is alluded to above. I think that you might be mixing up this with a critique which of a statement by I think MacMillan where he said that in a conflict between the British Army and a section of the Protestant workingclass the IRA (Official) would intervene on behalf of the Protestants. As if some magical stunt would lift the sectarian scales from the eyes of a sectarian mob.This would ignore the unfortunate that in that sort of conflict it would have been the Protestant UVF/UDA presumably trying to burn out Catholics.
I would think that 90% of sectarian incidents were of Catholics being burnt out. Bombay St. was a major event. I have an aversion to those who put an equals too sign between both sides in their pursuit of non sectarian unity based on sand and not on a realistic view of the actuality.

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8. Flynn - July 4, 2010

“I would think that 90% of sectarian incidents were of Catholics” – it would have been a lot more equal if your mates in the Provies got a free hand – logic please Jim

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9. Jim Monaghan - July 5, 2010

For what little it is worth I was one of those who argued about this type of thing and tried to engage with those who stated that sectarian responses actually had a positive effect.
I would doubt that later on the sticks could have stopped anything whatever about then, if this is what you mean.At the time being discussed I was Official oriented and then a member. I still think it was a tragedy that the Sticks lost their way totally and became an anti-nationalist and republican movement. Goulding an co should have joined the BICO when they believed they were wrong. I am bemused by the explicit self description of the WP as Socialist Republican. For decades that term was a term of abuse by them.
On a general point it is impossible to stop responsive sectarian incidents where you have a pied noir population. Not everything the saintly ANC or FLN did was terribly nice.
I try not to be a Provo apologist. While close to some of their left wing people at times my reservations about the military campaign persisted.If their are lessons to be learnt one would be that there are no short cuts and that militarism is in more ways than one a dead end.
On a footnote a friend who attended one of Eamonn McCanns election meeting heard him explicitly reject support from any militaristic republican dissident group.I would agree with this. It would be good to get the transcript of this.

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10. Garibaldy - July 5, 2010

I’m bemused by your bemusement Jim. The WP has always been an explicitly republican party. This was true of the party even when some began to go funny towards the end of the 1980s. It may have criticised those who claimed to be republicans who failed to live up to the principles of republicanism, but that’s a long way away from using the term as a term of abuse.

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Mark P - July 5, 2010

I’m more bemused by the use of the term “pieds-noirs”, which on the face of it appears to be a sectarian insult.

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11. Terry McDemott - July 5, 2010

‘The WP has always been an explicitly republican party.’
To be honest this would be news to a large part of the people who were in the party in its most successful period. I am amazed to see the reversion to republicanism by the party (if somewhat pleasantly susrpised). The Falls Road Curfew was never commemorated by the party in my memory. The role of the IRA in 1970-72 was never mentioned, except when blaming Seamus Costello for wanting to re-unite with the provos. The term republican was rarely used, and when it came to the north all youn needed to know was the provis were to blame…for everything!
I will not get into what was said privately about the Birmingham 6, shoot-to-kill, even Bloody Sunday, because there is too much of this useless bickering anyway, and also you probably wouldn’t believe me.

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EamonnCork - July 5, 2010

And not just privately. I was very surprised to read, in old newspaper files, about the trenchant opposition of McGiolla, a politician I otherwise had a lot of time for, to Tony Gregory’s attempts to get a motion supporting the H-Block campaign in Dublin City Council. There was a lot of that stuff about, and it doesn’t wash to blame it all on the supposed satanic influence of Eoghan Harris.

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Mark P - July 5, 2010

To be fair to McGiolla, he’d have argued that supporting the H-Block campaign necessarily entailed accepting that the IRA campaign and the campaigns of other terrorist groupings were not criminal and had some legitimacy. As it was quite a central plank of his politics at that point that the armed campaigns were indeed criminal and illegitimate he would have been quite the hypocrite to bow to the swing in public sentiment around the hunger strikes.

It’s quite a different issue to refusing to support the Birmingham 6 or Guildford 4, because quite obviously a defence of innocent people framed for a crime implies no particular attitude to the alleged crime itself. The WP are sometimes accused of refusing to support them, but unlike the H-Block issue, I’ve never actually seen any solid evidence to back the accusation. It mostly seems to come down to political opponents recounting alleged pub talk. I’d be interested to see contemporaneous articles on the subject from the Sticky press.

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EamonnCork - July 5, 2010

Fair enough. But I would have thought there was a humanitarian aspect to the conditions in the H-Blocks which a left-wing party could have focused on without necessarily giving implicit support to the IRA campaign. I think it was the fervency of his opposition which surprised me given that, and this is not intended as a dig, there were senior members of the WP who had experience of being imprisoned for republican activities.

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Mark P - July 5, 2010

I agree with you there. Militant, for instance, put forward a charter of prisoner’s rights at the time (and actually managed to get the British Labour Party to adopt it).

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Garibaldy - July 5, 2010

To the best of my knowledge. The WP supported increased rights for all prisoners, and not just a few. As for the Birmingham 6 etc, as has been discussed before on this site, the stuff is there in black and white in the Ard Fheis motions.

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Ramzi Nohra - July 5, 2010

Mark P.
re: Birm 6 et al I was under the impression some people fairly favourably disposed towards the WP have mentioned the coolness with which that cause was viewed by the party (ie WBS if memory serves)

Gari – which Ard Fheis?

It should be noted that Irish diplomatic figures in Washington at the time were also acting to undermine the birmingham six campaign in the 80s (Sean Donlon I believe is quoted to this effect in Jack Holland’s “The American Connection”)

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Garibaldy - July 5, 2010

Ramzi,

This was discussed before, and IIRC people who were active at the time and who voted on them said it was several. No-one here is saying, or trying to say, that these matters were made a top priority. But my comment was in response to Mark P’s point about what written evidence there was on The WP’s opinion on the matter, and not on the opinion of individuals within it.

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Ciarán - July 7, 2010

The Lost Revolution goes into some detail on the hysterical reactions by the Stickies to people trying to raise the H-Block and Armagh issue. If you set aside the anti-republican (by which I mean Provisionals and Irps) sentiment of SFWP/WPRC at the time, an issue that doesn’t get much attention was the situation of their own prisoners. By 1981 the Stickies had been denying for some years that they had an armed wing, so their prisoners weren’t recognised and were put away as ordinary criminals. If anything different had been said about the conditions in the Blocks and the treatment being meted out to republican prisoners, it could well have created something of an internal dilemma.

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12. Terry McDemott - July 5, 2010

On Jim Monaghan’s point. There is an irony there. Many of the liberation movments that marxists supported: FLN, Sandanistas, ANC, ZANU, PLO, PFLP, carried out attacks on groups that could be judged sectarian or ethnically motiviated. the only group that no excuses could be made for was the provos. I didn’t agree with the provos attitude to loyalism but it wasn’t shocking.

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13. HAL - July 5, 2010

The problem seems to be that for some people Republicanism was Provisionalism, and to condem and consistantly criticise the Provos meant you could’nt be a republican. Dissidents will probably claim that the Provos are no longer republican and the Provos would now undoutably condem dissident atrocities.Seems like history repeating itself.Nothing like a new hunger strike or sectarian tit for tat would help to swell the ranks of the dissident saviours.

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14. Garibaldy - July 5, 2010

In response to Terry at no.11

” ‘The WP has always been an explicitly republican party.’
To be honest this would be news to a large part of the people who were in the party in its most successful period. I am amazed to see the reversion to republicanism by the party (if somewhat pleasantly susrpised). The Falls Road Curfew was never commemorated by the party in my memory. The role of the IRA in 1970-72 was never mentioned, except when blaming Seamus Costello for wanting to re-unite with the provos. The term republican was rarely used, and when it came to the north all youn needed to know was the provis were to blame…for everything!
I will not get into what was said privately about the Birmingham 6, shoot-to-kill, even Bloody Sunday, because there is too much of this useless bickering anyway, and also you probably wouldn’t believe me.”

I’m sure there was plenty of mentions of republicanism at all those Easter commemorations in numerous places, and Bodenstown commemorations that took place every year without fail. And at which the TDs and other public representatives were often the speakers. And anyone who thought the Party wasn’t republican obviously hadn’t read the constitution. There has been no reversion to republicanism, as there was never any leaving of it in the first place.

As for the Party’s history, it is of course worth bearing in mind that cooperation in the form of interviews etc was extended to loads of historians and journalists writing about the history of the republican movement and the troubles.

I would agree with Terry that there is no point in useless bickering. Equally, it’s worth paying attention to what actually was being said and done, instead of only people’s impressions of it, or a focus on the ideas of some members without them being balanced by those of others.

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15. Ghandi - July 5, 2010

On the 40th anniversary The Workers Party have published

“The Story of The Falls Curfew”,

available from Head Office for only €3.00, will also be more widely available in the coming weeks.

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16. EamonnDublin - July 5, 2010

socialist republicans-your having a laugh!

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17. Jim Monaghan - July 5, 2010

Can I put out a cat. The aim of Costello was to revive on a national scale the United Front that fought the Battle of the Falls.
On Republican. I think they were always republican in a dictionary sense. But in the context of Ireland and the uncompleted tasks of the National Revolution (bourgeois stage if you may) which was separatism, and which in my opinion recognised British Imperialism as the root cause of our problems(a touch of Tone here), then they definitely drifted.
On the H_Block issue many organisations choose (quite rightly) to support the 6 demands on a prisoner rights basis so as to avoid any implicit support of the Provos. ( on another aside I personally support lots of liberation struggles, but on many occasions do not want to support all the programme or activity of the main liberation movement). I remember getting a resolution against capital punishment through my union branch which avoided mention of the Murrays (ex member of the Sticks).On a footnote I remember the right accusing me of supporting the actions of the Murrays. My main purpose was to avoid the Murrays being the first of a long list to face the gallows.
The point of the H-Block struggle was to recognise that the prisoners were political not that one necessarily supported all their politics. On the other side the British decided to demonise not only the Provos but by extension all they and their community (all the nationalist North) stood for.This decision by Thatcher bridged a lot (if not most) of the gap between ordinary nationalist and the Provos.Oh, there was a gap until then.Oh and this decision to demonise all nationalists was shared by a lot of the WP, especially the RTE branches under Harris and Caden.In my opinion a nuanced approach by the British would have weakened the Provos.

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18. intercert - July 5, 2010

“The aim of Costello was to revive on a national scale the United Front that fought the Battle of the Falls.” – simply put, no it was not.

“which in my opinion recognised British Imperialism as the root cause of our problems(a touch of Tone here.” – yeah Tone also had a good bit to say about papism and if he had survived 98 may have ahd more to say about its threat to republicianism

Rest of the post – broadly agree with

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19. WorldbyStorm - July 5, 2010

I think in fairness it’s important to remember that right through the 1980s the party still considered Bodenstown as a central manifestation of its ideology. It sure did the times I went from the early to the late 1980s. That this came into conflict on occasion with some aspects of ‘actually existing Republicanism’ – to coin a phrase – is undeniable. But I joined a Republican party in the early 1980s, and however distressing that was to some who were in the party at the same time and left for more sanitised political homes afterwards is irrelevant. I don’t think I ever sensed a push away from an identification with Tone, et al. Indeed that point was made continually, that the Provisional approach (and the INLA one too) was contrary to the goal of the united Ireland.

None of this is to deny that the party focussed far too much on the negative aspects of others rather than being willing to present the positive aspects of its own programme. And clearly there was a push away from the reality of the 68-72 period and no serious willingness to come to terms with that.

But it’s a rewrite of history too far to suggest that the party hid ‘Republicanism’ away.

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20. Markets long memory - July 6, 2010

‘But it’s a rewrite of history too far to suggest that the party hid ‘Republicanism’ away.’
maybe not too much of a re-write. Bodenstown in the 1980s was a very small affair, and nothing like the importance of the 1970s was put on it. I am enthralled by the party’s new pamphlet. Will their be commemorations for Patricia McKay, Ted Brady, Joe McCann, Heron and Mullan and our other fallen comrades now as well? Because as I recall very well we stopped holding these events in the mid to late 70s and we not only stopped holding them we stopped talking about them. Would a 1980s WP activist in Dublin have even known who most of these people were? (no reflection on the activist, it just was not talked about).
Will there be a commemoration of the August 1975 Divis Flats shoot-out (it was on TV!) when the Official IRA fought alongside the PLA and the provos? maybe there shouldn’t be!
Look after 1977 we were not a republican party. I agree that this was not the result of the RTE demons either. it was people who were veteran leaders who pushed the new line. I remember a respected long-time member being described as ‘basically a fucking provo’ for wanting to maintain a public link to the IRA.
On the B’6 and such cases. We said as little as possible, because bad publicity for the Brits only aided the provos. When there was a public clamour and we had to say something we’d have a mealy-mouthed statement in the Irish News. You didn’t touch these campaigns and privately some members would dismiss anyone interested as you guessed it, ‘provos.’
But I’m delighted with the new turn. Any chance defence and retaliation is going to be given the go-ahead?

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21. Ghandi - July 6, 2010

“None of this is to deny that the party focussed far too much on the negative aspects of others rather than being willing to present the positive aspects of its own programme. And clearly there was a push away from the reality of the 68-72 period and no serious willingness to come to terms with that”

I think WBS sums it up quite well.

As to Markets long memory,
it very much depends on which activists you talked to, certainly around my home they were not forgotten and were regularly discussed. My own childhood memories of Joe, and of John Pat staying in our house, along with many others are memories which I hold dear and regularly bring forth to try and explain the individuals and the role they played.

I recall myself my brother fundraising in Bodenstown selling stickers of Colman Roundtree & Martin Mc Alinden in the 70’s.

The Party will hopefully be commemorating all our fallen, on tehir relevant anniversaries, something which we do every Easter in any event, and in a number of smaller commemorations which have always taken place.

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22. LeftAtTheCross - July 6, 2010

Ghandi, is this renewed focus on commemoration a positive development? Of course there are two sides to the WP, the republican and the socialist. But given the theme of the recent Ard Fheis, “Organise Build the Party”, should the primary focus not be on issues which concern the ordinary working people, and the social and economic policies which are required to bring about the necessary changes. I appreciate that I’m only a wet week in the party, and that there is a long tradition of republican struggle which is an integral part of the history of the party, but it seems a distraction to be looking backwards and commemorating when there is so much work to be done looking forwards and addressing how the party can shape the future of our society, and growing the membership amongst a younger generation for whom the republican struggle is simply history and not much more than that.

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23. Ghandi - July 6, 2010

LAC

I think that part of the previous problem which has led us to where we are was a denial of our roots, as part of the process of attracting younger members there must I would suggest be an education process were we explian where we came from and how that can explain were we are going. It has to be much more than a history lesson.

New younger members have been of the view that the Provisional Alliance or its newer offshoots were the IRA and were not aware of the role or indeed the existance of the IRA.

Many people have given their lives in support of our Republican Socialism and we owe it to them to remember, not in a navel gazing way but in a productive way. The history of the movement is one to be proud of, and also we have a duty to overcome the revisionist history around events in the early 70’s like the curfew.

I would think that it is a positive developement, and as you know we are also active on the ground and building.

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LeftAtTheCross - July 6, 2010

Ghandi, I hear what you are saying but I would argue that such a focus would be counter productive, even with the education which you mention which would be necessary if such a renewed prominence was given to the republican history. It runs the risk of consigning the WP to wasting energies on arguments about historical differentiation, similar to the cival war nuances of FF vs FG, or the great schism in socialism between Trotsky and Stalin. Not to say than in any of those comparisons that there aren’t important lessons to be learnt, but that ultimately the process of defining a Party through its historical differences with its rivals runs the risk of becoming a navel-gazing exercise which further diminishes the relevance of the Party to the wider population.

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24. Garibaldy - July 6, 2010

One of the instructive things about this debate is that we have had basically exactly the same debate before. People start by saying that the WP abandoned republicanism; then people say it never did, and here are the reasons why; then people say well what about Harris et al; then people say well not reflective of party policy as stated in documents and in the constitution; and then there is kind of a ground reached where people say well they used the term republican, but not enough or whatever. So basically where we are at now. Despite that, the cycle can start all over again a few months later.

So, to sum up from my point of view:

As I understand it The WP position, at its simplest level, is that republicanism since its inception in the era of the American and French Revolutions has been a progressive, egalitarian ideology, associated with secularism, democracy and a people determining its own future, internationalism, and social radicalism. And that in the modern world, republicanism in Ireland, France, America and anywhere else has reached its logical conclusion in socialism. And that, therefore, to stand fully within the republican tradition, in Ireland that means embracing active anti-sectarianism and socialism. Effectively, republicansim=socialism, and vice versa. Not surprisingly, others feel differently. Fair enough.

Regarding commemorations. The Party felt in the 1970s that having republican clubs named after dead republicans, and the whole plethora of traditional commemorations, could lead to the Party’s message being misunderstood and misrepresented. And therefore changes were made, and the name was gradually changed to reflect the development of the Party’s ideology and political position. But the central commemorations continued as a reflection of the Party’s commitment to the revolutionary tradition of republicanism in Ireland, which had now developed into revolutionary socialism.

The Party’s history and ideology is clear. But so too is its focus. It is on building a modern, democratic, secular and socialist society in Ireland in the long term, and in the shorter term on building class consciousness and advancing and defending the interests of the working class, north and south. The purpose of commemorations is not to look backwards, but to learn from the past the lessons that can help us drive forward the struggle in the future. Connolly summed it up well when he said that the greatness of the United Irishmen lay in their refusal to be bound by history and their ability to adjust to the demands and conditions of the present. When we go to Bodenstown or march at Easter, it is in that spirit. As this year’s Bodenstown oration noted

“But these men and women over the last two centuries shared one other common feature from which we must learn. We must learn from their power to analyse, their power and willingness to identify the guilty in society no matter how great or how powerful. We must learn from their power to propagandise – using every method available in their time. But above all else we must learn that these people offered solutions, practical solutions; solutions that cut through the guff, solutions that made sense to the working man, the peasant, the tenant, the landless labourer. And because they offered solutions which made sense, they offered hope. They provided inspiration and leadership and built their movements from that solid basis.

We must therefore learn that it is not enough to analyse, it is not enough to criticise – we too must provide solutions and offer hope.”

http://www.workerspartyireland.net/id484.html

The past informs our present, but to help us understand how to shape the future.

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LeftAtTheCross - July 6, 2010

Thanks for that contribution Garibaldy.

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yourcousin - July 7, 2010

G,
I believe the reason this debate keeps happening is that at the zenith of it’s power the WP had no qualms about dictating who was and wasn’t republican. G, I doubt that most WP officials in the past were as civil as you (and WBS in his due course) in disagreeing with others who may differ from their views. While the WP may be able to style itself as republican, so too can FF and FG with no real ideological back flipping. I believe a starting point for all endeavors ought to be the golden rule. Couple that belief with the idea that what goes around, comes around and one can see (though not always agree with) how this current debate appears and reappears with depressing regularity.

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Garibaldy - July 8, 2010

YC,

It’s certainly true to say that the WP regards itself as the heir to the revolutionary republican tradition, due to its belief in what the development of republicanism since the C18th must mean politically in this day and age. And you’re certainly right to say that when these debates were had in times of more raised political temperature, all sides were much less civil than people are here.

I take your point too about a sense of people wanting to draw attention to what they see about the mistakes or faults of the past or whatever. And fair enough. But people expecting an acknowledgement that the WP – despite what its constitution and policies said – became unrepublican and then returned to it will be disappointed.

So with us all – or almost all of us – having reached a point where we can agree to differ (or stalemate if you prefer), I’m hoping we can avoid a repetition.

So in short, I basically agree. :)

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yourcousin - July 8, 2010

G,
I’m glad you agree, but the fact that you write the the WP is “the heir” to the UI as opposed to “an heir” and the fact that one interpretation is what republicanism “must mean” since the 18th century is a rather narrow prescription for a ideal that most certainly think “advances in diversity…”.

I don’t think that perpetual disagreement automatically means stalemate so much as we keep each other on our toes and keeps us honest. Or at least forces us to be able to back up our claims.

If the WP claimed to be one part of the Republican family as opposed to the paterfamilias then I doubt we would see these kind of debates, as often. But for once it is nice to see we agree, basically.

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25. Joe - July 6, 2010

Great stuff all this. I’m with LATC in general. But the debate shows that the WP still exists and lives. Good luck to it and youse.

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26. Jim Monaghan - July 6, 2010

I am a friend of Patricia McKays husband on facebook. He maintains a tribute page for her.Lovely person, used to work in Woolworths.
I regard people like her as fallen comrades, just like the hunger strikers.

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Ghandi - July 6, 2010

Jim

Can you attach a link?

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Ghandi - July 6, 2010

Link to ballad of Patricia McKay

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27. Markets long memory - July 6, 2010

http://cedarlounge.wordpress.com/2009/09/24/things-can-change-in-order-to-remain-the-same-article-by-eamonn-smullen-workers-party-journal-class-politics-1983/

I knew I had seen this before. i have no axe to grind with gandhi or garibaldy’s current politics except to say it was just the case in the 1980s Workers Party. To pretend otherwise is denying the reality.

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28. Markets long memory - July 6, 2010

sorry ‘just not the case’ in the 1980s.

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29. Markets long memory - July 6, 2010

you search the Northern People or Workers Life for articles about the curfew, or indeed our comrades killed by the Brits.

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30. Garibaldy - July 6, 2010

I’m not really sure what point you are trying to make with that link, as Sullen’s argument refers to republicanism in the WWI period, then refers to the Provisionals as nationalists, thereby denying their republican credentials. Maybe when scanning it again I missed him saying republicanism was bad or something.

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31. Harry Steelestown - July 6, 2010

Personally I’ve no problem with commemorating fallen comrades-I’m with Ghandi on that one. I too remember the condemnation of the Provos “cult of death” around the hunger strikers, and I fully understand the political need to do that at the time.

BTW Garibaldy I noticed at the Ard Fheis that John Lowry’s paper talked about a direct payment scheme, or associate membership -how did that go down? I speak as a supporter in England and I’d like to sign up (the Party have my details) Guess I should just contact Head Office?

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32. Garibaldy - July 6, 2010

Hi Harry,

Idea went down well. Yeah, best to contact head office for the details. I’m sure they’ll be happy to hear from you!

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33. Ghandi - July 6, 2010

Hi Harry

Contact Head Office here

http://workerspartyireland.net/contact.html

and they will send you a Direct Debit Form

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34. WorldbyStorm - July 6, 2010

Markets long memory, I wonder whether you were at Bodenstown in the 1980s like I was. It certainly wasn’t as small as you make out, and was evident from the organisation and attendance that this was a significant aspect of the party identity.

I’ve never denied that there were competing and sometimes antagonistic currents or strands within the party, but to suggest that the party wasn’t ‘Republican’ is incorrect or is to use a very specific definition of Republicanism.

It’s also a reductionist argument to suggest that Republicanism, even within OSF/WP could be boiled down to say McCann, etc… all of whom I have held and continue to hold in high regard. But the party wasn’t OSF of 1970, it was WP of 1984 or whatever and the party emphasis was simply not a focus on the Northern conflict (a problem I had with the party – and I think Gandhi is right that not to accept and know the roots only leads to greater problems), it was about organising in communities and as it did so more and more successfully the direction changed too.

People like to think that it was in some sense a conspiracy by one clique or another, but I think that’s a further simplification – and I say that as one who then and now regards themselves as a Republican socialist (and who sees people in other formations such as SF who I would consider to be of a likemind). Yes such an aversion did exist with some in the party, and for varying reasons. The EH’s had one view of it, others a different one. But if, like myself, you were a member in Dublin or Cork or wherever, the activity was almost entirely focussed on what we were doing there. More than a sense of antagonism there was a sense of ‘we’re beyond all that ideologically’ (and in fairness on the ground in my experience the level of political development in PSF, for example, wasn’t exactly great at that time. It certainly improved radically as the 80s progressed – perhaps due to PD and others arriving on the scene). From which standpoint some of the most arrogant pronouncements of the party were generated.

That can be a problem as much as a strength, and I think that was a mistake to downplay that aspect of party history and development, but it was to my mind much more a function of the ideological direction (on the left axis) than an aversion to Republicanism – or let’s cut to the chase, the Provisionals or the IRSP.

I also wonder is it a little unreasonable to expect people to operate as entirely rational players in the circumstances say of ’82 or whatever. All these formations had been in shooting wars with each other within the previous ten years. People had been killed on all sides. The legacy of bitterness and resentment felt by everyone over those can’t be dismissed, and only time can really help there. There were also practical issues. I know that many inside the party felt that the IRSP split was in part a function of an influx of new people in the period from 72 onwards who had been politicised in part by the experience of McCann et al but had drawn the wrong conclusions as to what was possible on the military side. The analysis of that, was that it was safer to downplay that than to have yet another split. I’m not sure that even were that a correct analysis that it outweighed the small problem that it discredited us as a force by denying our history.

But given all this perhaps the really amazing thing isn’t that there were wobbles on Republicanism, almost exclusively on a rhetorical rather than formal level, but that even today WP, of which again I’m no longer a member, remains one of the few all-island political entities underlining the reality that it is still a Republican entity.

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Mark P - July 6, 2010

Some interesting points there WbS, but on the aside about all-Ireland organisation, it’s worth pointing out that it’s the norm on the socialist left (including the WP). Even the anarchist organiations are partitioned by accident rather than because either of them refuses to organise on the other side of the border.

The Green are organised as one party either side of the border too, perhaps more surprisingly.

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WorldbyStorm - July 6, 2010

Very fair point, I was thinking though of the big battalions, FF/FG/LP, etc and their rhetoric – well, that of FF to be honest!

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35. Jim Monaghan - July 6, 2010

Patricia McKay

http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/PATRICIA-McKAY/293879058526?ref=ts

George McDonald, Republican Clubs USA

http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=100000526672393

Almost everything is on Facebook

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36. Workers’ Party Bodenstown Speech, 2010 « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - July 7, 2010

[...] Politics, Northern Ireland, The Left. trackback This seems appropriate given the debate over here… thanks to those who forwarded it to the CLR. Here’s the SF Bodenstown speech on the [...]

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37. Markets long memory - July 9, 2010

Maybe we are at cross purposes worldbystorm. I remember crowds of 200-300 at Bodenstown in the 1980s, with many of the party’s well known representatives not present. I could be wrong. But that is not my main point. Did the WP commemorate the curfew in 1980? in 1990? in 2000? I would guess there is not one mention of the Official IRA in the whole series of Workers Life magazine in the 1980s. My point about Smullen’s article is that saying Bobby Sands is comparable to Horst Wessell and suggesting that the provos always claim to be innocent when arrested was a very common attitude in the party and it cut us off from a lot of people. I remember a very sad letter in the Irish News from Sean Fox’s family asking his name not to be included in the party’s list of fallen comrades because they were ashamed of the WP’s support for the RUC. Very good website by the way.

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38. Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung - July 22, 2010

[...] Central Citizens’ Defence Committee (CCDC): Law (?) and Orders: The Belfast ‘Curfew’ of 3-5 July 1970 (1970) * Revolutionary Marxist Group (RMG): Marxist Review, Frühjahr 1973 * David Bleakley: Crisis [...]

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39. republican socalistn i ask - July 31, 2010

can i ask the wp supporters on this site a question , how come the workers party called fallen pira and inla volunteers terrorists , yet there own fallen as comrades seem very hypocritical to me . and ask your selves this , why do the vast majority of reublicans hate the sticks with a passion , were was the guns to defend the people in ardoyne bombay street , shorts strand in 69 70

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Budapestkick - July 31, 2010

Not a WP man myself but with regard to Ardoyne, Bombay street etc. I would highly recommend you read Brian Hanley’s article on the IRA and 1969 in History Ireland. Other than that, you seem to have resurrected a dead thread in order to childishly have a go at the handful of Sticks who regularly contribute here, though looking at your post it appears you were quite drunk when this was posted.

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40. SMURF - July 31, 2010

In response to 39. republican socialist I ask. It is true again here we go around the merrygo round of dead threading in order to revert back to the limited history which you claim to hold privy too. I wasnt going to respond to this – but I feel obliged. Heresay, smut journalistic reporting seems to be order of the day for you. How do you know for sure that vast of majority of republicans hate the sticks? A, You must be the infamous brigadeer Barns of the 1st and only true republican bat.. I always find it extremely funny that labelling, shaming techniques by individuals who basically know or more importantly want to know anything about what actually happened. If you are new to this history thing, please ignore my sarcarism but I would take a little time and read the above mentioned book, then official irish republicianism- sean swan and then the politics of illusion – henry patterson.

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WorldbyStorm - August 1, 2010

Fair responses SMURF and Budapestkick.

republican socialist, having worked with and for people on both sides of that divide subsequently (and having been a member of the WP and disagreed profoundly with aspects of their approach on the North) I can’t see the point of attacking people on any side any longer.

As far as I’m concerned terrible mistakes were made, often for the best of reasons, by all concerned. I’m not ignoring personal histories which I know bite deep (I personally knew one person who was very very badly affected by the murder of Seamus Costello).

But either we let that drag us down, or we accept that there were and remain good people on all sides, and from my perspective more importantly good leftists. That we can work with and do something to change the here and now.

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41. HAL - August 1, 2010

Good point wbs the republican left is what needs to be united all republican left who accept the ceasefires and agree on the democratic process should make efforts to make peace.If we cant agree with each other how do we hope to gain the thrust of the general population.

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42. Mackers - November 29, 2010

For the record I was witness to the beginning of the curfew. I also took part in the rioting that followed and believe me when I tell you there were all sorts of people involved in the fighting. I witnessed all kinds of Republicans and non republicans in the shape of ordinary locals who just came to try to keep the Brits from disarming the area. And beieve me when I tell you it was all about saving the weapons of all the groups in the area. At this period of time from the events anyone who tries to spin some kind of quasi-political revisionist gunk to the situation is wrong dead wrong. It was about the guns for defence stupid.End of story. Oh and by the way respect to alll who faced down the British Army then or after.

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43. Dr.Nightdub - May 25, 2011

Only coming across this now, so apologies for the laste contribution.

Just on the CCDC side of things and this comment:
“It stresses the contempt with which both the hierarchy and the troops on the ground treated both the CCDC and elected politcians trying to bring things to a halt…”

In relation to the Falls curfew, there was very little the CCDC could do other than point the finger at Freeland as the army’s role in the curfew and the resulting deaths could not be disputed. Any other conclusion would have been laughable.

However Bishop Philbin, was still trying hard to cosy up to Lisburn as some kind of authentic but un-armed voice of nationalists, using the CCDC as a vehicle, seeing as it had by then come under the control of his trusted helpers Tom Conaty (much later named as the holder of an Ansbacher account) and Canon Padraig Murphy.

Around the same time as the “Law & Order” pamphlet was published, another pamphlet dealing with the Battle of St. Matthew’s the week before was also contemplated by the CCDC. My father was working full-time for the CCDC at the time and was commissioned by Philbin to write it but it was never published precisely BECAUSE the conclusion lambasted General Freeland far more stridently than the one on the curfew did.

Based on similar eye-witness interviews and quoting from the detailed written agreements regarding security measures which had been arrived at by the St. Matthew’s CDC and the local army commander and RUC District Inspector, the pamphlet clearly placed responsibility on the army for breaking those agreements on the night St. Matthew’s was attacked. The implication being that the army created the vacuum into which the IRA stepped.

In the interests of critical objectivity, I should say that my father managed not to use the letters IRA in the entire pamphlet which was some feat – his defence was that what he didn’t ask about and didn’t find out about couldn’t subsequently be got out of him.

Anyway, Conaty and Murphy were furious and wanted the pamphlet re-written. My father refused. His version of the story ends up with him calling to Philbin’s home one Sunday night when he knew Conaty and Murphy wouldn’t be around, a stand-up row ensued and his parting shot to Philbin was “The Italians have the mafia, the loyalists have the Orange Order but you have no need of either for you’re already up to your neck in corruption.” He was eased out of his job in the CCDC shortly afterwards.

If anyone’s (still!) interested, the Linenhall Library in Belfast has a copy of the pamphlet, along with some of the research material my father had gathered.

There you go, just a wee footnote to history.

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Alan Harpur - March 19, 2013

I am interested in the earlypart of the ‘troubles’ and went along to the Linenhall library to track down the pamphlet mentioned in post 43 on the Battle of st Matthews researched for the CCDC. Unfortunately although the pamphlet was indexed it couldn’t be found. I know it is a long shot since the pamphet was never published but does anyone have a copy of it?? Post 43 also refers to reseach material in connection with the pamphlet placed in the library but what name is this material filed under???Can anyone help!!

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Dr.Nightdub - March 19, 2013

Alan, when I was in the Linenhall two years ago, the original (consisting of approx 40 typewritten foolscap pages) was in an ordinary blue ring-binder, that might help them locate it if you go back there. The librarian said he’d add the other documents to the ring-binder as appendices to the main text – these consisted of:
– Correspondence from Sept 1969 between the Ballymacarett Citizens’ Defence Committee and the local Army commander and the (very unfortunately-named) District Inspector Shute of Mountpottinger RUC barracks, culminating in a detailed agreement regarding the level of security / barricades / patrolling that the Army would provide to the area. Which they then failed to provide in June 1970.
– A witness statement from Dickie Glenholmes, chairman of the local CDC about what happened on the night of the Battle
– A witness statement from Paddy Kennedy (Republican Labour MP, and a member of the CCDC) about what happened
– An anonymous witness statement

There was a book published about two years ago called “Belfast and Derry in Revolt”, it has a chapter about St Matthew’s, which is worth reading as it includes excerpts from the Army radio log on the night, as well as referencing the pamphlet. However it was researched before I gave the additional material to the Linenhall – the author told me if he’d seen that material, he might well have reconsidered his conclusions.

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