How is Margaret Thatcher viewed in Ireland?

IRA: The Londonderry uprising us its consequences

In August 1969 the conflict between Protestants and Catholics escalated. For almost 30 years, violence and counter-violence have devastated denominationally divided Northern Ireland: Assassinations by militant Catholics are followed by revenge killings by Protestants. The most powerful of these murder groups is the Irish Republican Army, which is even trying to bring London to its knees

What was the worst? The groans of the dying? The dead silence after the shots? Your own pain? The cold? The blood? Alan Black remembers everything, every single one of the seconds that stretch as if they were ages. Black is the only one who survived the assassination attempt on the evening of January 5, 1976 on a hilltop near the intersection of Kingsmill. They are 16 men, all workers in a textile factory in the Irish northern province of Ulster. A minibus is supposed to bring them home after the end of their shift: five Catholics and eleven Protestants.

While driving, they talk about the murder of the Reavey brothers in the neighboring town of Whitecross the night before. Terrible story, young guys, just shot at home while watching TV. Everyone knows who the perpetrators are, Protestant extremists who attacked the Reaveys for one reason only: They were Catholics. They are all shaken on the bus, no matter what denomination they belong to. Her car has just passed the Reaveys' house when it stops and four Catholic colleagues get out in Whitecross. It's half past five in the evening. You continue on the country road, suddenly the driver recognizes a figure in front of him in army uniform. She waves a flashlight up and down. A patrol? Well possible after the assassination attempt. He stops.

Immediately about ten men jump out from behind the hedges on the side of the road and surround the minibus. They wear combat suits, their faces are blackened. Everyone has to go out and stand next to the bus with their hands raised on the car. A man asks: “Who is a Catholic?” Nobody moves. He asks again, more urgently. The men next to the only Catholic in their row try to keep him from identifying themselves, they gently squeeze his hand. Apparently they fear that the killers from the previous evening might strike again.

Your colleague steps forward anyway. The man in the battle suit barks at him: "Get out, down the street, and don't look around!" He asks the remaining eleven men to close the gap in their row - and then says just one word, one syllable: "Right. “The death squad. The gunmen fire immediately. 136 shots were fired in less than a minute. Some men are still screaming, then the bodies of the dead and wounded fall on top of each other.

The Kingsmill assassination shocked all Irish people

The youngest of the workers, a 19-year-old apprentice, lies on the seriously injured Black. He moans in pain and calls for his mother. One of the riflemen steps up to the men and shoots each one in the head in cold blood. He also fires at Black, but the bullet only grazes the skull. 18 bullets hit him, but he survived. He himself later said: "I was sure that I would die." Shortly after the attack, a caller called the police. The bloody act was the revenge for the shooting of the Reavey brothers. The South Armagh was responsible for the murders Republican Action Force - a splinter group of the Irish Republican Army formed by militant Catholics.

The Kingsmill Massacre marks the next stage in the escalation of violence and counter-violence, murder and revenge, bombings and shootings that has plagued the British-ruled north of Ireland since the late 1960s. Catholics attack Protestants in this conflict and vice versa, the British army wants to intervene and yet becomes a party. The British and Irish call this brutal time The Troubles. But that is a strange belittling. Because it is about thousands of murders and manslaughter, tens of thousands of injured people and hundreds of thousands of wounded souls. The Kingsmill crime shocked all Irish alike. Until then, many Catholics regarded the IRA as a kind of protective power, despite some highly controversial acts of violence. But now the reputation of the guerrilla force is seriously damaged. Their brutality horrifies the people.

Alone: ​​There is no stopping in the bloodshed for a long time. There will be more deaths for decades.

Fateful Date: August 15, 1969

The conflict in Northern Ireland is a story with many beginnings. Some causes go back around 800 years, to the English invasion of Ireland under Henry II in 1171. Others to the plantation, the massive arrival of Protestant settlers in Ulster at the beginning of the 17th century. Still others for the partition of the island after the Irish War of Independence in 1921, when six Protestant-dominated counties in the province of Ulster in the north were separated from the Catholic rest of the country and remained in the United Kingdom as "Northern Ireland". Even then, the majority of Ulster is Protestant, around a third of the population is Catholic. Both population groups live close together, especially in the larger towns, but mostly in separate parts of the city. But you can also pinpoint the beginning of the Troubles on a precise date: August 15, 1969.

Months before, young Catholics began demonstrating in Londonderry and Belfast, Northern Ireland's two major cities. Following the example of American civil rights activists and rebellious students worldwide, Catholics no longer want to put up with the discrimination by the Protestant majority of the population. In Belfast, the demonstrators march in front of the guards of the Royal Ulster Constabulary - because the Northern Irish police are not a neutral guardian of law and order, but unilaterally proprotestant. 90 percent of the higher officials belong to the Protestant majority.

The demonstrators accuse the orderly troops of arbitrary attacks on the Catholic minority, quite rightly: House searches are repeatedly carried out without a judicial order, arrests without an arrest warrant. After provocations by Protestant rallies, the Catholic protests in August 1969 turned into outright riot. The young protesters hurled stones and Molotov cocktails, cars burned. A hand grenade even exploded, allegedly thrown by an IRA man.

The police react with harshness, and in Belfast they are now shooting sharply over the heads of the rioters. A ricochet penetrates a house wall and kills a young boy. In the confusion, a Protestant mob storms the Catholic quarters of Belfast. 120 houses go up in flames. Seven people die, hundreds are treated in hospitals. 1800 families have to flee their homes, most of them are Catholics. On August 15, 1969, the British government sent troops to Northern Ireland. They are supposed to bring peace. Many Catholics greet the soldiers as saviors in the chaos. Just through their presence, the army quickly succeeds in restoring peace and order. Soon there are 6,500 men in the small province.

Systematic disadvantage for Catholics

To avoid further attacks, the troops in Belfast erect barbed wire barriers between the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. Over the years almost 100 barriers will gradually arise: fences and walls, some made of concrete, others made of bricks, some more than seven meters high, with guarded checkpoints. They separate two groups that have not been treated equally for a long time.

Because since the breakaway of Ulster in 1921, Catholics in Northern Ireland have only been second class citizens. Even then, between 1920 and 1922, there was murder and manslaughter, looting and displacement. More than 500 people died and 23,000 had to flee their homes because they lived in a residential area that was dominated by the other denomination. Northern Ireland has been part of the United Kingdom since the separation in 1921, but has its own government that is largely autonomous in internal affairs. As long as it remains calm in the region, the governments in London are not interested in the small country.

The Protestant Unionists (who want to maintain the connection with Great Britain) enforce with their majority an electoral law that systematically disadvantages the Catholics. In Londonderry, for example, the constituencies are cut in such a way that a candidate in Protestant neighborhoods needs 700 votes to join the city council, while in Catholic districts more than twice as many.

The chances are also unevenly distributed in school and at work: the respected (and well-paying) Harland & Wolff shipyard in 1970 employs around 10,000 Protestants - and only 400 Catholics. And in most institutions, whether police or administration, Protestants predominate. There are hardly any balancing forces - such as parties that organize themselves across confessional boundaries. Rather, groups dominate that are exclusively open to Protestants or to Catholics. The Protestant Ulster Unionist Party, which has ruled Northern Ireland since the split, is loyal to the union with Great Britain.

The Catholic nationalists, on the other hand, are striving for unification with the Republic of Ireland. Your most radical party is Sinn Féin ("We ourselves"), a group that takes part in elections in both parts of Ireland, but always only in protest and always with the declared intention not to exercise mandates - since participation would mean the division of the To recognize the island. Moderate Catholics are left with the Nationalist Party, which is also absent from the Northern Irish Parliament.

The role of the IRA

The IRA, formed in 1919 as a guerrilla force of the Irish fighting for their freedom, is basically the armed arm of Sinn Féin. When Ireland achieved its broad independence in 1921, a number of its commanders fell out with the first free Irish government, which in their view was not uncompromising enough against London, and went underground. The IRA attack series started twice: in 1939 at the beginning of the Second World War and in the late 1950s. Both campaigns quickly collapsed, with no success, and numerous fighters were arrested.

Now, in the summer of 1969, it plays no role militarily. The leadership cadre, which is estimated to have only a few dozen activists and supporters willing to use violence, is primarily concerned with Marxist theory and has largely lost contact with the population. The IRA was therefore completely surprised by the escalation of August 1969. Few fighters spontaneously resist the militant Protestant mob in Belfast. Many Catholics feel abandoned. Graffiti will soon appear on the walls of Belfast's houses with the words: "IRA - I Ran Away" - the army that runs away when the going gets tough.

This is unbearable for those activists for whom the organization has long been too little militant and who is too concerned with the theory and too little with the practice of guerrilla struggle. In addition, the leadership of the IRA is playing with the idea of ​​encouraging Sinn Féin MPs to participate in parliaments in the future. A dispute ensues - the troops split up. In December 1969, dissidents set up the "provisional" IRA. The Provisionals are determined not to allow an embarrassment like in the summer to happen again. Throwing stones or Molotov cocktails are not enough for them. They want the armed struggle to be resumed - in all severity (the old IRA, now known as the "Official IRA", remains. Its people are fighting again, but it is rapidly losing importance).

The Provisionals promise the residents of Catholic residential areas protection from attacks by Protestant extremists. And they swear not to lose sight of the “holy cause” of the reunification of Ireland and to drive the British out of Ulster forever. They see the army and the police as opponents. Above all, however, they fight the paramilitary underground organizations of the unionists: the Ulster Volunteer Force, founded in 1966 and later the Ulster Defense Association, which want to preserve a Protestant-dominated Northern Ireland and arbitrarily murder Catholics. You are sometimes covered by the police.

The IRA is regrouping itself and brutally

The Provisionals are organized in a strictly hierarchical manner. The battle line is a seven-member army council. The local activists are organized in brigades, battalions and companies. (At the end of the 1970s, the system was converted to local cells, to which only four fighters belonged. This is to prevent those arrested from disclosing too much knowledge.)

Potential comrades-in-arms volunteer. It's a complicated process. If you want to participate, you have to contact someone you know who you think is close to the group. He won't hear anything for weeks, but then, as a complete surprise, summoned to a recruiting interview. The questions that are asked of the volunteers can be found in a training manual from the Provisional IRA. Do you have very romantic ideas about the liberation struggle? Are you just looking for adventure? And above all: Are you ready to kill - and give your own life?

If the recruiters are satisfied with the answers, another iron rule is hammered into the candidate: Everyone has to strictly submit to the principle of command and obedience. Then the new fighter swears allegiance to the Irish Republic as it was proclaimed by the independence fighters in 1916. The first goal of the newly founded Provisional IRA is to procure weapons for combat. There are still a few pistols and rifles in hiding places, many of them maintained and ready for use for years, but of course outdated. From the USA, where Irish emigrants support the IRA with donations, the fighters soon get modern automatic weapons. Ironically, the British luxury liner "Queen Elizabeth 2" is the most important means of transport in arms smuggling. Irish cabin crew hid the rifles on the ocean liner in New York and disembark in Southampton. From there they are transported to the combat zone by car and ferry.

In early 1971 the Provisional IRA murdered a soldier for the first time - an act of revenge: British troops shot a young Catholic the day before. From now on, IRA commandos are planning targeted assassinations, luring soldiers into ambushes, and killing a dozen members of the army by the summer. The British are sending more troops and interning suspects without an arrest warrant. More than 2,000 suspects were arrested within six months, some of them brutally mistreated. They are not allowed to sleep, have to stand for hours with their arms raised, their heads are covered with hoods for days.

The violence is overwhelming the UK

Belfast becomes a battlefield. IRA activists shoot at soldiers and police officers, but also at Unionist fighters wherever they see a chance to kill. That can be on any street corner. If you are a pedestrian in between, you are simply unlucky. Within a few days, 19 civilians were killed in shootings, and by the end of 1971 there were 97.

The military is not contributing to the détente. It sets up checkpoints, imposes curfews and insults passers-by. During raids, Catholic residential areas in particular are often cordoned off for days. The soldiers, frightened and embittered by the IRA assassinations, smash furniture during house searches, tear crosses and pictures of the Virgin Mary from walls. Gerry Adams, allegedly a senior officer of the Provisional IRA at the time and chairman of Sinn Féin from 1983, later says: “The army unintentionally drove the Catholic community into the arms of the Provisional IRA. “Soon there will be more than 1,000 volunteers in the force.

The "Bloody Sunday" on January 30, 1972 in Londonderry became a symbol of the ruthless British action. Provoked by youngsters throwing stones and incendiary devices and armed with iron bars, paratroopers open fire on otherwise peaceful demonstrators. 13 people die, another 14 are injured, some seriously. The bloody Sunday changed a lot: Even politically moderate Catholics now accept the IRA as a protective power against the British occupiers. After attacks or shootings, provisionals now naturally find support. Front doors are now opening everywhere, behind which fighters can disappear. When British soldiers approach, women in Catholic residential areas hit rubbish bin lids against each other, warning IRA activists.

In the spring of 1972 the British government put Northern Ireland under direct rule again, for the first time since 1921: It overturned the Protestant regional government and took over command of the Northern Irish police itself. But the violence continued to escalate: On July 21, 1972, the IRA detonated 22 bombs in less than an hour and a half in Belfast city center. That hadn't happened before. The militants warn of the explosions by telephone, but the information is not precise and comes too late.The police and the army do not have enough time to evacuate the places mentioned. A disaster: Nine people were torn apart by bombs on this "Bloody Friday", 130 people were injured, some seriously.

The Protestant extremists do not leave the attacks unanswered: "The IRA is killing Protestants," explains the UDA. “We're going to kill Republicans. If we don't find Republicans, we'll kill Catholics. ”In 1972 alone, Unionists murdered 81 Catholics.

London also reacts with severity: 22,000 men are now stationed in Ulster. Soldiers occupy boroughs in Belfast and Londonderry in the British Army's largest operation since the Suez Crisis in 1956. At the same time, however, the government is tacitly looking for a political solution and is even holding secret talks with the IRA. But without success.

A total of 497 people died in clashes or attacks in the terrible year of 1972, more than half of them civilians. Bomb attacks, shootings, targeted killings - terror is now part of everyday life, not just in Northern Ireland: Protestant extremists set off three car bombs in Dublin on May 17, 1974, without warning. 26 people perish. And the IRA is carrying its war to Great Britain: 21 people died in bomb attacks on two pubs in Birmingham.

Distancing from Kingsmill, but more attacks

The violence now escalates - up to the murders of January 5, 1976 on Kingsmill Road, which Alan Black is the only one to survive.

After collapsing under the volleys of rifles, he pretends to be dead. Even then he doesn't flinch when he feels the gun of the shooter next to his skull, who is giving the dead and half-dead a headshot. The murder squad then quietly withdraws, unhurriedly, as if it had been on a routine mission. Black probably only survived because a couple passed the crime scene in their car shortly afterwards and stopped. The groan of the seriously injured man makes the two aware of Black. They pray together and keep the bleeding profuse conscious before an ambulance takes him to the hospital. Emergency surgery saves him.

The public disgusts the act of violence. Catholic politicians also condemn the massacre as barbaric and cowardly. Even Irish intellectuals, who fundamentally consider the Republicans' struggle to be legitimate, keep their distance. "After that night, freedom is a corpse," writes Paul Durcan, one of Ireland's most respected poets. The Provisional IRA reacts quickly to the damage to its image. She distances herself from the assassination attempt, denies any involvement and assures that she is not planning any such acts of revenge. This also has an effect on the other side. A former fighter reported later that militant Protestants are apparently planning an attack and want to kill 30 Catholic children in a school. But for fear of public outrage, they give up the plans.

Neither side swears off violence. Rather, a new generation of IRA leaders, including Gerry Adams, are promoting a long war of attrition. Adams is a young man in his late twenties at the time who is currently in jail on charges of membership in the IRA. He uses the time to publish articles in the Sinn Féin newspaper “Republican News”. In it he outlines a new strategy: The IRA must consistently continue the armed struggle, while Sinn Féin should intensify the struggle for approval at the ballot box and recommend herself to the Catholics as a champion for Irish unity. The Provisionals get involved - and Adams establishes himself as the strategic head of the Republicans.

The IRA does not hesitate to show its determination. On March 22, 1979, she murdered the British ambassador to the Netherlands. Five months later, on August 27, 1979, a commando blew up the yacht of Earl Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India and distant cousin of the Queen. In addition to Mountbatten, three other people die, including his 14-year-old grandson. Just a few hours later, two bombs detonated near the Northern Irish border town of Warrenpoint, killing 18 soldiers.

Margaret Thatcher stands up to the IRA

The British government, now under the leadership of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, has reacted with demonstrative severity. The head of cabinet appears in combat uniform at the scene of the attack in Warrenpoint and orders the police to be reinforced by a further 1,000 men.

Margaret Thatcher remains indomitable in another conflict with the IRA. The IRA prisoners in Maze Prison in Northern Ireland have long been demanding recognition as political prisoners. They refuse to wear convict clothes because it makes them look like normal criminals. Instead, they wrap themselves in blankets, some smear excrement on their cell walls for months. Eventually they go on a hunger strike. Bobby Sands, convicted of illegal gun possession, is the leader of the Provisionals in prison. The word of the only 27-year-old carries weight, both in prison and outside, where he has also made a name for himself as an author in the “Republican News”. From March 1, 1981, he refused to eat and other inmates followed his example.

At the same time there will be a by-election for a Northern Irish seat in the House of Commons in London. Sinn Féin proposes Sands as a common candidate for all Catholics. A prisoner on hunger strike as a candidate for parliament? That makes the prisoner famous all over the world in one fell swoop. But Margaret Thatcher makes no concessions. “A crime is a crime,” she says, even when Sands was actually elected on the 40th day of his hunger strike. An invaluable PR success for the IRA. Bobby Sands refuses to eat for more than seven weeks. He dies on May 5, 1981. His death makes him a martyr, around 100,000 mourners follow his coffin.

Nine more hunger strikers lost their lives before the action was ended in autumn under pressure from relatives. The prisoners are not recognized as political prisoners, but are now allowed to wear civilian clothes.

But the fight outside of the prison continues, during the hunger strike alone the IRA murdered 61 people. More murders followed, including in England: Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher barely escaped an assassination attempt in Brighton in 1984 in which five members of her conservative party died.

The IRA, however, has problems funding its struggle. The fighters have to be paid and the families of dead or imprisoned volunteers need support. It is true that Irish nationalists have founded an aid association in the USA that officially collects money to support the reunification of Ireland - and secretly finances arms purchases. But the dollars from America are not enough, and neither is the income from legal and semi-legal transactions: the IRA runs clubs where supporters can meet for beer, or licenses for taxis in Catholic residential areas. That is why the activists practice extortion and organize raids on post offices and banks. They also do not shy away from kidnappings. This raises up to 1.5 million pounds a year.

The terrible methods of the Provisionals

The IRA soon controls Catholic districts and communities like a mafia: It watches over who is allowed to do which business and demands its share. The Provisionals determine what is right. Young women who get involved with British soldiers are threatened with archaic punishments: riot troops tie them to lampposts, shear their hair, pour hot pitch over their heads and sprinkle feathers over the severely burned victims.

Anyone who is suspected of being a collaborator or an informant for the British is no longer safe of his life. An "interrogation unit" hears the suspect and passes judgment, in most cases death. There is no calling. For example, an IRA detachment in Belfast kidnaps a single mother in front of her ten children because she allegedly worked for the British military. (The allegations are never proven; her body is not found until decades later, in 2003.)

The IRA people pretend to be merciless law enforcement officers. Anyone caught as a dealer or burglar will be beaten. Repeat offenders shoot "punishment units" in the kneecaps, some they smash the spine, the victims are paraplegic. Delinquents often die in the draconian punitive actions. Thousands have to disappear from Northern Ireland within hours on the orders of the IRA. She calls it “expulsions”. The terror regime of the Provisionals is becoming more and more entrenched - and in parts it will also survive the end of the civil war.

The slow peace process begins

At the end of the 1980s, very carefully, a peace process began. The first sign of change is an insight that Gerry Adams publicly formulates: There is "no military solution" in the Northern Ireland conflict. This realization is not entirely voluntary. The British have severely weakened the IRA with targeted killings of terrorists and arrests of leaders.

In addition, an IRA bomb exploded prematurely in 1987, killing eleven bystanders in a provincial town. The horror of the public hits the organization as violently as after the Kingsmill massacre. Adams notes that the movement will not survive another attack of this kind.

In any case, the IRA has lost support among the Catholic population because of its Mafia methods and its actions against alleged criminals and collaborators. This is also reflected in the election results for Sinn Féin: in 1987, she lost a significant number of votes in the general election. In contrast, the moderate forces in Northern Ireland, which are organized in the Social Democratic and Labor Party, are gaining increasing support among Catholics. Gerry Adams' double strategy has failed.

And so Sinn Féin, previously claiming to know the only right way for Ireland, now begins to look for an alliance with the Christian-conservative government in Dublin and the SDLP.

Protestant militants react with violence, as they always did when they feared an agreement between the parties to the dispute without their participation: they fear that London might agree to reunite Ireland. There seems to be no end to the killing. In October 1993 alone, 27 people fell victim to attacks on both sides; it is the deadliest month since 1976. But London is now relying on a negotiated solution. The Irish government in Dublin is also calling for an end to the violence. Under combined pressure, the IRA agreed to a ceasefire on August 31, 1994. The Protestant fighters also agreed to a ceasefire on October 13, 1994.

Nevertheless, it will be another four years before a peace agreement is signed by all parties on Good Friday 1998 - after almost 30 years of civil war, 3,636 dead and more than 47,000 wounded. After 16,200 bomb attacks, 22,000 armed attacks and 2,200 arson attacks.

The war is over, mistrust remains