Divisions between north and south Ireland were prevalent since the 1920s. Yet, until the 1970s, nobody in public life in the Republic of Ireland argued that partition was justified. This book examines in detail the impact of the Northern Irish Troubles on southern Irish society during the period 1968-79. It begins with the aftermath of the civil rights march in Derry in October 1968 and traces the reaction to the events until the autumn of 1972. The impact of August 1969, the aftermath of internment and the response to Bloody Sunday are examined. The book looks at violence south of the border, particularly bombings and shootings and their human cost, and examines state security, censorship and the popular protests associated with these issues. A general outlook at the changing attitudes to refugees and northern nationalists is provided before describing the impact of the conflict on southern Protestants. The controversies concerning the Irish Republican Army and their activities are highlighted. The book looks at the question of revisionism and how debates about history were played out in academia as well as at a popular level. A variety of social and cultural responses to the conflict are examined, including attitudes to Britain and northern Unionists. For many southerners, Ulster was practically a foreign country and Northern Ireland did not seem very Irish. By 1979, the prospect of an end to the conflict seemed dim.
This introduction presents an overview of key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book first traces the reaction to events after October 1968 until the autumn of 1972, examining the impact of August 1969, the aftermath of internment and the response to Bloody Sunday. It then looks at violence south of the border, particularly bombings and shootings and their human cost. The book also examines state security, censorship and the popular protests associated with these issues. It looks at changing attitudes to refugees and northern nationalists more generally. The book further describes the impact of the conflict on southern Protestants, and outlines the controversies concerning the IRA and their activities. Finally, it examines a variety of social and cultural responses to the conflict, including attitudes to Britain and northern Unionists.
Missiles, including petrol bombs, rained down on the British Embassy as protesters tried to force their way past Garda lines. But it was the crowd who were driven back and away from Merrion Square, some of them breaking windows in the Shelbourne Hotel as they went. There were minor scuffles when hundreds of housing marchers joined a demonstration at the British Embassy to support a civil rights demonstration in Newry. The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) called for the government to suspend diplomatic relations with Britain, and the Ballymun Tenants Association was one of several bodies calling for a boycott of British goods. The Irish Press warned about 'wild men in the South' who had shown 'their influence in acts of hooliganism around the streets of Dublin'.
In Dublin there were strikes at the Jeyes factory in Finglas, a Ringsend construction site and Royal Irish Ltd in Glasnevin. On Sunday 30 January 1972, there were few in the Republic who disagreed with Social Democratic and Labour party (SDLP) MP John Hume, that the Parachute Regiment had carried out 'cold-blooded mass murder; another Sharpeville; another Bloody Sunday'. There were reports of attacks on British citizens living in the Republic and allegations that 'mafia-like methods' were used to force people to close their businesses. Some news outlets reported Derry's James Connolly Republican Club's call for an 'immediate general strike (to) bring the country to a standstill'. Bloody Sunday, the president of the GAA Pat Fanning asserted, had 'drawn the Irish people together. The point of no return has been reached and passed.'
The first fatality in the Republic was a loyalist. But with violence intensifying in the North, loyalists began to carry out more deadly actions. In the midst of an IRA hunger-strike and government attempts to introduce new security measures, bombs claimed their first fatalities in Dublin. Loyalists claimed their actions were aimed at reminding the 'people of the Republic of their vulnerability to acts of terrorism and their ambivalence towards it'. The impact of deaths caused by republicans depended on the nature of the victim, the location and the circumstances of their death. After Provisional IRA hoax bombings in Dublin during early 1974, the Irish Press warned that such actions were 'pointless and counter-productive'. To those not involved in politics, the shootings and bombings often seemed bewildering and contributed to a pervasive feeling that the violence was 'all going to start down here'.
The southern state's tried and tested response to subversion had always been emergency law. Internment, military courts and restrictions on the press had all been implemented during the Civil War, the Emergency and the IRA's 1956-62 campaign. But the situation after 1969 was unfamiliar. The emotional upsurge that accompanied the outbreak of conflict in the North made security measures against republicans problematic. During 1969 and again in 1972, plans to introduce repressive laws were stymied by public solidarity with nationalists. But there was also a contradiction in southern nationalism that was to prove crucial. Jack Lynch's administration had introduced the Forcible Entry Bill, the Prisons Bill, the Special Criminal Court and the Offences Against the State Amendment Bill. They had also tightened control of radio and television and sacked the Raidió Teleifís Éireann (RTE) Authority for objecting to government broadcasting policy.
In September 1976, the Sunday World reacted to new security legislation by asking 'are we trying to create a new Chile here?'. The government had just declared that 'arising out of the armed conflict now taking place in Northern Ireland, a National Emergency exists affecting the vital interests of the State'. New laws allowing for seven-day detention on 'reasonable suspicion' and permitting the Army to make arrests in certain circumstances were introduced. Between 1972 and 1980, there were 8,105 arrests under Section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act; 1,545 people were charged. The atmosphere was such that even small left-wing groups advised their members that they should 'stop talking too loud in pubs', treat all 'phones with caution' and guard internal documents carefully. Emergency legislation was even used to arrest activists protesting about censorship of feminist literature.
Attitudes to northern nationalists were diverse and complex. A basic sympathy informed most public responses during the early stages of the conflict. While refugees were seen primarily as victims they seem to have been welcomed. However, when they complained or appeared ungrateful attitudes could change very quickly. Anything other than gratitude and passivity was evidence of deviancy. The official view that many of those who arrived in July 1972 were holiday makers is remarkable given the situation in Belfast. July 1972 was the worst month of the worst year of the Troubles and saw almost 100 people killed. Lenadoon, where at least 500 of the refugees came from, was the site of a breakdown of the IRA ceasefire. In Ballymurphy, from which hundreds fled, several people, including children, were killed by the British army. Sectarian assassinations escalated and that month also saw the carnage of Bloody Friday.
During May 1972, over 100 prominent southern Protestants published an open letter to Ulster Unionists in which they stressed they had 'every opportunity (to) play a full part in the affairs of the community'. They also asserted that in the Republic, 'Protestants hold positions of importance and trust at least in proportion to their fraction of the population'. Some have argued the Northern Irish conflict fostered understanding between Protestants and Catholics in the Republic. In fact, the eruption of violence after 1969 saw the re-emergence of old suspicions and resentments which produced fear and occasionally violence. Though expression of such prejudices was widely condemned, they were reminders of an element in Irish nationalism that never accepted Protestants as truly 'Irish'. Similarly, there were also those Protestants in the Republic who had remained 'loyalist' long after independence and whose politics were also a factor in border areas.
In February 1981, Raidió Teleifís Éireann (RTE) screened the final episode of Robert Kee's Ireland: A Television History. It featured an interview with Dubliner Vinny Byrne, a veteran of Michael Collin's 'Squad'. After 1972, the IRA's bombing offensive proved far harder for people to endorse. Sligo Fianna Fáil councillor Tom Deignan moved a motion of sympathy for the relatives of local IRA volunteer Kevin Coen, describing him as having been 'killed by British forces not the first Irishman to be killed by them'. The killing of female cleaning staff was perceived as having robbed Ireland of a moral superiority over the British; the 'dead of Derry dishonoured'. In Magill, Vincent Browne asserted that the 'killing of a 79-year-old man, who has had no personal involvement in the Northern Ireland issue, simply because of his family connections, is unjustifiable in any circumstances'.