Northern Ireland History - Northern Ireland Troubles 1982-1984

Northern Ireland History 1982-1984

In the aftermath of the hunger strikes, violence continued and the IRA once again renewed its bombing campaign in the UK mainland.  In July 1982 a device was detonated in Hyde Park killing four soldiers and on the same day they planted another bomb that killed seven soldiers, where military bandsmen were playing a lunchtime concert.  Pictures went around the world of the Hyde Park incident as many horses had also been injured and along with their owners were scattered across the ground.  Anyone who remembers these harrowing scenes was deeply shocked and I remember them very well.

1982 was to see the death of the leader of the Shankill Butchers Lenny Murphy.  The IRA pumped twenty-two shots into his car as he pulled up outside his girlfriend’s house.

Then in December of 1983, another six people lost their lives at Christmas when a bomb was set off outside Harrods in London.  This careless action which took civilian life was at that time viewed as a setback for the IRA. 

Northern Ireland History 1982 - Dominic McGlinchey

Another republican movement the INLA were also very active and they continued with their path of violent attacks.  Dominic Mad Dog McGlinchey who had been expelled from the IRA for lack of discipline went on to become a leader in the INLA organisation and he was a well known killer.  He claimed to have killed around thirty people and eventually his own life was taken as the result of an internal feud.  Another INLA leader Dessie Border Fox O’Hare was also a renowned killer and his activities sent him to jail in the Republic of Ireland for 40 years.  I always found it strange how these people always seemed to be given some type of nick name.

In December 1982 the INLA planted a bomb in a bar at Ballykelly and this took the lives of seventeen people.  The bomb had been placed on a support pillar and many of those who died were actually crushed to death.  Of the seventeen, eleven were British soldiers and the other six were civilians, four of them women who had been going to a disco.  The INLA also opened fire on a small Pentecostal church in County Armagh, spraying it with fire and killing three church elders and wounding many others in the small congregation.

In these dangerous and horiffic times, the deaths mounted and the security forces again tried to respond.  The RUC set up a special unit which could deal with the violent encounters with the INLA and the IRA.  This unit would come to be known as E4A and they would base their style on the SAS.  

It didn’t take long before they were in action and they killed three people in a car in County Armagh, firing a total of 109 shots into the car.  The men were members of the IRA but were unarmed at the time of the shootings.  Not long after a teenager was shot and another injured and they had no involvement with any paramilitary group, and in a third incident two INLA members were also shot in a car, and once again they were unarmed.  This gave rise to allegations from republicans that the British government had adopted a “shoot to kill policy,” something which was denied at the time.

Northern Ireland History 1982 - The Stalker Enquiry

In the case of the first killings, the policemen were put on trial but the judge found them not to be guilty and in fact congratulated them on their work.  The controversy caused by this meant that John Stalker the Deputy Chief Constable of Manchester was brought in to investigate the incidents.  
Stalker complained at the time that his investigations were being hampered and was controversially removed from the enquiry, when disciplinary charges were brought against him back in Manchester.  These charges were dropped soon after his return.  

This was a time of some outrageous bombings and reprisals by the security forces.  I had just got married the previous year and in truth I believe living in Northern Ireland made me a very hardened person to the death and destruction that surrounded me.  People living elsewhere in the world would have been shocked by the everyday sights I encountered but to me it was all normal.  It is very sad to say that but it was just the way it was.

Another tool used by the RUC was the introduction of “Supergrasses.”  This was a system whereby former members of paramilitary groups could give evidence against former associates in return for a new life outside of Northern Ireland.  This could also often involve immunity from prosecution and the supergrasses being awarded large sums of money.  The system was objected to by various Human Right organisations but nevertheless it did serious damage to both Loyalist and Republican paramilitaries.  

In total there were over twenty of these supergrasses and their confessions rseulted in the arrest of over 600 suspects, many of whom were convicted on the word of the supergrass with no supporting evidence.  For both the Northern Ireland security forces and the British government it proved effective, because although they believed they knew many of the paramilitaries, they had difficulty prosecuting them due to lack of sufficient evidence, and the supergrass system got around this.  
Many judges started to question this method of law and indeed started not to convict and eventually they ground to a halt.  All of these security methods were introduced under Margaret Thatcher who Jim Prior admitted was a natural Unionist sympathiser.  The supergrasses also took a huge risk because they became despised and must have known their lives were under a constant and remaining threat.

Northern Ireland History - Political Movements

Thatcher did try some political solutions and most surprisingly developed a working relationship with Charles Haughey which initially seemed to go well.  It did not last long when the Irish government announced that as a result of these discussions, everything was up for discussion.  

Margaret Thatcher was furious at this interpretation.  

She had wanted to develop a closer relationship but had never had any thoughts whatsoever of a United Ireland.  James Prior was sent to Belfast to come up with an initiative and he came up with the idea of an elected assembly to which powers could be transferred whenever the parties could agree on certain areas.  It was like a reward scheme in that the better the agreement then the better the powers that would be transferred.  

It was yet another ill thought out disaster with politicians from the nationalist community refusing to take part in any assembly.  Sinn Fein had however realised that with the large number of votes that Bobby Sands had managed to get that there was an opportunity to develop this as a strategy.  

There were many nationalists within Northern Ireland who would not directly join or be seen to actively support the IRA, but nonetheless were sympathetic to a nationalist cause.  Sinn Fein as a political party could capture these feelings and would find support from a frustrated nationalist population and so they began to contest elections with some notable success.  One of the most significant of these was to get Gerry Adams elected as Westminster MP for West Belfast, despite the fact that Sinn Fein would not actually take up any of the seats they would win for Westminster.  Boosted by such victories in the North of Ireland, Sinn Fein then repeated a similar strategy in the Republic of Ireland and almost instantly picked up two seats. 

This strategy by Sinn Fein was worrying for the British government, the Irish government and also for the moderate SDLP party.  In fact their reaction that Ireland could turn into some type of Marxist state was probably an over the top reaction, it did however focus the minds of the above three on finding some type of political solution.  

Britain could not pursue a withdrawal as this would be viewed as defeat and neither could they accept the Ulster Unionist route of an amalgamation of Northern Ireland back into Britain and so they were left to come up with some type of solution that would at least capture the middle ground.  

A New Ireland Forum was convened by John Hume the leader of the SDLP and Gareth Fitzgerald along with senior nationalists.  They put forward a number of solutions, including a United Ireland, a Federal Ireland and an Ireland under joint authority.  

All of these were rejected by both the Unionists and by Margaret Thatcher.  In fact such was the intolerance showed by Margaret Thatcher that she seriously damaged Anglo-Irish relations and was in the end left in a situation that she asked Fitzgerald how she could make amends.  

The two governments had already been exploring ideas that would support constitutional nationalism and deflect the rise in political stature of Sinn Fein.  These ideas were given more focussed attention and were supported by John Hume and senior British civil servants such as Sir Robert Armstrong.  They together with senior Irish diplomats were then given the support of the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe.  The negotiations were both complex and detailed and in the main politicaly driven, though Thatcher did have more focus on security and improving the current situation rather than finding a lasting political settlement.  

Relationships of trust and openness were founded and this did result in the production of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.  In 1984 an IRA bomb ripped through a Brighton Hotel where Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party was holding their party conference.  Five people died and though much of the building was damaged the IRA did not succeed in killing Thatcher, which was their primary objective.

You can now read about the Anglo-Irish Agreement