Northern Ireland History - Northern Ireland Troubles 1990-1992

Northern Ireland History 1990-1992

I was 33 years of age by this time and married with two daughters.  I lived in a suburb of North Belfast about 8 miles from Belfast City Centre.  It was all about getting to work, earning some money and raising my family as best I could.  In the middle of trying to do that, the mayhem continued and 1991 was no different to what had gone on before.  

In February of 1991 the IRA launched an attack at the very heart of the British government when they launched a mortar attack on Number Ten Downing Street.  For those of you who are not familiar, No 10 Downing Street is where the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom actually lives and is where government business is done with the government cabinet.  

John Major, who had replaced Margaret Thatcher as British Prime Minister was chairing a meetng of Ministers and discussing the Gulf War.  The IRA came within a few feet of wiping out half of the British Cabinet and this proved to be very embarassing for the British security services and a major propaganda coup for the IRA.  The IRA continued their attacks in Britain during the year of 1991 and loyalist violence in Northern Ireland also increased.

The UVF in particular became more violent under the leadership of Billy Wright (King Rat) in the Portadown area of County Armagh.  Four Catholics were killed in a bar in the small village of Cappagh and later that month two teenage Catholic girls and a Catholic man were killed at a mobile shop in a housing estate in Craigavon.  

The then Secretary of State Tom King was replaced by Peter Brooke and his appointment was met generally with some worry as to his ability to do the job.  He was often referred to locally as “Babbling Brooke” but was in fact a rather friendly man who was more astute than he was probably given credit for.  In November 1990 he did deliver a speech which declared “The British government has no selfish, strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland: our role is to help, enable and encourage.  Britain’s purpose, as I have sought to describe it, is not to occupy, oppress or exploit, but to ensure democratic debate and free democratic choice.  That is our way.”

Although this raised an interest from Republicans they were to be excluded from any negotiations and Brooke continued to nudge and persuade the main parties to talk to each other.  Despite his persistence the talks really did not get anywhere.  This was a pattern that had repeated itself for years and when this one was announced on the news, the people of Northern Ireland had grown rather weary of the same failed approaches.

Northern Ireland History 1992 - Teebane Massacre

On the 17th January 1992 an IRA bomb in County Tyrone blew a van of Protestant workers to pieces.  This incident took place at Teebane Crossroads and was a scene of death and mutilation.  This is often referred to as the “Teebane Massacre”.  Only two weeks later an off duty policeman Allen Moore posed as a journalist and entered the Sinn Fein Office on the Fall’s Road in Belfast.  He killed three men on the ground floor and then drove to a secluded spot and turned the pump action shotgun on himself.  This was a strange event even for the hardened people of Northern Ireland.  

One day later the UDA entered a bookmaker’s shop on the Ormeau Road in Belfast and shot dead five Catholics in revenge for the Teebane killings.  This bookmakers was attacked simply because it was in a Catholic area and the element that signed your death warrant was the wrong place at the wrong time.  That was often how death happened in Northern Ireland.  You didn’t have to be involved in anything or be a member of the security forces. You simply were at the hands of the people who either wanted revenge of wanted to kill someone.  There was seldom a reason for death or for losing your limbs.  Only two weeks after that the SAS had a gun battle in Coalisland with four IRA men dead and two more injured.  The violence and depths of violence appeared to know no ends.

£700 million was the damage caused in April 1992 when two bombs by the IRA were set off in the financial heartland of the City of London. The bomb had been placed near to the Baltic Exchange and the tall buildings around it caused a funnelling effect into surrounding buildings.  In effect the bomb had nowhere to escape and caused very serious damage.  Three people were killed including a young fifteen year old girl.  Sadly this was almost forgotten as the newspapers showed pictures of the wrecked buildings and talked about the economic impact of the IRA bombings.  I can remember many of the news bulletins and in truth although they mentioned the deaths, most of the focus appeared to be on the fact that the financial heartland of London had been attacked and that the damage caused was in the millions of pounds.  The British authorities were desperate to avoid any repeats of this scale.

Brooke was replaced by Sir Patrick Mayhew as the latest Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.  As soon as he arrived he pushed ahead with the talks that Brooke had started and again excluded Sinn Fein and the IRA.  He did move them on a little but they would ultimately prove to be unsuccessful.  

In these initial talks the Unionists wanted rid of Articles 2&3 of the Irish Constitution which laid legal claim to Northern Ireland and the SDLP wanted to further develop the principles of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.  Unionist politicians were dismayed when John Hume of the SDLP advocated a direct role for both Dublin and Europe in running Northern Ireland.  They had hoped he would have settled for a Northern Ireland government with some modest linkage to Dublin.  

As this political vaccum continued so too did the violence.  Two IRA bombs placed in litter bins in Warrington, near to Liverpool in England killed two young children and injured 56 other people.  Timothy Parry was aged only 12 years old and Jonathan Ball was a three year old boy.  A wave of revulsion ran throughout Britan and Ireland and tens of thousands of people attended a peace rally in Dublin.  The IRA almost oblivious to the revulsion set off another large bomb in Bishopsgate in the financial district of London with damages estimated at £1 billion.

You can now read about the Northern Ireland Peace Process