Provos : the IRA and Sinn Fein For over a quarter of a century the citizens of Northern Ireland have lived through a nightmare of bloodshed and violence in which the provisional IRA has killed 1800 people and injured thousands more.
Today, its political leaders are at the negociating table. This series tells the extraordinary story of how they got there.
The Republican movement, the provisional IRA and Sinn Fein is the product of a history it lives and breathes
every day. The provisionals have one single-minded purpose : to force Britain to withdraw from the North and unify Ireland. Its leaders seek their mandate from the past. Here history and the present are one.
Gerry Adams “ We come here as Marion said with dignity. They, the people in their green uniform are no threat to us.”
When British troops were deployed in 1969, the provos did not exist. Today their leaders are in all party talks to negociate peace.To their supporters the graves in Milltown cemetery tell of a journey that began centuries ago, when Britain ruled the whole of Ireland.
In 1921, British troops withdrew from the south after a guerilla war with the IRA but Britain remained in the north. Protestants there had threatened to leave. The country was partitioned and the seeds of the current conflict were sown.
Sir Oliver Wright UK government representative 1969-1970:”The partition of Ireland, I imagine people thought Oh,thank God, now at last, we’ve got Ireland off our backs and they can govern themselves, but it wasn’t to be.”
A border was built to accommodate conflicting political aspirations, Catholic nationalists who wanted a united Ireland, and unionists who wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom. 26 counties became independent and 6 counties became the state of Northern Ireland. The border was drawn by the British to guarantee the unionists a majority and end the threat of loyalist revolt. The new state was governed by a unionist dominated parliament at Stormont, just outside Belfast.
Sir Oliver Wright :” Democracy, in the circumstances of Northern Ireland then equated for tyranny, a minor form of tyranny not a Stalinist form of tyranny, but that was what the Sormont parliament was about.”
The IRA whose guerilla war led to partition grew out of the events in Easter 1916. Rebels were imprisoned after proclaiming an independent Republic during the rising in Dublin. Their commanders were condemned to death.
Peter Taylor :”The leaders of the rising were executed by a British firing squad here in the courtyard of Killmaynen jail. Nevertheless the IRA fought on but partition destroyed its dream. The organization split with a handful determined to drive Britain out of the north. In 1962 after the failure of its latest campaign it decided that its military ventures were futile, and put its guns away.”
The IRA veteran John Kelly became one of the founder members of the provisional IRA. He saw abandoning the military campaign as betrayal.
John Kelly, former IRA HQ staff “The IRA was in a state of disarray. The military line had been neglected in favour of a more socialist, Marxist-leninist approach, with which most of the republicans disagreed which led to the anger of the republican movement and disaffection of many of the politicians within the movement.”
The harsh reality of life led by most catholics in the partitioned north was epitomized by the conditions in which they lived in the protestant dominated city of Derry.
To protestants Derry’s ancient walls symbolized their supremacy, once defended by their forefathers against catholic invaders. Although catholics were a majority, they were treated as second-class citizens, most lived beneath the walls, relegated there by electoral boundaries drawn by unionists determined to retain political control. Catholics were concentrated in the bogside by the protestant-controlled city council. Often there were three catholic families to one house, poverty was endemic. The bogsiders had little : no power, few civil rights, and few jobs. Work was often a protestant privilege.
John Hume Mp, Leader SDLP :”Within what was called the United Kingdom, you had the worst ijustices in the whole of Europe.”
Crowd singing :” We shall overcome some day.”
Catholics took to the streets demanding civil rights.