12 August 2005

Today in history: Police use tear gas in Bogside

BBC ON THIS DAY

12 August 1969



The Royal Ulster Constabulary has used tear gas for the first time in its history after nine hours of rioting in the mainly-Catholic Bogside area of Derry.

There have been numerous outbreaks of violence between Catholics and Protestants since the start of the summer marching season. Catholic feeling against the Royal Ulster Constabulary is also running high over their brutal tactics.

The shells were fired just before midnight sending a large crowd of youths scattering in all directions. Many sought refuge in nearby houses where residents treated their streaming eyes.

A police armoured car was then sent at speed to break through the barricades the crowd had erected and roared off down Roseville Street, smashing smaller barriers in its path.

As a crowd started to gather round the vehicle, the doors burst open and more tear gas grenades were hurled out.

Water cannon

The trouble began during the annual Apprentice Boys march.

There were clashes as the Apprentice Boys marched along the wall, past the perimeter of the Catholic Bogside area. The RUC intervened and within hours the trouble had escalated into a full-scale riot.

The Northern Ireland Prime Minister Major James Chichester-Clark called a meeting last night of the Ulster Cabinet security committee at police headquarters in Belfast.

It followed earlier violence in Londonderry city centre. Rioters threw petrol bombs, stones and iron bars against the armoured trucks and water cannon being used by police.

Protestants who gathered near the barricade in Roseville Street were egged on by police, as they aimed catapults armed with stones at the Roman Catholics on the other side.

One American reporter, Robert Mott of the Washington Post, was clubbed to the ground and kicked during a police baton charge. He is said to have resumed reporting after treatment.

At one point a crowd from the Bogside began attacking police in Sackville Street. From the other end of the road a crowd of Protestant youths started advancing, picking up stones and hurling them back.

It was only after various Catholic and civil rights workers, including local MP and prominent civil rights worker, Ivan Cooper, intervened that some order was restored.

Mr Cooper was later knocked unconscious by a stone.

The Independent MP for Mid-Ulster, Bernadette Devlin, toured the area of Roseville Street urging demonstrators to get back behind the barriers, which had been hastily constructed using paving stones and planks left by building contractors working on new housing.

Eventually police made another baton charge up Roseville Street to clear the rioters - but they were followed by a group of stone-throwing Protestants and gradually beaten back.

The Protestant Apprentice Boys were set up in memory of 13 apprentice boy supporters of William of Orange who defended Derry against the forces of the Catholic King James II in 1688

In Context

The Apprentice Boys march was allowed to go ahead despite repeated warnings of trouble.

The two days of rioting which followed became known as the Battle of the Bogside. It ended with the direct intervention from Britain in the affairs of Northern Ireland.

Four hundred soldiers of the 1st Battalion, The Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire, were deployed on the streets of Derry.

They were called in at the request of the Northern Ireland Prime Minister Major Chichester-Clark to prevent the total breakdown of law and order and give some respite to police.

The troops were already on standby at the Sea Eagle naval base on the outskirts of Londonderry. They arrived in full battle kit with steel helmets, self-loading rifles and machine guns, but with strict orders to keep their gun safety-catches on.

Their neutral attitude was initially welcomed by residents on both sides of the barricades and an uneasy peace deal was struck.

But the violence spread to Belfast where five Catholics and one Protestant were killed on 14 August.

The following day troops were deployed there.

General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland, Lieutenant-General Sir Ian Freeland, told the media at the time the honeymoon period between troops and local people was likely to be short-lived. He was right, within months the welcome had turned to violence.

The Parades Commission, an independent quasi-judicial body, was set up in 1997 with the power to ban or impose conditions on parades.



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