29 December 2005

Ceasefire breakdown seen as propaganda opportunity


National archives

Owen Bowcott
Thursday December 29, 2005
The Guardian

The breakdown of the IRA's extended ceasefire in 1975 was anticipated in Whitehall as an opportunity to launch "black propaganda" attacks and blame republicans for the return to violence.

A memorandum drafted by the Foreign Office also proposed continuing clandestine contacts with the provisional movement and loyalist paramilitaries, while only arresting the leaders of hardline factions. The strategy reveals that behind the scenes there was little confidence that the IRA's suspension of hostilities would deliver a resolution to the conflict.

Attempts to engage Harold Wilson in negotiations had begun several years earlier. When opposition leader, he had met IRA leaders in Dublin and Buckinghamshire during 1972 and 1973. John O'Connell, an Irish MP who acted as the go-between, tried to arrange more contacts in early 1975. The prime minister referred the new approach to the Northern Ireland Office. "What he proposes is, in my view ... unacceptable," Wilson noted.

The suggested conditions for a "permanent truce" were the "appointment of a commission of three [to look at the future of the province] ... steady release of detainees, political amnesty when peace is permanent ... and the sending of two people to talk to the IRA".

By late January, the NIO was more optimistic. "There was an extremely strong desire for peace in both communities, as evinced by the large numbers who were attending peace rallies," an official noted.

On February 10, the IRA announced the suspension of hostilities. But early hopes were soon disappointed. Arthur Galsworthy, UK ambassador in Dublin, recorded that "contacts with Provisional Sinn Féin had continued spasmodically, but had revealed no sign of any desire on their part to discuss 'macro-political' questions".

A report from army headquarters in Lisburn in July, marked "secret", said: "We have seen many reports during the last six months indicating that PIRA [Provisional IRA] have been taking advantage of the ceasefire to carry out some degree of restructuring."

In August, shortly before the ceasefire expired, the Foreign Office drafted its strategy paper. Entitled The ending of the ceasefire: HM government's aims and the means to achieve them, the document noted its first duty was to "minimise the danger to the civilian population and to the security forces". The second was to "ensure that all the blame for the breakdown and consequent events lies on the PIRA in the eyes of the Catholic population, the Irish people and government, the USA, the Vatican, international public opinion generally and the British public".

Other aims were the "maintenance of contacts with Provisional Sinn Féin" and "Protestant paramilitaries" as well as the pursuit of "black propaganda designed to sow suspicions between the PIRA [and other republican factions]".

Comments: Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?