Category: Archive

Borderline hysteria

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The “doomsday” plan, as it has been dubbed, never got off the drawing board, but its revelation in British secret state papers released under the annual 30-year declassification rule indicates just how serious the situation in the North had become.
The year 1972 opened with Bloody Sunday, the shooting deaths of 14 unarmed Catholic civil rights marchers in Derry. Bloody Friday, the IRA’s 11-bomb blitz in Belfast, took place in July.
Furtive peace talks between the British and the IRA led nowhere but did cause the then 23-year-old Gerry Adams to be noted by British officials as “impressive.” Stormont was suspended and direct rule imposed.
Heath’s foreign secretary, a former prime minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, sent his leader a “secret and personal note” about direct rule.
“I really dislike direct rule for Northern Ireland, because I do not believe they are like the Scots or the Welsh, or ever will be,” Douglas-Home wrote.
“The real British interest would be best served by pushing them towards a united Ireland.”
In conclusion, wrote Douglas-Home: “Our parliamentary history is one long story of trouble with the Irish.”
It is the plan to redraw the border that has gained the most attention in Ireland, north and south.
Heath’s officials dismissed the idea as probably unworkable, but the prime minister also asked them to look at the possibility of large-scale security operations against both the Protestant and Catholic communities to “shock” them into making peace with each other.
If the border were to have been redrawn, the documents reveal, at least 213,000 Catholics and 143,000 Protestants would have been moved, and possibly a border of straight lines imposed, which would have been more easily defended than the existing maze of hedges, fields and rivers.
Last week, one observer said the plan would have made Belfast “an entirely Protestant city in a tiny Protestant state.”
In the documents discussing forced movement of Catholics and Protestants away from each other, officials admitted that Belfast, with a large Catholic working-class minority in 1972, would be particularly hard to deal with. They expected many casualties and also noted that implementing such a policy would show the world that Northern Ireland as an entity had failed.
Lord Kilclooney, better known as John Taylor, former Ulster Unionist MP and deputy leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, called the plan “an idiotic
“It would have meant the movement of half a million people,” he said.
In Derry City, Sinn Fein councilor Mary Nelis said that even in 1972, people of the Bogside suspected that such a possibility was on the table.
“That was definitely an option, because Thatcher had it again in the 1980s,” she said.
Nelis said that had Derry City been forced into County Donegal, “the people of Donegal wouldn’t have wanted us.” Also, no one in Derry would have been forced into the Irish Republic on British terms, she said, a sentiment that probably confirms British officials’ fears at the time that the policy would result in massive casualties.
Nelis said that an act of such brutality would have merely highlighted once again the misery of partition.
“Donegal was a county that never knew whether it was north or south,” she added. “It would not have resolved anything. [A three county Protestant Northern Ireland] would never have survived. Look at the Six Counties, they wouldn’t have survived if the British had not propped them up,” she said.
Heath’s additional idea of a massive security operation against both communities to shock them toward peace making, would have required many additional troops, official papers noted. Thousands of troops were to be recalled from Germany and a state of emergency would be used to “put an end to violence and give [Protestants and Catholics] a violent shock in the hope of avoiding anarchy and of forcing them to agree upon a solution.”
Details of the plans are not known because only the general outline was released to the public. Cabinet Secretary Sir Burke Trend warned Heath at the time that any of the options would destroy “for many years” any possible rapprochement between Catholics and the British government.
But a scaled-down version of the exercise did go ahead in the form of the controversial Operation Motorman on July 31, destroying the so-called no-go areas in Derry and Belfast.
The issue of the border reaches back in history to the imposition of partition in 1921, when Lloyd George also briefly considered drawing the border across counties. It was realized then that a nine-county Ulster with Counties Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan would contain too many Catholics to survive as a Protestant-dominated entity.
The plan presented as an option to Heath noted that the Irish Republic could not be expected to accept as many as 500,000 Catholics without land as well.
“Assuming it were undertaken, the Republic would surely not accept 500,000 Catholics without land for them to live on,” the report said. “About one third of the population of Northern Ireland would be on the move. If voluntary or induced movement failed, would compulsion be practicable? It would raise in an even more acute form the definition of who should move.”
The report noted that not all Catholics were Irish republicans and said that some Catholics supported the union. In their conclusion, the unidentified civil servants noted that the plan would breach the European Convention on Human Rights, would have no effect on the IRA, and potentially would leave any Catholics still within Northern Ireland in a worse situation.
They wrote: “Any faint hope of success must be set against the implications of a course which would demonstrate to the world that HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] was unable to bring about the peaceable solution of problems save by expelling large numbers of its own citizens — and doing so on a religious basis.”
State papers from 1972 also reveal the extent of secret talks between the IRA and the British government, even during some of the worst acts of violence of 1972.
Talks took place between IRA and British representatives within days of the events of Bloody Sunday.
One of the IRA representatives was the then 23-year-old Gerry Adams, now president of Sinn Fein and a key player in the current peace process.
At the time, British officials noted that Adams was an impressive figure who seemed keen to bring the violence in the North to an end. But it would be many years before Adams came to the fore again as an integral part of today’s peace process. Nor did the doomsday plan ever get beyond the drawing board.
In their conclusion, the authors of the report stated: “Unless the government were prepared to be completely ruthless in use of force, the chances of imposing a settlement consisting of a new partition with some compulsory transfer of population would be negligible.”
Looking back over the years of the Troubles, Mary Nelis said that the Heath plan, later revisited by Margaret Thatcher, had taken place anyway.
“It’s interesting that there has been a natural relocation of the population anyway,” she said. “Limavady used to be predominantly Unionist, now it’s half-and-half. Most of the province west of the Bann is nationalist.”
The 2001 census results for Northern Ireland confirmed before Christmas that the Protestant population is falling while the Catholic population is growing, albeit more slowly than many observers anticipated.
Nelis continued: “I think it’s sad whatever way we look at it. Partition worked. We shouldn’t worry anymore if there will be a united Ireland or not; there will be one. It’s the quality of the united Ireland that we get that we’re concerned about.”
Over the years, she said, the border in her area had become irrelevant.
“Most Derry people have dismantled the border in their heads anyway,” she said.
But as Protestants move eastward and out of the province altogether, and the Catholic population increases, Heath’s doomsday plan has indeed occurred naturally, even if the border remains always where it was first imposed.

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