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Cabinet Papers (1970) IRA scattered by ’69 attacks

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — The IRA was in disarray when Catholic areas of the North were attacked in August 1969 and had only a handful of guns, according to a previously secret assessment of the "explosive" situation by Irish Army Intelligence.

"The IRA was caught on the wrong foot. Members fleeing from the North and reinforcements coming from the South more or less met in the border counties," says a military assessment released by the National Archives Office.

The Stormont government had lost control of the situation as the RUC, B Special police and UVF went on the "rampage."

"The only conclusion one could come to is that plans were laid to teach Catholics a lesson by letting a heavily armed section of the community loose on a largely unarmed and defenseless minority," the assessment said.

"It could be described as an illustration of Protestant power. It is not too much of an exaggeration to state that extreme Protestantism, as represented by [Rev. Ian] Paisley, and not the Unionist government were in control."

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The document describes how the IRA attempted to regroup and take pressure off the beleaguered nationalist areas of Belfast and Derry.

The IRA saw the time as "ripe" to get a united Ireland and began planning to achieve this on the basis of the "Vietnam" model.

Guerrilla units would harass the Stormont regime and with a major propaganda effort they hoped to establish the Irish army as the only acceptable force capable of restoring order.

Gas embarrassment

Outcry about the use of CS gas to control riots in Northern Ireland caused embarrassment in Dublin in 1970 as the Irish army had large stockpiles of the chemical weapon despite the fact that Ireland had voted against its use in war at the UN.

Newly released secret documents reveal that only "mild representations" had been made to London about the use of the gas on the streets in the North.

British troops fired tear gas grenades for the first time in these islands in August 1969 in an effort to quell disturbances in the city’s Bogside area.

When the matter was to be raised in the Dail in 1970, a briefing document from civil servants stressed the sensitivity surrounding the fact that Ireland had become one of Britain’s best customers for the purchase of CS gas.

The London ambassador, J.G. Molloy, was instructed to ask the British to withhold using the gas again until a committee studying its effects had reported.

External Affairs Department Secretary Hugh McCann wrote to the Defense Department secretary, Sean O Cearnaigh, saying details of the instruction should not be used in the Dail "if it can be avoided."

The British Foreign Office turned down the ambassador’s request for a gassing "moratorium."

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