Some of the witnesses were big names, and their testimony was fairly predictable. Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley viewed the problems of Northern Ireland in typically radical, polarised terms. John Taylor, the establishment Unionist, had been determined to defeat the IRA insurgents but was also worried about extreme Paisleyite loyalism. John Hume came across as a refreshing example of a non-sectarian liberal. But the real value of the evidence collected by the inquiry lies in what it tells us about the lives and motivations of ordinary Derry residents, soldiers and IRA men.
The Bloody Sunday massacre took place on 30 January 1972 in the city known to Catholic nationalists as Derry and to Protestant unionists as Londonderry. Inter-communal tensions were higher there than elsewhere in Northern Ireland, for a number of reasons: the city had an unusually emotive place in Irish history; it was close to the border with the Republic of Ireland; and it had a particularly fine demographic balance. Its system of local government was blatantly gerrymandered in favour of the Protestant minority, and this led to notorious injustice, particularly in the allocation of housing. There was also an unemployment problem and general economic deprivation. The welfare state took some of the edge off this, but social security provision was opposed both by unionists, who feared that it would attract Catholic migrants from the Republic, and by some nationalists, who felt that they were being bribed to fall in line with the British state.
Northern Ireland as a whole was still ruled by the devolved government at Stormont, which had been controlled by the Ulster Unionist Party without interruption since 1921. The government wielded draconian emergency powers, which were enforced by the Protestant-dominated police service, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). The results of this remarkable state of affairs were entirely predictable, and the Catholic population had good reason for complaining that they were treated like second-class citizens.
The shit hit the fan in the late 1960s, and the conflict rapidly got out of hand. One RUC photographer remembered how his job changed:
¶ From 1969, with the onset of civil unrest and the subsequent terrorist activity, the police photographer's job changed dramatically and life became very unpredictable. As well as our normal type of work we had to respond to all sorts of atrocities such as explosions, murders, knee capping incidents and life became one round of photographing serious injury, death and post mortems. (S.R. Penney)Much of the violence took place against the incongruous backdrop of a relatively affluent postwar European state. There was a striking juxtaposition between the ordinary and the extraordinary. One British solider recalled:
¶ I remember one old lady whose house was opposite a permanent army observation post at the corner of Bligh's Lane. She asked me if we could go away because she was fed up with her house being involved in firefights. I told her that we had been fired at from her house and we had returned fire for that reason. She shrugged her shoulders and said words to the effect of "I know, but I can't stop them". When my men subsequently raided the house we found evidence of a firing position in one of the rooms along with a number of empty bullet cases.... It was very common for the IRA to use houses in this way, whether the inhabitants approved or not. (INQ 598)The British Army had been deployed in Northern Ireland to maintain some semblance of order since 1969. The Army was on the side of the British state, but the Catholic community was dangerously exposed to sectarian violence, so the soldiers had initially been relatively warmly received by both sides. This soon changed, however. One soldier reported:
¶ The first time I went to Northern Ireland was in 1969 when I was involved in constructing the peace line between the Lower Falls and the Shankhill Road in Belfast.... The tour was excellent. Both sides were very friendly and used to give us cups of tea and even breakfast on occasions....
By the time I went back for my second tour of duty in about September or October 1970, I was once again deployed in the Shankhill Road area but there was a marked change in attitudes. The politeness I expected had gone. We were confronted by animosity and people used to tell us that we should not be there....
I remember when [the IRA] murdered three Scottish soldiers we felt that things had changed dramatically. I had been in the same bar as the three lads on the night when they were picked up. No one expected it to happen.
Subsequently, we were much more aware of personal safety off duty. We always accepted a risk while we were on duty but suddenly we were at risk and our families were at risk. For example, I had a Catholic girlfriend from the Lower Falls and the whole situation eventually broke up our relationship. (INQ 23)One of the developments which radicalised opinion and irreversibly discredited the Stormont government was the introduction of internment without trial in August 1971. Internment was used almost entirely against suspected Republican militants from the Catholic community; the threat from Protestant loyalist paramilitaries on the other side was largely ignored.
It is significant that the event which formed the backdrop to Bloody Sunday was a protest march against internment. That said, the marchers themselves seem to have had a mixture of motives for getting involved in the event - a desire to protest against the internment policy; or in favour of civil rights for Catholics; or for better economic conditions. Some just went along for the experience, or for personal reasons:
¶ I wasn't interested in the march but was interested in seeing which boys I was interested in, would be there. I therefore arranged with my friend Siobhan Liddy, who lived in the Creggan, that I would call for her and we would then carry on up to the Bishop's Field where people were to meet before the march set off. (Joan O'Hagan)
¶ At the time of the civil rights march on 30th January 1972, I was 19 or 20 years old. I was one of five children, but I had just got married and was raising a family of my own, I had never participated in marches and things like that before - it was just not my scene....
I used to go to my mother's house on Sundays and I left for the march from there. I went with my elder brother, Patrick. It was a spontaneous decision to go - everyone else was going on the march, so we thought we might as well go too.... I was amazed at the number of people who had turned out for the march. There were thousands. I remember thinking, "this must be right, all these people can't be wrong". (Hugh Young)
¶ I remember being excited about going on the march on Bloody Sunday, it was the first time that I had been allowed on a march. I was 18 at the time. I went with my friend, Pauline Ferry, who was also in the Knights of Malta [a first aid organisation]. I had no political feelings at the time, I just enjoyed going on the big march with my friend and showing off our white coats. (Eiblin Mahon)The march was organised by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, known as NICRA. Unusually for a political organisation in Northern Ireland, the purpose of NICRA was not to take a position on the sovereignty of the province but to campaign for civil liberties and equal rights within the existing constitutional structure.
Many unionists dismissed NICRA as a IRA front organisation. But this was, at best, a serious oversimplification. The truth is that NICRA was something new. Many of its members came from the Republican milieu, but they stood alongside people from other political families such as trade unionists, middle-class Catholics, radical students and moderate liberals. The organisation looked for inspiration not to the traditional pantheon of Irish nationalist patriots but to Martin Luther King and contemporary civil rights campaigners in America and Britain. One activist emphasised that NICRA demonstrations were focused on securing basic legal rights rather than contentious issues of nationalist politics:
¶ At the time of Bloody Sunday, for me, civil rights marches offered the opportunity to do something morally right. Members of the Catholic community in Derry were second-class citizens and were discriminated against. Any action taken against Government agencies was seen as anti Protestant but marches avoided that problem and were just about civil rights.
On previous marches I had acted as a steward as I was convinced of the propriety of being involved.... Civil rights marches were vehicles for people who had not protested before. They were a non-violent way of opposing injustice. Like me, many people were keen to examine their motives in being involved to ensure they were non-political. It is important to note how many people felt this way. (Michael McGuinness)NICRA was undeniably opposed to the established order in Northern Ireland; and it seems that some unionists failed to see a distinction between being anti-establishment and being pro-IRA. Nevertheless, NICRA was not a violent organisation. Many Republicans were members, but others didn't see the point of it:
¶ I was not a member of [NICRA] and I had no interest in that movement. NICRA were into using subtle methods to achieve their aims of non violence. This was not a relevant organisation to us. I am asked whether it is likely that the Provisional IRA provided stewards for the march [on Bloody Sunday]. The answer is no. The purpose of stewards was to keep people in line to stop them fighting. We were fighting people and it wouldn't make sense for fighting people to act as stewards to stop fighting. (PIRA 8)Inter-communal killings had been going on since the mid-1960s, but it was the start of the NICRA protest marches in 1968 that cracked Northern Ireland's thin veneer of civil order. It is one of the black ironies of those years that it was NICRA, a non-sectarian group with a moderate liberal programme, that opened the door to a bloody ethno-religious insurrection. This happened essentially because elements in the Protestant community, including members of the security forces, violently overreacted to NICRA's activities. This led in turn to a counter-reaction from the Catholic community:
¶ During the 1960s and 1970s, there was blatant discrimination against Catholics in housing and jobs. I went on the first civil rights march on 5th October 1968 and saw it battered into the ground by the RUC and army; even though there were a few Stormont MPs on the march, including Gerry Fitt. That was a small march and, if it hadn't been for the TV cameras on the march, it would have gone virtually unnoticed. The TV coverage of the march ignited strong anti-government feeling. For the first time in Irish history, people, who were treated as third class citizens, felt that the tide was about to turn. (Frank Elliott)
The People of Derry
Derry was a divided city, but the lines between the communities could be surprisingly blurred. Some Derry Catholics had British connections, extending even to service in the British armed forces. The local head of the RUC, Superintendent Lagan, was a Catholic. Some people started off on one side of the sectarian divide and ended up on the other:
¶ I had originally been a Protestant but had converted to Catholicism after marrying my wife, who was a Catholic. I had participated in the early civil rights marches, but I didn't attend the later ones as I did not wish to be involved in anything I perceived to be Republican in nature. (Alan Harkens)Interestingly, some English people who settled in Northern Ireland developed sympathies for the nationalist community when they saw how badly they were treated:
¶ As an Englishman I grew extremely worried by the single party Government of Northern Ireland. This state of affairs had been in place for more than forty years and it was amazing to me that Stormont had survived for so long. A significant proportion of the population of Northern Ireland was in a permanent minority and my suspicions grew that that this state of affairs was fundamentally undemocratic. It could lead to nothing but trouble....
Some of the abuses of power that were occurring were offensive to me as an Englishman. Things were done in Northern Ireland in the name of the United Kingdom Government that simply would not be allowed to happen in Britain. It was my firm belief that the Unionist party did not adhere to the United Kingdom, except on its own terms. (George Huxley)
¶ I was born in Goole, Yorkshire and raised in Norfolk and Norwich. I had lived in Derry since 1956. I met my wife in Derry and we decided to stay. I decided to go on the Civil Rights march on the day that became known as Bloody Sunday. It seemed to me to be extremely unfair that I had a vote in Derry at the time because I was a householder, when Irish people who had lived there all their lives had no vote. I wanted to join in the protest about the lack of civil rights for the catholic people in Derry. (Clifford Lancaster)Some local Derry people seem to have been essentially apolitical:
¶ I was 34 at the time of Bloody Sunday. I was born in Derry.... I distanced myself from what was going on at the time and kept myself to myself. I took no interest in politics and religion. I knew the march was going on that day but I was not concerned about their definition of "civil rights". (Thomas Wilson)
¶ We were not a political family. Neither my father nor any of my brothers were members of political or other organisations. My mother would not have allowed us to get involved in anything which would have been dangerous....
There was not much talk of the march in the house although some of my brothers and sisters were going to participate. I paid very little attention because I was not interestedOthers started off as apolitical but didn't stay that way. One of these was the poet Seamus Heaney:
in politics and I was also trying to get myself organised to go out with my boyfriend.... I remember feeling uneasy about my brothers and sisters going on the march but I am not sure why.... They were only really going on the march because their friends were going. (Catherine Lyons)
¶ I was 17 at the time of the first march in Derry, on 5 October 1968.... Everyone I was with got soaked to the skin by the water cannon used by the police, and after that all hell broke loose. I got hit on the back of the head by a policeman's baton. The result of that day was to politicise me and my friends and I therefore went on all civil rights marches afterwards. I was an active rioter on those marches and the tradition would be to go on the march and then to challenge the police and, in later times, the army. There were recognised rules of rioting, in terms of what was acceptable and what was not.The concept of rules of rioting sounds strange, but other witnesses too spoke of the institutionalised, almost ritualistic nature of rioting in the city:
¶ Rioting in Derry was commonplace. It happened nearly every day.... Certainly, every Saturday there was a riot and numbers of rioters varied between 10 and 200. The army, as usual, just sat out on the wasteground watching the rioters. (PIRA 18)
¶ When we were in the city, there were regular riots, particularly on a Saturday. They always used to finish at around the same time, about 5 o'clock. We soon realised that people left at that time so they could go home and watch themselves on television; there were always TV cameramen in the area. (Soldier 105)One self-confessed rioter had this to say:
¶ In my view, the rioting which took place on Bloody Sunday was not orchestrated. It simply followed the pattern of the rioting which took place every Saturday. I and a number of other like minded youths, (mainly 15, 16, 17 year olds), would gather every Saturday at the junction of William Street, Rossville Street and Little James Street where we would throw stones at the soldiers....
There were certain rules followed by the rioters and the British army during these encounters. We would throw stones and snatch squads would be sent in....
My view is that the army enjoyed the confrontations with rioters. There were clear rules of engagement and no one suffered serious injury. (Paddy McCauley)Several witnesses attested that the regular afternoon rioting sessions were popularly known as "matinée performances".
The rioters included a group of young men known as the "Derry Young Hooligans". The Army seem to have regarded these fellows as being little different from the IRA. One senior officer said:
¶ A lot of people in Londonderry at that time were absolutely decent, pleasant people going about their business. There was, however... a hardcore known as the "Derry Young Hooligans" who were a constant irritation to the decent people of the City. The name Derry Young Hooligans was actually a complementary description as these were nasty, brutish young thugs who threw stones and petrol bombs, burnt cars and broke into houses....
The Derry Young Hooligans were regarded as a front for the IRA; they worked in conjunction with the IRA. They were basically young people with strong Republican tendencies. (INQ 598)Yet testimony from the hooligans themselves tells a different story. In at least some cases, their supposed Republican commitments were lukewarm or non-existent. The individuals concerned come across more as bored young teenagers than anything else:
¶ I was 17 years old on Bloody Sunday.... I was looking forward to the march because I was a well known rioter and there was going to be a riot. I had been arrested on the Tuesday night before. I was not arrested as a member of the Republican Movement because I would only ever have been on the edge of it....
I was not a member of the Republican movement, although, as I have said, I would have been on the edge of it and was moving in that direction. (Brian Powers)
¶ At the time of Bloody Sunday, I was 17 years old. Around that time, I was probably what you would describe as a Derry Young Hooligan. I was growing up in Derry and was just bored. Although I was a rioter, I never really hurt anybody. I was simply being a teenager.... We were just rioters looking for something to do. Now I am older and looking back, it was all just a bit of craic. We were just looking for some fun. It used to keep us fit from all the running, and few were ever caught....
I felt the whole world was telling us that we were bad. However, I never joined the IRA as I didn't believe in it. (William Burke)
The British Soldiers
The presence of British soldiers was a source of aggravation to the local nationalist population. In some cases, the problems could be quite mundane:
¶ I had grown up with the troubles and felt the injustices of my situation. I had a lot of resentment - I was at that age where I was stopped by the army wherever I went. We used to cross the border to go to dances and it had got to the stage that the soldiers had stopped us so often that they knew our first names. (Brian McCay)There was also a real element of physical brutality. One Derry man who had been living abroad was shocked when he saw the Army's behaviour at close hand shortly before Bloody Sunday:
¶ When I actually saw the paratroopers in action at Magilligan, my opinion of what was happening in Northern Ireland changed dramatically. I saw the paratroopers shooting rubber bullets into the crowd and using their batons to beat civilians. One incident in particular shocked me. I saw a young man throw all caution to the wind and leap onto the back of a paratrooper to prevent him batoning another marcher. I saw the paratrooper turn around and lift his rubber bullet gun and discharge it. I saw the discharge of the shot coming out under the flap of the young man's jacket. If the discharge had gone off in the young man's stomach, he would surely have killed him at such close range. Immediately afterwards, I saw that soldier's superior give him a blistering reprimand and striking him with a baton. Seeing the paratroopers deployed for such vigorous crowd control did not to me reflect the actions of a civilised regime. I began to question the way that London was handling the Irish situation. I now realised that the news coverage I had heard did not give the full story of what was going on. I began to think that there was some justice in the course of action taken by the nationalists. (Dan McGuinness)A local doctor gave this account:
¶ When I entered my house, I could see that my son Paddy and his friends were all in the house. I asked him what they were doing inside as on Sundays they would usually be playing football in the street. They told me that the soldiers had kicked their ball into the wasteland area nearby and had chased them inside calling them "Fenian fuckers". Just after I entered the house, I saw out of the window my brother-in-law... being stopped by the paras. They were very rough with him. They made him spread his legs apart so they could body search him and when his legs were not far enough apart they kicked his ankles and made him spread his legs wider. They also squeezed his testicles....
At that point, I wondered what was keeping Kathleen as she had not followed me into the house. I turned around and saw her standing on the bottom front step to our house with a soldier's gun in her stomach. The soldier was also standing on our front step and a couple of other soldiers were standing around nearby. I was furious. I went back down the steps and pushed the gun away from my wife. (Donal MacDermott)Despite the casual reference to "Fenian fuckers", the general impression that comes through from the soldiers' testimony is that they neither understood nor cared about the political dimension of Northern Ireland's problems. Soldiering was their profession, and they were there to do a job. The local RUC men seem to have thought more highly of them than vice versa:
¶ I took no interest in the politics of Northern Ireland. As the army, we were stuck in the middle between the Republicans and the Protestants and it was safer not to take sides. (INQ 404)
¶ When we arrived in Northern Ireland it became apparent that the RUC welcomed the army because the army was supposed to be helping the RUC.... The old B-Specials were still in the RUC and they had problems with people of other faith. We didn't give a damn about all that.... Quite a lot of the RUC were members of the Orange Order then but, although they invited us to their pubs saying that they would sort out any potential problems, we were wary of this and didn't take them up on this. (INQ 480)We can probably trust the soldiers' testimony on this because the local people seem to have thought much the same thing:
¶ Prior to Bloody Sunday there was more animosity towards the RUC than to the army. The RUC were local people who were actively involved in the political differences, whereas the average British squaddie wouldn't know the difference between the Irish Army and the IRA. (Eunan O'Donnell)It is only fair to say that the RUC were human beings too. One RUC officer was deeply affected by the aftermath of Bloody Sunday:
¶ When we arrived at the hospital, we went straight to the morgue where the 13 dead men were laid out. This is a sight which will never leave me. It struck me that all the men were so young. It was the worst day of my life, save for the day when they had the funerals....
What happened that day has haunted the people of Derry ever since. I don't think that the people will ever come to terms with what happened. It was a horrendous day. I even considered resigning afterwards. (John Woods)As for life on the streets of Troubles-era Ulster, a few of the British soldiers relished the challenge:
¶ I found Northern Ireland to be very exciting. To be wearing a maroon beret on the streets of Belfast was second to none. I thoroughly enjoyed it. By the time of the day of Bloody Sunday we were still on my first tour. It was a fantastic time. All the training we had done came to fruition during our tour. Moving into no-go areas was one of the first times where the terrorists stood up and said, "we are here", and we were able to do the same. I did not find it scary at all. (INQ 993)But this was not necessarily a typical view. For most young squaddies in the early 1970s, a posting to Northern Ireland was a mixed proposition. If it could be exciting, it was also demanding and dangerous. A number of witnesses gave some insight into the other side of the average British soldier's experience:
¶ It was not particularly enjoyable in Northern Ireland, but I chose to be a Para which was the cream of the British Army as far as the infantry was concerned. I never enjoyed the dangerous situations we found ourselves in, I was always nervous and apprehensive, but I was a professional soldier and this was what I wanted to do. (INQ 1544)
¶ It was a real eye opener being stationed in Londonderry and I would say that I had to grow up very fast. Life was very hard and the hours were very long. At the beginning of this tour, we would experience the odd petrol bomb being thrown. As the situation got worse, the use of nail bombs started as well and by mid 1971 the sound of gunfire was common. I believe that at least two members of the battalion were actually killed by gunfire during this tour. I came under fire myself while I was on duty once on the top of the Embassy Dance Hall. (INQ 994)
¶ My main memory of the tour was that I would work twenty out of every twenty-four hours and each day involved a lot of waiting around. As a soldier who, at the time, was only (redacted) years old, I decided that the best policy for me during the tour was to keep my head down and generally hope for the best whenever I was on duty. The atmosphere in Londonderry was tense at times. As a soldier you never felt safe and were hardly ever able to venture out from barracks. I do recall that, on occasions, soldiers would go out to a particular pub in Coleraine and a pub in Ballykelly, but the atmosphere in the pub would be very eerie. During the tour, two soldiers in my battalion were shot at a city location known as Mex's garage and, in a separate incident, another soldier was shot through a gap in a wall when carrying out a patrol by the river Foyle just two days before he was due to return home on leave. (INQ 407)In some cases, it was the little things that stuck in the memory:
¶ Often, it was the little 7 year old girls swearing at us that upset me the most. I used to try and think it was the uniform they were swearing at, not me as a person, but I couldn't help be surprised that these little girls knew more swear words than I did. (Soldier 140)
What of the other armed force that was active at the time? In 1969, the IRA had split into two factions: the Official IRA, which focused on revolutionary socialist politics; and the Provisional IRA, which conducted most of the armed campaign against British rule.
The relationship between the two wings of the IRA was one of tense, uneasy coexistence. An Official IRA officer explained:
¶ The Official IRA were the political brains and less military minded than the Provisional IRA.... Neither organisation wanted to show any outward hostility to the other but I did not like the Provisionals. Sometimes they could behave like cheap two bit gunmen - often, we would have to help them out when they got into trouble. If they found out that the Official IRA had any weapons or ammunition stored away, they would have been the first to steal it. If I had seen a Provisional member in the street I would have acknowledged him but I would not have trusted him. (Reg Tester)One witness from the Provisionals gave more blunt testimony:
Q. I would like to turn next to the question of the relationship between the Provisional IRA and the Official IRA in January 1972.... You say that you have no knowledge of the Official IRA's intentions for the day and you... say that never in a million years would you have had any joint operations with the Official IRA. In January 1972 did the Official IRA patrol the Bogside and the Brandywell areas?One Republican witness who had been in the Official IRA talked at some length about his background. He described being radicalised by the deteriorating situation and the behaviour of the security forces:
A. They did, yes....
Q. Was there any contact at all between the Bogside and Brandywell sections of the Provisional IRA and their equivalents in the Officials?
A. The only contact that I am aware of is that the Provisional IRA instructed the Official IRA that if they ever endangered the lives of any Provisional IRA volunteers, that they would pay for [it] dearly....
LORD SAVILLE: Were the feelings running so strong that there might well have been the odd punch-up between Officials and Provisionals during those days and weeks coming up to Bloody Sunday?
A. Oh, it could have happened, yes. (PIRA 8)
¶ In January 1972 I was 19 years old. I was interested in what was happening politically. I had a certain grasp of politics and had been on various civil rights protests in the period 1968 to 1970. It had got to the point where turning the other cheek was no longer working for me. The realisation dawned that throwing stones and petrol bombs at the police who responded with batons was not going to solve the problems and something else needed to be done.... I therefore joined the IRA....
The Battle of the Bogside [in August 1969] had opened my eyes.... It keeps coming back to me that for most of us, this was our first contact with the police. This was a time when we were more afraid of the priest than the police....
Between the launch of internment in August 1971 and Christmas 1971 my door had been taken off its hinges several times by the Army. It was becoming personal. I knew a few people who had been scooped up [when internment was introduced]. There were also stories filtering out from what was happening in Long Kesh to those who had been interned. There were stories about dogs, people being hosed down, soldiers beating up prisoners in the huts, hooding, people being tortured and there was even a story of someone being thrown out of a helicopter. (OIRA 7)This Provisional IRA man likewise talked about how enlistment in the IRA followed a kind of progression from protest marches and rioting:
¶ The Thursday before Bloody Sunday, I went to a meeting at some disused shops behind the Bogside Inn.... It was at this meeting that I swore an oath and understood that I was pledging my allegiance to the provisional IRA.... I was one of the younger members. I was aged 17 at the time.
My first exposure to protest marches was in 1968, when I was 14. I was caught up in the aftermath of the Duke Street march.... I got caught up in the crowd of marchers and witnessed the police baton-charging the crowd. I really hated the police for doing that.
I was involved on the fringes of the Republican movement for about 6 months before Bloody Sunday.... I became involved in rioting and, as a result of this, I got to know a few guys who were already in the Provisional IRA....
We were youngsters on the fringes of the IRA who were keen to be involved in the excitement of it all and who wanted to be closer to the movement. I had no contact with weapons at this stage; our role was... being lookouts, keeping an eye out, monitoring troops, and generally helping out....
As I have said, I was actually sworn in as a volunteer on the Thursday night before Bloody Sunday. I walked down with a guy from the Creggan. He said he was going to join and I went along with him. There were about 20 guys there altogether.... People were in good spirits because there had been 2 successful hits on the RUC that day. There was a formal swearing in and we were each allocated to a section. (PIRA 19)In a number of cases, people became involved in the Republican movement through a youth organisation called the Fianna. A Republican family background also helped:
¶ I first became involved in the Republican movement when I was 13 or 14 years old, and I joined the Fianna, before the split between OIRA and PIRA.... At the time it was really a boy scout organisation, tying knots and going on camps. There were some political or Republican oriented lectures, but there was no weapons training....
I was next involved in the Republican movement when I joined PIRA in about April or May 1971, shortly after my 16th birthday. No one checked my age, and I was not aware that there was a minimum age. I had a family history of involvement with the Republican movement and so my age was probably less of a concern. There was no particular reason or event that provoked me to join - it just seemed like a natural progression. I was formally sworn in. I do not know when my brother joined the PIRA, but he was a member before I joined. (PIRA 26)One Official IRA man had joined up in the mid-60s, before the Troubles really got going, with vaguely romantic notions in his mind. It was only after the strife got serious that he realised what he was fighting for:
¶ I was born on [redacted] 1944. When I joined up, I was sworn in by [redacted] in a formal fashion.... I don't think I really realised what I was getting into. I wasn't into politics and there was nothing spectacular going on in the mid 1960s. Looking back now, I can't really give a reason why I joined. I was not hyped up about anything in particular, but joining up sounded like a fantasy, and I was possibly joining up to prove something to myself.
Having joined up, there was nothing happening either. There were only three or four people involved in the IRA in Derry at the time and we never had big meetings or anything like that and there was no action. It was not until the late 1960s, and the Civil Rights marches of 1968 that I started to get a grasp of what was happening in the six counties. I started better to realise what the IRA stood for, but even so, there was still not much IRA activity. It was not until internment in August 1971 and after Bloody Sunday that people really started to join up in great numbers. (OIRA 6)
The Intelligence Services
We may close by quoting the testimony of Colin Wallace, an intelligence operative who later fell out with his colleagues. Wallace provided a fascinating insight into the paranoia that existed in some corners of the British intelligence underworld.
¶ The growth of Left Wing protest and worldwide terrorism had a marked impact on how the security community viewed the violence in Northern Ireland. This was the time of the Japanese Red Star Army, Baader Meinhof in Germany, Black September and other Arab terrorist organisations in the Middle East engaged in aircraft hijackings and Soviet Intelligence aiding revolutionary groups throughout the world. At the same time, the IRA was trying to forge links with various foreign terrorist groups. Inevitably, the Intelligence Services saw the violence in Northern Ireland as yet another manifestation of the wider global pattern of subversion generally. There was a paranoia about a worldwide communist conspiracy....
It is also worth remembering that in the early 1970's in the UK itself there was a considerable amount of industrial unrest. This was seen by some senior members of the Intelligence community as part of the overall communist plot.... At that time, a number of former senior military and Intelligence personalities formed paramilitary groups such as Unison and GB75. They argued that there was a wholesale threat of subversion and that if there was a total breakdown of law and order they would have to pick up the pieces.