Ireland Revisited: Part 4
In the aftermath of Bloody Sunday the Provisional IRA swelled with numbers, mostly disenfranchised nationalist youths who wanted to ‘hit back’ at the perceived injustices against their community. From this position of strength the Provisionals began planning a revenge attack to rival that of Bloody Sunday. The Provisionals did declare a truce for a short period of time in June 1972 whilst exploratory talks continued between the republican hierarchy and the British Government. However, these talks ended as they began, with mistrust and skepticism, which ensured no deal ever materialised. Acknowledging that no deal with the British Government was likely, the Provisionals decided to go ahead with their plans to avenge Bloody Sunday and this plan came to fruition less than a month later on Friday 21st July.
The Belfast brigade of the Provisional IRA detonated some 22 bombs in Belfast City Centre almost simultaneously, in a plan they hoped would stretch the security forces to the limit and cause widespread economic damage. However, the attack did not have the intended effect, and instead of cementing support in nationalist communities it disgusted many who then turned their backs on the organization. Despite the number of fatalities and injuries, the Provisional IRA blamed the security services for failing to act adequately on telephone warnings, a claim which was angrily dismissed by the British Government and senior RUC officers.
Within several days of Bloody Friday, then Northern Ireland Secretary William Whitelaw ordered 20,000 soldiers from the British army into previous ‘no go areas’ of Northern Ireland, including Belfast and the Bogside area of Derry, a move which escalated an already volatile situation. On the same night, in the small village of Claudy, three car bombs went off, killing nine people and injuring many more. The Provisional IRA, although the main suspects, denied responsibility for the attacks.
Whilst the Troubles raged, the British Government was drawing up contingency plans for the North. One idea was to repartition Northern Ireland into Catholic and Protestant districts, with the former being allowed to join the Republic of Ireland. Another idea was to have the North governed jointly by Britain and the Republic of Ireland, with the citizens enjoying dual citizenship. However, despite these suggestions, the British Government opted for containment of the Provisional IRA rather than risk upsetting unionists.
Loyalist paramilitaries also continued their campaign against the republican and nationalist communities throughout 1972, mostly *** for tat killings of innocent Catholic civilians who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. One such act occurred on the 1st December 1972 when two loyalist car bombs were detonated in Dublin, killing two civilians and injuring a further 127 people. Therefore, the war was not just being fought in Northern Ireland but on English and Republic of Ireland soil too, as the Official IRA perfectly illustrated earlier in the year when they detonated a bomb at the Aldershot Army Barracks in England. So, although the North was the main battlefield of the ‘Troubles’, the ramifications were to be felt elsewhere, often with devastating results.
Such targeting outside the main arena served a purpose to both the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries. The Official and Provisional IRA knew that by maintaining a conflict in Northern Ireland the British Government could operate a policy of containment – ‘out of sight and out of mind’ – whereas attacks on mainland Britain created huge international media coverage as well as indelibly focusing the Northern Ireland problem in the English public psyche. As well as this, international publicity, regardless of its content, shone the media spotlight on Northern Ireland and helped gain support for Irish militant republicanism, chiefly from America, which was vital in helping the Provisional IRA maintain and supplement their arms.
Likewise, loyalists knew that attacks on Dublin would bring significant pressure upon the Irish government and remind it that if Irish unity ever did materialise, loyalism was ready and capable of striking at the heart of the country. By the end of 1972, 496 had been killed, 258 of them civilians. The bloodiest year of the ‘Troubles’ also saw 10,600 shootings, 1,400 explosions and 36,000 homes searched by security services. Although the Troubles peaked very early, this by no means meant an abrupt end to the bombs and murders…
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