Ireland Revisited: Part 7
Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were both vocal opponents of the Provisional IRA’s short ceasefire in 1975, both arguing that it was a British ploy to entice PIRA members out of the shadows, where the organization could then be infiltrated more effectively by the British security agencies. Adams, allegedly the Commanding Officer of the Provisional IRA in Belfast since Seamus Twomey was arrested in 1973, sought to move away from the ‘Brits out’ mantra and instead began planning for ‘The Long War’.
The ‘Long War’ involved a radical restructuring of the Provisionals into small cells which, Adams had anticipated, would be harder to infiltrate. It also was an acceptance by the Provisional IRA leadership that British withdrawal was not inevitable; instead it would be a long drawn process which according to the Provisional IRA, should instead focus on wearing down the British Government’s resolve to remain in Ireland. Adams also insisted Sinn Fein increase their political activity, thus encompassing politics with armed struggle to achieve a united Ireland. Therefore, the two pronged approach, whereby the Provisional IRA carried out the armed duties was established, with Sinn Fein maintaining the propaganda machine and public spokesperson for the republican movement.
Whilst the Provisional IRA regrouped following the disastrous ceasefire, the ‘Troubles’ raged on with no end in sight. The year 1976 started off in typically brutal fashion. Within just two days at the beginning of 1976, 15 men were shot dead and a sixteenth suffered injuries that would claim his life less than a month later. Six Catholics were murdered in loyalist attacks in Armagh in January 1976 and on the 4th January UVF gunmen burst into the Reavey household in Whitecross, shooting dead brothers Brian and John Reavey, with younger brother Anthony dying from his injuries some three weeks later.
In retaliation, the following day the Provisional IRA carried out one of its most infamous atrocities. The Kingsmill Massacre (as it became known) took place on 5th January 1976 and although denied to this day by the Provisional IRA, many have attributed the carnage to them, despite an organization calling itself the ‘South Armagh Republican Action Force’ claiming responsibility. Twelve men were on a minibus from work in Glenanne going to Bessbrook when stopped by republican militants, masquerading as a British army checkpoint.
The occupants of the mini bus got out and lined up against it, assuming they were being checked and searched by the British Army, UDR or RUC. However, one of the gunmen ordered Richard Hughes (the only Catholic on the bus) to step forward and immediately the eleven remaining Protestants feared they were dealing with a loyalist paramilitary group intent on killing the only Catholic and thus they tried to stop him from admitting his religion. However the lead gunman told Hughes to leave the area immediately and “don’t look back”. The eleven remaining Protestants were shot, with a total of 136 live rounds being fired in less than a minute, with only one man (Alan Black) surviving, despite his 18 gunshot wounds.
By now Northern Ireland had been in the midst of ***-for-tat sectarian warfare, with retaliation and counter-retaliatory attacks becoming the norm, devoid of any real strategy on how to bring an end to the conflict. The following years however, would see the Provisional IRA revert back to type and being ‘successful’ in its attempts to kill ‘legitimate’ targets, some of which included the Queen’s cousin Lord Mountbatten and 18 British Army personnel in Warrenpoint’s bloodiest day…
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