2 August 2007 Edition
British soldiers pull out : Adams calls for support for March for Truth
British Army campaign in Ireland ends
At midnight on Tuesday, 31 July all British military personnel in the Six Counties were recalled to their barracks, bringing to an end the longest continuous campaign in British Army history.
Codenamed by the British army, Operation Banner, the campaign began with the deployment of three British army infantry battalions to the North of Ireland in 1969. But within two years, the inability of the British military to subdue the popular uprising emerging out of the Civil Rights Movement and spearheaded by the IRA, eventually lead to the deployment of around 30,000 British soldiers at over a 100 different locations.
Over 300,000 British soldiers have served in the North in the intervening years and were directly responsible for killing hundreds of people across the Six Counties. The British military were also responsible for the deaths of at least 1,000 more people North and South through their direction of and collusion with unionist paramilitaries.
From Wednesday the number of troops in the North were being reduced to a “peacetime” garrison of around 5,000.
Earlier this month an internal report examining the British army’s role in the Six Counties over a period of almost four decades concluded it did not and could not defeat the IRA. The British army also admitted to military and publicity blunders during its campaign and that not enough of an effort was made to reach a political resolution of the conflict. The admission was further evidence of the validity of the long-standing republican argument that the British could not defeat republican demands by militarily means and that British policy in Ireland was wrong headed.
Commenting this week on the ending of the British army’s campaign, Sinn Féin North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly said that when the British Army arrived on the streets of the North in 1969 that it quickly became clear that it would be an oppressive force and was going to be used against one section of the community to maintain British rule.
“When the British Army arrived in the North in 1969 it quickly became clear that it would be an oppressive force and would be used against the nationalist community to maintain British rule”, Kelly said.
“While the so-called Operation Banner had been in response to the loyalist pogroms against the nationalist community, that had been supported the B-Specials and RUC, the brutalisation of nationalists across the North caused huge suffering.
“The British Army was part of a military response to a situation that was political. It was a response that included torture, shoot-to-kill and collusion with loyalist death squads. The military response failed.”
Speaking to the media Kelly, himself a former IRA prisoner, said the latest development was hugely significant.
During the early ‘70s, when he was on the run, Kelly said, details of nearly every working-class Catholic’s home was held on computers, with people being stopped by soldiers and asked to describe the colour of the wallpaper in the house they were staying.
“They had it on file. They used to walk into houses at night and count everyone there – from babies up – to keep check,” Kelly said.
“When you talk about Orwell’s book 1984, this was real Big Brother stuff big time,” he said.
“The harassment was so in your face. These are emotive words but it was oppressive in a very personal way. That’s the type of thing that was put under the banner of counter-intelligence,” the Six County Junior Minister said. But, he claimed, this was simply a repetition of the tactics used by the British army in every part of the world where they went as a colonial occupier.
“The tactics used by the British Army here are the same as the ones being deployed in Iraq today and the consequences can be seen by everyone.
“It was only when republicans forced the British government to admit that the conflict would only be resolved through political negotiations that progress was achieved.”
This year’s annual August national march in Belfast has as its theme ‘March for Truth’. The objective of the march is to draw attention to the major issue of collusion and British state violence, and the administrative and institutional cover-up by the British government and its state agencies, of a policy which resulted in many thousands of victims who were killed, injured or bereaved.
Sin Féin President Gerry Adams MP is urging people to come out in their thousands in support of the many families who are campaigning for Truth.
He is also asking everyone to wear on the day of the march and rally a black ribbon in solidarity with their families.
Speaking ahead of the 31 July end to the British Army’s so-called ‘Operation Banner’ Gerry Adams said:
“During over three decades of conflict successive British governments employed shoot-to-kill operations; rubber and plastic bullets; counter-gangs directly run by MI5 and others, as well as the various unionist paramilitary organisations to wage a war of terror against the nationalist and republican people.
“Thousands were injured, over a thousand people killed and many families were forced to flee their homes.
“Collusion and the use of counter-gangs were an integral part of British policy.
“The decision to pursue this approach was taken at the highest levels of the British state and in some instances the orders to kill came directly from Downing Street and were subsequently publicly defended by British Ministers.
“In recent time a series of reports by the Ombudsman’s office and by international jurists into scores of killings have exposed the extent to which British intelligence, MI5, the UDR and the RUC Special Branch managed the death squads, provided information, weapons and training in the use of those weapons.
“I am appealing for people to demonstrate their support and solidarity with all of the victims and their families by attending the march on 12 August and by wearing a black ribbon on the day.”