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2 August 2007 Edition

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Belfast march will highlight human cost of 'Operation Bannner'

British soldiers arrive on the streets of Belfast, August 1969

British soldiers arrive on the streets of Belfast, August 1969

British military campaign ends but questions remain unanswered

BY LAURA FRIEL

In ancient Celtic mythology boundaries and borders held particular significance, the moment between day and night, the shoreline where land and water meet, the turning of one year into another.
It is perhaps fitting then, that Britain’s military campaign in the North of Ireland – the longest campaign in the history of the British army, was set to end this week at the stoke of midnight, as the month turned from July into August.
Sixty years ago the British ended their colonial occupation of India at the stroke of midnight on another August night. In comparison the ending of Operation Banner, the British Armys’ military campaign in the North of Ireland, was far more low key but in its own way just as significant.
Unlike India, the end of Britain’s military campaign of occupation in Ireland does not herald the realisation of national sovereignty. But it does represent another advance on the road to Irish unity and independence.
The British government has already abandoned its unilateral territorial claim and conceded a political mechanism to end their jurisdiction by democratic political means.
Military repression has been at the heart of British counter-insurgency strategy in the North for almost 40 years.
In a recently unearthed secret report, the British army admitted that they could not defeat the IRA or quell resistance to British rule despite the mass deployment of British troops and 38 years of military counter insurgency. The abandonment of this strategy, of which the end of Operation Banner is but a part, has cleared the way for further progressive political change.
But while the British Army may hope Operation Banner will slip away quietly in the dead of night, Irish republicans are determined not to let it.
The organisers of this months annual National Hunger Strike March are determined to shine a spotlight on Britain’s military campaign and demand the truth about the many deaths that have occurred not only directly at the hands of official British forces but also proxy forces, such as unionist paramilitary death squads.
The British army has been directly responsible for around 800 killings but it has also been implicated in up to a thousand more through their covert collusion with unionist paramilitaries.
The March for Truth is schedule to take place on Sunday 12 August and will march from various locations throughout Belfast to meet at City Hall for a rally at 3pm. The rally is to be addressed by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, as well as speakers from key groups campaigning for truth and justice.
Amongst the speakers will be Mark Thompson from Relatives for Justice, Margaret Irwin from Justice for the Forgotten and Amanda Fullerton, the daughter of Eddie Fullerton, the Sinn Féin councillor shot dead by a loyalist death squad at his home in Donegal.
Other initiatives, such as the launch of a Black Ribbon and the displaying of the Remembering Quilt, the publication of a report into the Springhill massacre, a vigil against plastic bullets at the Andersonstown barracks site and briefings on collusion are organised in the run up to the march.
On 9 July 1972 five people, two of them children and one a local priest were killed in the Springhill estate in West Belfast. Two other people were seriously injured. The fatal shots were fired from sandbagged sniper nests in Corrys timber yard where the British army had observation posts.
According to eyewitness accounts the incident began at 9.50pm when a sniper fired twice at two cars. As the occupants fled the vehicles the sniper fired 14 more shots, seriously injuring one man and pinning down other passengers for over an hour-and-a half.
A second sniper opened fire on two teenagers who went to assist the injured man. One was killed and the second seriously wounded. A third sniper shot dead a 13-year-old girl. A local priest and another man were shot dead as they attempted to reach the stricken child. A teenager who attempted to drag the bodies to safety was also shot dead.
Initially the British army claimed they had been under fire when they responded with one hit. They later claimed they came under fire for a second time and returned fire with six more hits. But as information surrounding the killings began to emerge, the British army changed their story and claimed the UDA had been responsible for the six killings.
The Springhill massacre is one of many unresolved incidents arising out of Britain’s military campaign in the North of Ireland where the truth has yet to be established.
Other incidents include Bloody Sunday in Derry 1972 in which 13 people were shot dead and another fatally injured by British paratroopers and the New Lodge massacre where a number of people were shot dead over a number of days by the British army in disputed circumstances.
They also include killings carried out by British forces in collusion with loyalist gunmen, such as the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the murder of members of the Miami Showband and the death of Donegal councillor Eddie Fullerton, as well as the more well known cases like the murder of defence lawyers Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson.
Summary execution was also a tactic deployed during Britain’s military campaign, not only through collusion and the deployment of unionist paramilitary death squads but also in shoot to kill, and killing zone operations involving both the RUC and SAS.
The most famous of these became the focus of a British inquiry headed by John Stalker, others include the shooting of Pearse Jordon in West Belfast and the Loughgall killings of eight IRA Volunteers by the SAS.
But Operation Banner wasn’t just about killings and shootings, it also involved the routine harassment of people on the streets and the destruction of homes during mass and random raiding. It was about military curfews, mass detention without trial and torture as well as detention. It was also about the judicial and political refusal to hold members of the British army and other state forces to account.
Next Sunday people from all over Ireland will be marching in Belfast to highlight the human consequences of Operation Banner.

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

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