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23 March 2005 Edition

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Propaganda posing as history

Eddie Butler, Hugh Doherty, Joe O'Connell and Harry Duggan arrive at the 1998 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis

Eddie Butler, Hugh Doherty, Joe O'Connell and Harry Duggan arrive at the 1998 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis

TV Documentary Review

The Year London Blew Up


The Year London Blew Up, a drama/documentary broadcast on RTÉ 1 over two nights last week, suffered from a virulent tunnel vision in relation to the particular years in which the events occurred.

The programme took the form of a dramatised, sequential narrative of events involved in the IRA's 1974-'75 campaign in London. This was interspersed with interviews with members of Scotland Yard's Bomb Squad and people who had been present or injured in some of the actions. It was characteristic of the piece's tone that a very brief comment by Danny Morrison formed the only republican interview throughout.

This failure to contextualise the events being treated made it taste more of propaganda than any genuine attempt to examine the period.

We were told simply that the IRA had begun its campaign in the hope of sickening British public opinion and generating demands for a British withdrawal from Ireland. Never mind that 1974 was one of the bloodiest years of the conflict — a year which, prior to the London campaign, saw the UWC strike bring into the open the symbiotic nature of the unionist political leadership and the loyalist murder gangs and indeed their British masters.

It was a year that saw the British launch a vicious series of no-warning bomb attacks in Dublin and Monaghan against a supposedly sovereign neighbour. (The 26-County state chose to exercise its sovereignty in relation to this attack by handing back the forensic evidence to the perpetrators and systematically covering it up).

Thus, when crown forces were targeted in Guildford on 5 October, no one should have been surprised. This was not a bolt out of the blue, a senseless and motiveless attack on innocent people, as portrayed. The interviews with witnesses were designed to reinforce this message, as the lack of context removed any ability by the viewer to understand these terrible events.

More worrying still were the interviews with prominent members of the then Bomb Squad. These English police officers were not asked any awkward questions about the innocent people they framed for the Guildford attacks. Indeed, the whole issue of miscarriages of justice was barely mentioned.

The members of the IRA unit captured at Balcombe Street were released under the Good Friday Agreement. They were not a bunch of thugs, as this piece portrayed. They acted in a context much wider than that shown to us by this programme.

It was a context that those in power in Britain had created and were desperately trying to preserve.


"We have fought British imperialism" - Brixton Brigade - By Mícheál MacDonncha

Last week's two-part documentary The Year London Blew Up provided a fascinating glimpse of the IRA's campaign in the English capital in the 1970s. The programmes screened on RTÉ used the drama-documentary style to telling effect, mixing reconstruction, news footage and interviews. The impact of the campaign, which went on from late 1974 through much of 1975, was very clear.

What was not so clear, however, was the political context. The background in Ireland was internment without trial, British Army repression on a massive scale, loyalist counter-gangs unleashed — including in Dublin and Monaghan in '74 — and the meltdown of the Orange state. Only in that context can the ferocity of this IRA unit's campaign be understood.

Perhaps the most notable omission from the programme was its failure to mention what the men themselves said at their trial on exactly this point. So here is the statement read from the dock by Joe O'Connell, Officer Commanding the 'Brixton Brigade', at the trial in January 1977.

"Members of the jury.

There has been an attempt by this court to isolate certain incidents which have been called 'crimes'. These incidents have been put completely outside the context in which they occurred in a way that is neither just nor consistent with the truth.

The true context is that of the relationship between this country and our country — Ireland. That relationship is one of a state of war against the occupation of Ireland by Britain.

No mention has been made in this court of the violence suffered by the Irish people; of the use of internment without charge or trial in the Six Counties; of the conviction before the European Court of Human Rights of the British government fore the torture of Irish people, nor of the many brutalities of British colonial rule. The judge has attempted to restrict the reference to bombings and shootings to 'terrorist' offences.

We would like to ask the judge whether the bombing of Hiroshima and Dresden were terrorist offences? Whether the torture carried out by British soldiers in Aden and Cyprus and Nola Camp Kenya were acts of terrorism? Whether the British were guilty of terrorism when they forced thousands of civilians into concentration camps in South Africa where thousands of them died?

We say that no representative of British imperialism is fit to pass judgement on us, for this government has been guilty of the very things for which we now stand accused. This government carries out acts of terrorism in order to defend British imperialism and continues to do so in Ireland.

We have struggled to free our country from British rule. We are patriots. British soldiers in Northern Ireland are mercenaries of British imperialism. Yet none of them has ever been convicted for the murders of unarmed civilians which they have committed in Ireland.

We do not wish to insult the members of the jury when we say that they are not our peers. An English jury can never be the peers of Irish men and women. We will be judged only by our countrymen. Any verdict or sentence from this court is nothing more than the continuation of the hypocrisy of British rule in Ireland and the injustices it has inflicted on our country and its people.

We admitted no 'crimes' and to no 'guilt' for the real crimes and guilt are those of British imperialism committed against our people. The war against imperialism is a just war and it will go on, for true peace can only come when a nation is free from oppression and injustice.

Whether we are imprisoned or not is irrelevant for our whole nation is the prisoner of British imperialism. The British people who choose to ignore this or to swallow the lies of the British gutter press are responsible for the actions of their government unless they stand out against them.

As Volunteers in the Irish Republican Army we have fought to free our oppressed nation from its bondage to British imperialism of which this court is an integral part."

Joe O'Connell, Eddie Butler, Harry Duggan, Hugh Doherty

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