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22 May 1997 Edition

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Remembering the Past: Internment 1922

In a further attempt to consolidate their position and to subdue the nationalist minority, the new Six County regime introduced internment without trial in May 1922.

May saw the height of the loyalist pogroms against the nationalist population with the killing of Catholics and the burning and looting of their homes and shops by loyalist gangs backed by the `B' Specials an almost daily occurrence. 44 civilians died, two-thirds of them Catholics, and over 400 nationalist families were driven from their homes.

As the sectarian attacks escalated, the IRA, already over-stretched in its attempts to defend the beleaguered nationalist population, hit back with a new weapon - a campaign of burning the businesses, factories and homes of leading loyalist bigots.

The republican paper, The Plain People, outlined the reason for the attacks. ``The one way to meet the Anglo-Orange extermination campaign as conducted by Generals Wilson and Sally Flood is the way the IRA are meeting it - consigning to the flames the manufactories and businesses of the power behind the murders...

``Every factory destroyed is a blow at the enemy. Collins's British-inspired ideas of conciliation by surrendering would not achieve that in a thousand years. The IRA...are already accomplishing it by their policy of hitting at the British Orange allies in their pockets and stomachs. Therefore, we say go on with the burnings.''

The IRA had also decided to hit those politicians who were urging more and more repression. On 17 May WJ Twaddle, MP for West Belfast, declared that ``if the loyalist population of Northern Ireland are pressed to any greater extent than they have been... they will, irrespective of this House, defend and protect themselves.'' On 22 May he was shot dead on the way to his shop in Belfast's North Street.

The Six-County regime, led by James Craig, immediately banned the IRA, IRB, Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan and Fianna Eireann, and under the new Special Powers Act introduced internment without trial. A blanket curfew from 10pm to 6am in all areas of Belfast was later extended to all of the Six Counties.

Over 500 men from Tyrone, Derry, Fermanagh, Armagh and Belfast were arrested. Despite the daily loyalist sectarian murders the internees were all republicans. At first they were held in Crumlin Road Jail, Belfast, Larne workhouse and a camp near Newtownards, but in June they were transferred to an old ship, the Argenta, which was moored off Carrickfergus.

Conditions on the Argenta, which was later moved to Larne Harbour, were atrocious. The internees had no tables or chairs, were badly fed, lived in cramped and crowded conditions, only received three hours exercise a day and were frequently beaten by the `B' Specials.

In September 1922, 36 men were moved to Derry jail, and over-crowding on board the Argenta was further eased with the transfer of 200 hunger-strikers to Derry the following September.

The appalling conditions endured by the internees took its toll on the men. While some were released due to illness, many never recovered. Two young men, Gillespie from Sion Mills and William Hyndman from Belfast, were released in poor health and died shortly afterwards.

In July 1924 after two years in operation, and a year after the ending of the Civil War in the 26 Counties in May 1923, internment was ended in the Six Counties and the republican internees were released from Derry Jail and the Argenta.

Internment without trial was first introduced in the Six Counties on 22 May 1922, 75 years ago this week.

An Phoblacht
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