The history of thirty years of conflict in Northern Ireland, as it is being written today, might give the impression of a steady progression towards an inevitable and just conclusion. The new suspect community in this country, Muslims, want to know whether their experience today can be compared with that of the Irish in the last third of the 20th century. It is dangerously misleading to assert that it was the conflict in Northern Ireland which produced the many terrible wrongs in the country's recent history: it was injustice that created and fuelled the conflict. Before Bloody Sunday, when British soldiers shot and killed 13 unarmed Catholic demonstrators who were marching to demand not a united Ireland but equal rights in employment, education and housing (as well as an end to internment), the IRA was a diminished organisation, unable to recruit. After Bloody Sunday volunteers from every part of Ireland and every background came forward. Over the years of the conflict, every lawless action on the part of the British state provoked a similar reaction: internment, 'shoot to kill', the use of torture (hooding, extreme stress positions, mock executions), brutally obtained false confessions and fabricated evidence. This was registered by the community most affected, but the British public, in whose name these actions were taken, remained ignorant: that the state was seen to be combating terrorism sufficed. Central to the anger and despair that fuelled the conflict was the realisation that the British courts offered neither protection nor justice. The Widgery Report into Bloody Sunday, which was carried out by the lord chief justice, absolved the British army and backed its false account of 13 murders, ensuring that Irish nationalists would see the legal system as being aligned against them.
LRB 10 April 2008 | PDF Download