Aftermath of the Hunt report
EVERYBODY in the North awaited the Hunt Report during the uneasy lull between the two spates of killings in the last three months. The fate of the B Specials would determine which faction had gained from the tragic events of August. Furthermore the Civil Rights Association knew that whatever about their constitutional victories, which would only marginally affect the mass of Catholics, there would be no chance of keeping peace in Catholic areas so long as they lived in fear of the B Specials.
The Unionists, on the other hand, knew that there would be violent opposition to the phasing out of the Specials in all the militant areas of the North. Most working class Unionists understood very little about the aims and demands of the C.R.A. and accordingly had allowed countless reforms to pass through Stormont unmolested but the Specials were different and any move against them would provoke immediate, spontaneous reaction. Certain Unionists knew that such a reaction could help them seize power.
Feeling in Unionist circles prior to the issue of the Hunt report was confident. The Labour Conference had been conciliatory to Unionist opinion. Mr. Callaghan had not overtly criticised the Specials and had pointed to certain Catholic malpractices in the field of education. The Hunt Commission, furthermore, had received most of its evidence from the Specials and the R.U.C. The Unionists were little prepared for the coming blitz.
Callaghan arrived on October 9 with a big package of unexpected reforms. This was probably a victory for the anti-Unionist lobby in Westminster. But it almost certainly ensured another bout of fighting in the streets when Callaghan announced that it was " time to put an end to nonsense in the streets." On the same day at a press conference on his arrival in Belfast he made an openly partisan remark" I think it is a disgrace that a young M.P. should be driven out by extremists in his own party" when he referred to Mr. Richard Ferguson M.P.
About the same time ten opposition M.Ps. met Mr. Brian Faulkner who miraculously declared that he was prepared to change his skilfully gerrymandered local government constituencies. On the following day Callaghan met representatives of the trade unions and the Churches. During the day the Hunt Report was circulated among Unionist M.P.s. It met strong opposition from most members who rightly considered that it would cause a strong backlash. It was rumoured on the same day that two Junior Ministers, John Taylor and John Brooke, were on the point of resigning.Then on the following day, October II, the Hunt Report was publicly endorsed by the parliamentary party. Seven M.P.s voted against it; Craig, West, McQuade, Boal and Mitchell were among them. While the parliamentary party were squabbling Callaghan announced at a press conference, at which no prominent representatives of Stormont were present, that housing was in future to be organised by a central authority. This explained the rapid change of heart of Brian Faulkner the day before. This proposal cut the heart out of Unionist politics. Gerrymandering is based on housing and patronage in the allocation of houses is highly important.
The Hunt Report suggested that the R.U.C. be disarmed, that a police authority representing both Catholics and Protestants be set up, that the B Specials be replaced by an ill defined group, that the Special Powers Act be repealed and that the control of security in the North rest with Britain.At the same time the head of the R.U.C. Anthony Peacocke, was deposed. This was revealed when he announced that he would soon look for another job in the North, and when the second in command of the R.U.c., Graham Shillington, welcomed the report as a "great challenge to the R.U.C." The new head was, of course, British.
All these proposals came in a single day and if the British government had a coherent strategy this barrage would have been far less sudden. There immediately appeared signs of well laid plans for resistance. On the following Saturday, October 13, the people of Shankill rose. About 3,000 walked down the Shankill towards Unity Walk fiats. This was a sequel to an afternoon of sit-downs in the area and numerous briefings from member of the Shankill Defence Association of small groups of young men.
The crowd was stopped at Townsend Street which is near the bottom of the road within 600 yards of the Catholic area. A well considered plan was at once put into effect. \Vhen the troops and R.U.C. used tear gas on the crowd it broke up. Immediately snipers opened fire from streets parallel and slightly above the line of troops. In the first burst of fire Constable Arbuckle was killed and several troops would have been but for their bullet-proof ve3ts. Before there was a chance to reply the crowd had reformed covering the snipers and was in1mediately infuriated by the unprecedentedly savage behaviour of the army" snatch squads" which made forays into the crowd shouting anti-Irish slogans and using their batons freely.
It is clear that a significant number of B Specials were involved in this attack. During the night the army found seven sub machine-guns left abandoned on the road which must have been the property of Specials. On Sunday morning the army found several more machine guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in houses on the Shankill but since most of the owners were B Specials they could not arrest them. They also found and confiscated Radio Orange. Its absence was to have a greater effect in keeping peace in Shankill than the oft-praised early closing hours.
During the whole of Saturday William Craig had been in contact with the Shankill Defence Association. On Sunday he met militants in the area and began his campaign for power. In the previous weeks he had preparcd well. He re-opened his friendship with Ian Paisley and agreed to speak in The Ulster Hall. He saw that a clash between the right wing and the cabinet would be certain in the event of a clash between the troops and the people of Shankill.
At a mass meeting near the top of the Shankill that night Craig spoke to 9 a crowd of about 1,500. Instead of encouraging them to go home he used a mixture of incitement and exhortation. The theme of his speech was that he would not be responsible for what happened if journalists and British troops did not leave the Shankill by midnight (a condition which he knew to be impossible).
Craig had begun his campaign with the support of most Northern Protestants. His popularity among Presbyterians was testified to by many clergy at a meeting of their whole clergy a week later. The reaction to this popular, fascist challenge was two-fold. On the one hand Stormont, presumably with the backing of Westminster, moderated the Hunt proposals and on the other the army began a full scale repression of working class Protestants.
For three days after the publication of thc Hunt Report the Stormont government had made no attempt to expand the details of the new defence force. This may have been a deliberate decision taken by Callaghan to ascertain the depth of the reaction. But at any rate the silence of prominent Stormont politicians must have given little hope to the Protestant militia.Certainly
informed Catholic opinion at the beginning assumed that the new force would be non-sectarian. On Thursday Gogarty had said" we welcome the eventual exit of the the B Specials," Fitt added" we are satisfied with the recommendations contained in the Report" and Doherty announced that " it looks like a change and a change for the better." Such comments no doubt did nothing to alleviate Protestant fears. It looked like total victory for the Catholics and final humiliation for Stormont.
Immcdiately on Sunday morning Stormont became more explicit. Chichester-Clark climaxed an embarrassing T.V. performance by saying " the B Specials will be extremely welcome to join the new force" . . . "the B Specials now serving will be very much welcome in the new force and indeed their loyalty, their determination and their experience will be very much needed in that new force." Since the Stormont Prime Minister has a new script writer from London this was not an accidental reversion to old time Unionism. Indeed on the same day Roy Bradford had told the B Specials to join the force.
These sentiments were soon followed by a statement by John Taylor that membership would require an Oath of Loyalty to the Crown. In private right-wing Unionist M.P.s assured their constituents that B Specials would have first preference. Many pressed Westminster to enlarge the force so that such claims would carry more plausibility. The possibility of prominent Catholic leaders giving a lead by joining the new force was minimised by John Taylor when he announced that the loyalty of members of the force in the past would be scrutinised. This would undoubtedly embrace many of the prescnt Catholic leaders who have distinctly Republican origins.
In this manner immediate rvolt by the whole Unionist Party was stopped. Revolt by most of the B Specials was avoided by private assurances given by right-wingcrs at private meetings. In the fortnight after the issue of the Report most of the B Specials who had resigned in Armagh, Down and Bangor had rejoined.
Further street unrest was made unlikely by the troops. Radio Orange was destroyed, people were arrested for smelling of tcar gas in bed on the morning following the killings. Two spccial courts were set up on Monday 13th, and eventually another 200 Protestants ended up in jail. Machine gun nests were placed on top of houses all over the Shankill and any provocation led to' in1mediate arrcst. Army evidence in Court was often higWy tendentious but highly efficient. About 300 men from Shankill are now incarcerated, including the Chairman of the Shankill Defence Committee, John McKeague. This leaves a very weak fighting force. The army left no doubt that in future it would stand for no nonsense in Belfast. On Sunday October 12 a helicopter hovered over Shankill warning people of the consequences of resistance. A demonstration in Sandy Row, three days later, was broken up when an army truck drove straight at a group of women sitting on the road.
All this had the effect of increasing bitterness but temporarily resistance was crushed. At any rate both the R.U.C. riot squad and the people of Shankill were shocked when Constable Arbuckle was shot. The widow of the dead officer confided that she felt no worry for him on the night he was shot because he was with his own. So Craig battled on alone, confident that he could win the Constituency Councils. At first Stormont deliberately delayed this meeting and Craig mounted his campaign.
On October 13 Craig announced that" I will be pressing for a debate to be carried on in the full Unionist Council." He continued by saying of the Premiership" do not rule me out" and said the people of Ulster will "have to take a leaf out of the Republican Socialist rebellion in order tomakethemselvesheard."The following day he said" this country is on the brink of civil war." Two days later he prophesied that" Westminster could not suspend Stormont without loosing rivers of blood." He said of the Unionist Council" attempts are being made to block this meeting for. obvious reasons but we do not propose to allow these attempts to succeed." Next day he continued by stating" despite all the sweet talk, we are being offered a new police force with new blue uniforms and armed with water pistols." It was, he remarked a " force trained in exacting tasks like helping the traffic wardens." On the twenty-first he reached his peak when he declared that" I would not rule out the use of arms if \Vestminster was to take over, suspend the Ulster parliament, and so remove the rights of the people of Northern Ireland." But by this time the Unionist rank and file were reluctantly falling in line. Stormont was both threatening and cajoling them, it had sweetened the Hunt Report but Faulkner and Clarke had both openly stated that Unionism was in danger of being brought down if the Hunt Report was not passed.
On the twenty-fourth the Unionist Council accepted the Hunt Report. Only 426 of the Council of 840 voted for the proposals. Another 311 did not attend, despite a week's notice, and 89 opposed the proposals. This vote merely showed an acquiescence in the inevitable. Even the full power of Stormont diplomacy had not gained a majority, in effect, of more than 12 votes. This narrow margin was in spite of tacit permission to raise the numbers in the new force to 6,000 and in spite of a speech on the day of the meeting, by John Taylor, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Home Affairs, that he "hoped that the Ulster Special Constabulary will swamp the new force." He also claimed that Specials were being encouraged to join and that a list of the most suitable Specials for the force was being prepared. One could hardly ask for a clearer statement than that.
So little has changed. Just as people were awaiting the Hunt Report during September, they are now awaiting the details of the new force. And just as inevitably the forces that are grouping cannot all be mollified by what is announced. Either Catholic or Protestants will be forced on the streets again.
In all this a determining factor could be the Ulster Volunteer Force. The erratic behaviour of its members would seem to pOint to an ill-disciplined and politically naive group. A clear link with Paisley ism was revealed when a saboteur was killed at the E.S.B. plant in Donegal. He was a Free Presbyterian and John Hume had implicated him last April in the destruction of a water pipeline to Belfast.
John Hume, furthermore, pointed to a greater sophistication in the U.V.F. Thc pipeline he claimed had been destroyed two days before the Prime Minister proposed deletions to sections of the Special Powers Act.The destruction of the pipeline had been aimed at stopping these. Hume claimed the attack on the plant in Donegal, which came two days before the vital Unionist vote on the Hunt Report, was aimed at upsetting relations with the South thereby making it impossible to disband the Specials.
First most of Its members are already on active duty in the North as B Specials guarding vital installations from the I.R.A. Obviously the U.V.F. could not blow up plant they are guarding. Secondly with the presence of so many British troops in the North the possibility of the real culprits bcing discovered is higWy likely and the U.V.F. claim to be Loyalists would be jeopardised by their destruction of plant in the North.
The U.V.F. have already achieved one notable success. They have ensured a continued build-up of Southern troops on the border which maintains existing tension and have made opportunist reprisal by the I.R.A., or some group masquerading as thcm, quite a possibility.
But the most significant conflict in Stormont in the next few months will not be over Hunt but housing. If housing is taken from the ambit of local government the Unionist machine__
will be overthrown.