To the Editor:
Upon reading Joseph W. Bishop, Jr.’s “Can Democracy Defend Itself Against Terrorism?” [May], it becomes obvious that Mr. Bishop has relied completely upon “sanitized” British records of Irish history for his information, instead of securing first-hand knowledge. . . .
Mr. Bishop chooses to adopt the British position that suddenly, in 1920, Northern Ireland was created by an Act of Parliament. Not a word is said about what transpired in the centuries or years before, or why. . . . The Irish Republican Army, comprised of Irish nationalists, both Protestant and Catholic, waged a successful guerrilla war for Irish independence, but the victory was not total. The so-called province of Northern Ireland (geographically, the northeastern one-sixth of the Irish isle) was established in 1921, as a result of an ultimatum from British Prime Minister Lloyd George to the Irish, threatening a “terrible and immediate war” if Ireland failed to sign the peace treaties in which Britain expropriated six of Ulster’s nine counties. Why six? Because that insured a decisive two to one numerical superiority of British loyalists, i.e., descendants of English and Scottish colonists with “loyalties” to London (the world media erroneously use the term Protestant) over Irish nationalists (called Catholic), although three of those six counties had nationalist majorities. Contrary to the title of Mr. Bishop’s article, Northern Ireland was never conceived of as a “democracy.” (In today’s vernacular, we would have to refer to its founding as “terrorist blackmail.”)
Even as late as the late 1960′s, one of the major demands of Northern Ireland’s civil-rights movement was “one man, one vote.” Although this was reluctantly granted, British police soon crushed the nonviolent civil-rights movement in a campaign which culminated in the murder of thirteen unarmed civil-rights marchers by the British army in January 1971.
Meanwhile, the Provisional IRA, consisting of local nationalists, was founded in 1970 in response to devastating pogroms by loyalist mobs in various nationalist localities. The purpose of the Provisional IRA was to “defend and maintain order” in nationalist areas, and it conducted negotiations with the British army toward this end. The British army had appealed for IRA help in stopping the riots on a number of occasions, and the IRA leadership obliged.
Gradually, to appease loyalist politicians, the British army took a decidedly more hostile stand toward the nationalist community, and in 1971, following the death of the civil-rights movement, the British broke off confidential negotiations with the IRA leadership. Shortly afterward, in response, a guerrilla war commenced against Britain’s continued colonial presence.
Mr. Bishop’s statements to the contrary are unsupported by the facts, as are his statements concerning internment, torture, British army and police restraint, arrest and seizure, the Diplock Courts, censorship, and the (nonexistent) Bill of Rights.
Internment was designed not only to break up a budding IRA but to silence opposition. The overwhelming majority of the 2,000 people thrown into the internment camps were civil-rights campaigners—“genuine terrorists” according to Mr. Bishop. . . .
Over 2,000 complaints of torture and brutality were filed against the British police and army last year, and this led Amnesty International to conduct public hearings on torture in Belfast last December. Earlier this year, the European Court of Human Rights convicted Britain of “inhuman and degrading treatment” in dealing with Irish dissidents in 1971; the European Commission on Human Rights urged that these practices be labeled “torture.” Less than a year before, the BBC aired a documentary citing the continued use of “torture” in Northern Ireland, and refuted British government assurances that such practices had been stopped in 1971. . . .
In Northern Ireland, 90 per cent of all “terrorist-type charges” pressed by the British police rest principally on the statements of the accused (the 90 per cent figure has been established by legal research). A suspect taken into custody can be held for seven days without benefit of counsel, and access to counsel is usually granted only after a statement is made. To conceal the widespread use of torture in obtaining these “forced” statements, and thus to expedite the imprisonment of political dissidents, London established the Diplock Courts, which dispense with trial by jury. . . .
Mr. Bishop continually interjects American legal safeguards and doctrines into the context of Northern Ireland. (A better comparison would be that of pre-1776 American colonial law with the law in Northern Ireland.) Northern Ireland has no Bill of Rights. . . . As recently as April 1977, the British government decided not to introduce a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. Seven months later, Northern Ireland’s Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights called for incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into British law, but to no avail. . . .
If Mr. Bishop would investigate the situation in Northern Ireland more fully, he might find that things are radically different from what the British government would have others believe.
San Francisco, California
To the Editor:
Joseph W. Bishop, Jr., is mistaken when he claims that the Catholic citizens of Northern Ireland never made any serious effort to seek a judicial remedy for the troubles. Not only was such an effort made, it was successful.
In 1972, an action brought by John Hume, a Catholic member of Parliament, was found to be valid by the high court of Northern Ireland. The highest court, not a cell of the IRA, found that the British army had no standing in law in Ireland. This court ruled that every act of the British army was unconstitutional—every search, every arrest, every internment was illegal.
In London the next day the House of Commons passed a bill that created retrospective law in Northern Ireland. Black’s Law Dictionary defines retrospective law as impolitic and unjust. Yet in defiance of the tradition of the common law, the British government shamed itself. . . .
San Francisco, California
Joseph W. Bishop, Jr., writes:
Raymond Quinn’s letter is a faithful reproduction of one version of the current troubles in Northern Ireland, that of Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA. (I think he exaggerates the sweet reasonableness of the IRA.) I did not expect to write a description which both sides would accept as correct—that is impossible—but I started without prejudice, for or against either side, and did my best to be objective. My only prejudice, if that is the right word, was a dislike of indiscriminate terrorism, whether committed by Catholics or Protestants or anyone else. The terms Catholic and Protestant, republican (or nationalist) and loyalist, seem to be used interchangeably by all hands, and it makes little practical difference which labels are used. Loyalist, at least, is not wholly accurate, for some of the Protestant extremists are far from loyal to the Crown and would probably prefer an independent Ulster, controlled by themselves. The Reverend Ian Paisley and his followers would, I have no doubt, disagree with my account quite as vigorously as Mr. Quinn, although for different reasons.
I did not have space to chronicle the whole history of Ireland since Cromwell’s time, beyond pointing out that the animosity between the two communities goes back more than three centuries. I go into the historical background at somewhat greater length in a much longer, more detailed, and heavily footnoted article which is scheduled to appear in Law and Contemporary Problems this summer or fall. The article gives, inter alia, some account of the way in which a fraction of the IRA, the ideological ancestors of the present Provisionals, in 1920 switched to the newly created Free State and the new Irish army the same campaign of violence they had been waging against the British. (The new Irish government resorted to control measures practically identical with those the British had been using.)
Northern Ireland, as a separate province of the United Kingdom, of course dates only from 1920, although the land, the people, and the trouble were obviously there long before. Its existence, I think, resulted not so much from a British desire to “expropriate” part of Ireland as from the concentration in the North of most of the Protestant (or loyalist) population, who feared government from Dublin. I agree that it would probably be feasible to cede to the Republic of Ireland such largely Catholic areas as Armagh, which abuts the Republic, but that is not now true of the areas where the Protestants are a very large majority and will probably not be true in the foreseeable future. It would in all likelihood mean a civil war bloodier than even Ulster has yet seen, which I think the small Irish army would be even less able than the British army to control.
Contrary to Mr. Quinn’s assertion, I did have access to a good many people with first-hand information. Most were obviously biased, one way or the other, but some, notably Tom Hadden and other members of the Faculty of Law of Queen’s University, Belfast, seemed to me as even-handed as anyone could be in such a situation. I relied particularly on two publications which appear factual and impartial: Law and, State: The Case of Northern Ireland (1975), by K. Boyle, T. Hadden, and P. Hillyard; and “The Evolution, Disintegration, and Possible Reconstruction of the Northern Ireland Constitution,” by C. Palley, 1 Anglo-American Law Review 368 (1972). I do not know where Mr. Quinn found the “legal research” showing that 90 per cent of all “terrorist-type charges” pressed by the British police (I suppose he means the Royal Ulster Constabulary, although they are not British) rest principally on the statements of the accused. If he knows of any cases in which an accused terrorist has been convicted on the strength of his own confession, I would appreciate the citations.
I was at some pains to say that Northern Ireland was a democracy only “on paper,” being a one-party state. But it did, as I said, have something like a Bill of Rights in Section 5 of the Government of Ireland Act of 1920. Mr. Quinn does nothing to clear up my puzzlement as to why so little use was made of it, nor does he mention that the Northern Ireland Constitution Act of 1973, which superseded the 1920 Act, somewhat expanded the earlier provisions by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of political opinion as well as religious belief.
In my article, I certainly did not “interject American legal safeguards and doctrines into the context of Northern Ireland”; what I did do was ask to what extent the British government’s measures to control violence would be consistent with our Constitution and concluded that many of them, if a like crisis existed, would probably be held constitutional by the American courts. There is a movement in England, as well as Northern Ireland, to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into British law. I support that movement, but I do not think that the Emergency Powers Act of 1973 or any other Act of the British Parliament applicable in Ulster contravenes that Convention. I did, of course, read the Diplock and other Royal Commission reports. Though I took many of their conclusions with a grain of salt, on the whole they seem to me better supported by the available evidence and less dogmatic and tendentious than Mr. Quinn’s tract. In fact, his letter is a good example of the state of mind (as common among Protestants as Catholics) which makes it so hard to reach a reasonable solution in Ulster.
I am a good deal more familiar with Regina (Hume and others) v. Londonderry Justices , N.I. 91, than Thomas Burke appears to be. That case might be described as an effort by the Catholics in Northern Ireland to seek judicial relief, although it did not involve the section of the 1920 Government of Ireland Act which prohibited discrimination against Catholics. The Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland set aside Hume’s conviction of disobeying a regulation (issued under the old 1922 Special Powers Act of the Stormont Parliament) which empowered a commissioned officer of Her Majesty’s forces to order the dispersal of an assembly which he believed might lead to a breach of the peace. The ground of the decision was that the 1920 Act gave the Stormont Parliament no power to legislate “in respect of” the armed forces. (The competence of the Stormont government under the 1920 Act did not extend to military or international affairs, which were left to the British government.) The decision did not in any way affect actions authorized by the government of the United Kingdom itself and most certainly did not hold that “every act of the British army was unconstitutional.” I agree, however, that the British Parliament, although it did not wish to invalidate every previous arrest or other action by the army which was authorized only by Stormont laws, would have been better advised to amend the statute only prospectively. The whole issue of the powers of the Stormont regime was, of course, mooted by the British takeover in 1972.