Jude Collins

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Loughgall and moral justification

History, they say, is written by the winners. If that is true, then republicans appear to have lost. If Liam Clarke is right and if the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) report next month that the 8-man IRA unit in Loughgall in 1987 fired first on the 24-man SAS team lying in wait for them.

Which is a fair few ifs, but Clarke seems very confident that his source has spilled the beans accurately. The concern over who fired first puzzled me a little at first, but now I gather it means that the SAS were justified in firing back and killing the eight men. The ninth dead man was, of course, an unfortunate accident.

This particular incident from the Troubles brings a number of matters swirling to the surface and not all of them are  nice to look at. One is the view that the IRA men got what was coming to them - that they had been sent, as one judge put it on one occasion, to the ultimate court of judgment. This is usually said in a fairly measured way but it's hard not to think there's a bit of hand-rubbing and fist-pumping behind the scenes. You want war? We'll give you war.

Another point that strikes me is the reasoning behind the moral view that since the IRA fired first, the SAS were justified in returning fire. Mmm. Sounds reasonable. Only then I think of a term that's used frequently of Israel in relation to the Palestinians  - "disproportionate response". The SAS fired over 600 rounds at Loughgall, the IRA men 70.  Do the math, as the Yanks say. Would it be possible that the SAS were intent on putting a metaphorical horse's head into the bed of those who thought they could take on British forces?

The final point worth mentioning might be that, for better or worse, if the HET reports that the IRA men opened fire first, it won't make a blind bit of difference to the response of most people to the event. The hand-rubbers will feel even more satisfied that time and expense wasn't wasted arresting the men and putting them through the courts. Republicans and nationalists will continue to believe that the SAS lay in wait and when they had the IRA men in their sites, opened fire and didn't stop until all of them were dead. Many of them will see the HET as discredited.

Ultimately, maybe, it doesn't matter who opened fire: the eight men are still dead. The one question that itches at the back of my brain for an answer is this: if the IRA men hadn't  fired first, what would the SAS have done?


  1. Two observations. Widgery said that the IRA fired first on Bloody Sunday and for many that was justification enough for the deaths of 14 unarmed civilians. We know now, of course, after a full and proper inquiry, that Widgery was wrong.
    Secondly, if 8 members of the SAS and an innocent civilian had been killed by tghe IRA and the available evidence suggested that the SAS had opened fire first, would that have made it OK?

  2. Ah history and winners, how true.
    Winston Churchill had it right, when he said;
    "History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it."

  3. The IRA fired first and detonated a bomb in a barrack where SAS lay ready to ambush them. Republicans accept that much. The question is, could they have been arrested? Did all of them need to be killed? It seems inconceivable that none survived. At least one was killed some distance from the scene in a coup d'grace. The IRA was out with armed intent and few IRA people have complained about the outcome. But their relatives have every right to ask whether the state violated its own terms of engagement. This is a state that readily broke its own laws in pursuit of its security goals. The IRA team was allowed to walk into an ambush. It could have been stopped at many points along the route to its destination. The intention was never to arrest but kill.

  4. Honest to god I amazes me the double standards of republicans....if it was a war you take your losses and move on,as for the sas showing compassion and mercy,how many times did the provos show that trait when sitting behind a hedge about to detonate a bomb and then run away or shoot some person in the back
    One of the few times they were directly confronted by the Brits they lost the battle...simple as.

    I would consider myself a reasonable unionist in fact I am married to a catholic just to illustrate the point I am not bigoted in any way but the views of Jude Collins leads me to believe there is a them and us because we are so far apart in our thinking
    I have came to the conclusion through your writing Jude that you inhabit a sad cold and bitter little world where everything with a British hue repulses you and everything with a green Gaelic complexion is the salt of the earth and to be cherished as beautiful kind and progressive
    It is hard to counter that perception if you review your writing...in some ways I do feel a little sorry for you

  5. Thanks for your thoughts, Anon 12:07. I wouldn't presume to speak for republicans - just me. A couple of point:
    1. 'Running away' and 'shoot in the back' talk makes no sense in terms of armed conflict/a war. Tell it to the people of Dresden.
    2. I'm happy you've found a life-partner but I'm not sure that proves a great deal about anything.
    3. There IS a them-and-us - that's what differing political viewpoints are about. Everywhere.
    4. You're entitled to believe I inhabit a "sad, cold and bitter little world" but I must say I generally feel happy, warm and accepting in a wonderfully varied world ("Glory be to God for dappled things" - Hopkins. Catholic, mind you. Jesuit, even.
    5. You've come to a misguided conclusion if you think that I'm repulsed by anything with a British hue. I watched Arsenal win 4-0 last night and was cheered beyond measure. I lived in England and found most of the people splendid. I think Britain in the past and now has offered/offers the world a great deal. It's just that I'm opposed to her laying claim to a part of Ireland.
    6. Not everything 'with a green Gaelic complexion is the salt of the earth". There are aspects of Irish people and public life that appal me - for example, the conduct of the recent Irish presidential election.
    7. Finally, as that lovely foreign song says "Don't cry for me, Anon 12:07" - save your sorrow for someone more deserving.

  6. Following two successful attacks in 1997, on April 10 a Special Air Service
     unit arrested the sniper team
     based in the west of the region, responsible for several deaths. After a brief fist fight, James McCardle, Michael Caraher, Bernard McGinn
     and Martin Minnes were arrested in a farm near Freeduff. The British troops were under strict orders to avoid IRA casualties.
     A Barrett M90 rifle was seized.

  7. Jude
    Republicanism didn't lose, I am glad to say. Physical force Republicanism certainly did, I am very glad to say.

  8. Jude,you advise Anon 12 07 that you wouldnt presume to speak for republicans.Dont be so modest.As a man who has hosted a few Sinn Fein town hall rallies,you are clearly well regarded by that party.The tone of many of your posts is not a million miles away from the S F view.Maybe I have missed your posts which dissent from the party line!

  9. Anon 12:07 - maybe try getting your facts straight. I have never hosted a single town hall rally by Sinn Féin or any other political party. It may well be that my posts are not as you put it, 'a million miles away from the SF view'. That doesn't mean that I speak for them. And while it may strike you as an odd thing to do, I try to do my own thinking.

  10. Apologies if my understanding of the facts is wrong.Am I correct in believing that you acted as M C at a Martin 4 President rally in the Strule Centre in Omagh in October?Technically it may not have been a Sinn Fein rally but I find it hard to accept that there were too many Alliance types there.In the YOU TUBE recording Michelle O Neill M L A states that all the people there would have voted for Martin in the past,which tends to corroborate my impression.If my memory serves me right,you had a post about the rally shortly afterwards.I also seem to remember that you were M C at an event in the Wellington Park Hotel this year and at which Martin and Mary Lou Mc Donald spoke.Maybe "hosting" was the wrong word.Perhaps its your talent as chairman or M C which led to you being at these functions.

  11. Anon 20:59 - I was certainly at the Martin McGuinness rally and I spoke there, as my blog outlines. Maybe your understanding of the English language is different from mine, or at least your understanding of the word 'chairman'. I met a number of people there who I'd be pretty sure are not Sinn Féin members and, I suspect, don't vote for Sinn Féin. If Michelle O'Neill said something wouldn't it make sense to charge her with that and not me? I have no problem with saying I supported McGuinness's bid for the Irish presidency and I think Ireland will be the poorer for his failure to be voted in.
    As the the Welly Park (my goodness, you do seem to be tracing my movements closely. Maybe that's your job?), I interviewed Martin McGuinnes and Mary Lou McDonald. I'm vain enough to believe that I interview people quite well and I received no complaints afterwards. Again, the people there were by no means all Sinn Féin supporters. As you would have known if you'd attended.

    Anyway, thanks again for your comments, especially as I didn't agree with them - it helps to keep me honest. Or as near to honest as a flawed human being such as myself can be.

  12. One thing is for sure.... the SAS have never been sent out to arrest people. Secondly if all the IRA men were shot dead along with one civilian who's testimonies of who fired first are the HET relying on. Obviously those responsible for the killings!!

  13. Jude,no need to become paranoid.No one is tracing your movements!Most people who follow your blogs would guess what events you attend.As a fellow Tyrone man,I usually find your comments stimulating but I would be the first to admit that I dont always agree with them.Thats why I periodically challenge your assumptions.The freedom of dissent!Im afraid Im not one of your faithful acolytes who hang on your every turn of phrase!The essence of what Im saying is that you quite energetically proclaim your independence and free thinking.Is it not odd that this intellectual rigour never extends to even a modest criticism of Sinn Fein?Very simplistically,it seems to be Sinn Fein good,all other parties bad.My apologies if you were not in fact Chairman at the Omagh rally.Merely one of the platform party!

  14. Daitho, you are wrong. Another ANON has mentioned about the bloodless (except for a couple of cut lips a bleeding noses) arrest of a murderous IRA sniper unit.

    Some say if they were killed, it would have been justified, on the basis of the murders they committed. They should probably think themselves lucky they werent holding or aiming weapons at the time!

    Back on topic though, lets be fucking honest. You set out to murder policemen, how can you NOT expect to be given the same treatment that you are planning to put upon others?

    the republican aftermath of this event is and was a joke. YOU SET OUT TO KILL, EXPECT TO BE KILLED! no fucking complaints.

  15. They got what they deserved. Fight fire with fire, those IRA boys were just plain old fashioned murderers. Thank God for the SAS.