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Alone in Belfast

Internment became reality in August 1971, when the British army began to arrest and imprison people without trial - but what of the loved ones left behind? (First broadcast 1971)

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3.4/5 (7 ratings)

Alone in Belfast

In the early hours of the 9th August 1971 British soldiers launched operation Demetrius, the introduction of internment without trial. Internment had been employed by the Unionist Government at Stormont in every decade since the creation of the northern state as a means to suppress Republican opposition. In the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s republican suspects had been imprisoned without trial.

As violence increased in 1970 and 1971 the Unionist Government again came under increasing pressure to clamp down on the activities of the IRA. By August 1971 the Stormont Government had convinced the British Government that internment offered the best method of dealing with the increasing violence, and pointed to its repeated success in previous decades. In an attempt to reduce the expected nationalist outrage a ban on all parades was announced at the same time, aimed at defusing the potential for unrest that the Apprentice Boys parade on the 12th August posed.

Relying on outdated lists containing 450 names provided by the RUC Special Branch, the British Army swept into nationalist areas of the north and arrested 342 men. The RUC intelligence, however, was hopelessly outdated and many of those arrested had no connections with the IRA. Others, although Republican minded, had not been active in decades. Others arrested included prominent members of the Civil Rights movement. In one instance in Armagh the British Army sought to arrest a man who had been dead for the past 4 years. It appears that the rapid radicalisation of much of the north’s nationalist community, and the RUC’s alienation from that community in the previous 2 years, had created a large intelligence gap in RUC files. Indeed, so out of date were the lists that within 48 hours 116 of those arrested were released. The remainder were detained at Crumlin Rd prison and the prison ship The Maidstone.

This is only the start of the story - internement continued for quite some time.

But what about the families that these men left behind? Donncha O' Dulaing documents Christmas in Belfast for internee families.

He highlights their experiences, memories and recollections during this time.

Contains memories from Liam Mac Reachtain (internee in 1939).

Produced by Donncha O' Dulaing

First broadcast 25th December, 1971.

An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries


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