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Bloody Sunday : the background How was Bloody Sunday possible? Was it a tragedy waiting to happen? PowerPoint Presentation
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‘The shooting barely took thirty minutes but the impact was seismic.’. Bloody Sunday : the background How was Bloody Sunday possible? Was it a tragedy waiting to happen?. Ireland in Schools Durham Pilot Scheme

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‘The shooting barely took thirty minutes but the impact was seismic.’

Bloody Sunday : the background

How was Bloody Sunday possible?

Was it a tragedy waiting to happen?

Ireland in Schools Durham Pilot Scheme

Sound clip: From ‘Ordinary Sunday’ by Athenrye


When: 30 January 1972

Where: Londonderry/Derry, Northern Ireland

Occasion: Civil rights demonstration against internment

What happened: 13 civilians were shot dead by British paratroopers*

* A fourteen shooting victim died later

Consequences: Fall of Stormont

the key elements
The key elements

Revival of the IRA

Catholic insecurity in Belfast in 1969

Increased violence

Government policy

Inadequate political response

Reliance on security response

In the background

Protestants British government Irish Republic


burning of bombay street august 1969
Burning of Bombay StreetAugust 1969
  • Bogside Catholics asked Belfast Catholics to distract government forces
  • Belfast Protestants went on the attack
  • Catholics felt in need of protection, not then provided by the IRA (‘I Ran Away’)


The burning of Bombay Street was the oft repeated and most regarded underlying justification for the IRA’s claim to be needed as the only defence force that the Catholics of Belfast could rely on in dire emergency to protect their lives and homes.

The bulk of the Catholic population accepted this claim, and justification of the IRA.

Although many of them thoroughly disliked the bombing and murdering by the IRA, they were not prepared to co-operate with the forces of the Crown to destroy the IRA, just in case another Bombay Street situation might arise.

The commanding officer of a British battalion that served in the Falls in 1972-73.

Click below to see a video of Catholics recalling the impact of the events of 1969 on attitudes towards the IRA.

  • IRA regrouped in late in 1969 and in 1970 split into
    • Official IRA: nationalism & socialism
    • Provisional IRA: hard-line nationalism, dominant in Belfast
  • Emphasis now on Irish unity rather than civil rights
  • Provisional’s adopted a ‘ruthless and savage’ campaign of violence
    • To destroy Northern Ireland
    • To force British to withdraw completely from Ireland
  • Provoked Protestant paramilitary reaction, eg., UVF

Click below for a video of Protestants recalling their response to the events of 1969-70.

government response 1 reform
Government response1. Reform


  • Implemented full civil rights reform programme


  • Did not touch people in the ghetto areas
    • Neglected local needs
    • ‘Lost the competition for government’ to RC Church & IRA
  • Too much emphasis on security & the British army to maintain the rule of law
government response 2 security
Government response2. Security

3. Internment

August 1971 - 1975

1. Reliance on British army

2. Searches for arms

July 1970 onwards

searches for arms july 1970 onwards
Searches for armsJuly 1970 onwards

Poor intelligence

‘Without inside information as to the exact whereabouts of terrorist weapons and documents, the security forces have little option but top search on the vaguest suspicions – nothing is more certain to alienate the population.


  • July 1970:

34 hour curfew in Catholic Falls to allow searches

  • 1971:

17,262 house searches

  • Nov. 1971 - Jan. 1972:

1,183 houses searched; arms found in 47


  • Increased violence
  • Further alienated Catholics

I felt that I was invading the man's home. I felt guilty and ashamed. The place was saturated with CS [tear] gas. Children were coughing. I’m talking now about toddlers, kids of three, four, five.

. . . I think the major effect of the Falls curfew was that it gave the community in the Lower Falls the opportunity to see the IRA as their saviours and they saw the British Army as the enemy, a foreign occupying force…

I didn't see myself as a foreign invader and I don't think they did either up until the curfew.

A private in the army describing the effect of the Falls curfew of July 1970.

Click below for video of 1971 searches.

Click below for video of 1970 searches.

internment 1 august 1971
Internment, 1 August 1971


  • To smash the IRA & Protestant paramilitaries

Arguments for

  • Precedent - helped defeat earlier IRA campaigns
  • To calm Protestant fears
  • To make best use of limited security resources

Click to start video of Prime Minister Brian Faulkner announcing the introduction of internment.

arguments against internment
Arguments against Internment
  • Circumstances very different
    • earlier largely rural, 1971 largely urban
  • Outdated intelligence about IRA membership
  • Conditions in interment camps violated civil liberties
  • Camps IRA recruiting ground

One elderly man was arrested by British Soldiers and was proud of it.

But he told them he had not been active in the IRA since the War of Independence.

internment statistics
Internment: statistics

4 am, 9 August 1971

  • 350 arrested, all Catholics but 2
    • 116 released after interrogation

First six months

  • 2,357 arrested
    • 1,600 released after interrogation

Total interned

  • 1,900
    • 1,874 Republicans
    • 107 Loyalists.
treatment in interment camps
Treatment in interment camps


Internees were kept fully hooded except when interrogated or in rooms by themselves.


When internees were held together, they were subjected to a continuous hissing noise.


It was general policy to deprive men of sleep during early days of operation.

internment consequences
Internment: consequences
  • Did not smash IRA, but increased recruitment
  • Increased violence
  • Further alienated Catholic community

‘The final outrage in a system of law & order which had been pressing heavily on it for years’

  • Undermined position of SDLP & others willing to work with reformed government

Resurrected civil protest

Click here for a report of aftermath of internment.

Click here for a republican video on internment.

what lay behind catholic alienation
What lay behind Catholic alienation?

Catholic areas bore the brunt of emergency measures

Feeling whole ordinary process of law continued to be weighted against them

how justified was this feeling
How justified was this feeling?

One Catholic priest said,

‘Our people are afraid of the courts; they believe the judicial system as it operates in the blatantly sectarian condition of life here is loaded against them.’

  • Authorities continued to regard Catholic violence more seriously than Protestant violence, as more dangerous to the state
    • Catholic rioters charged with riotous behaviour with mandatory minimum six months in prison
    • Protestants charged with only disorderly behaviour - a fine or even a suspended sentence
  • Tendency of courts and jurors to accept the evidence, however nebulous, of the security forces in disputed cases
civil protest against internment
Civil protest against internment

Organisations involved

  • SDLP Social Democratic & Labour Party
  • NICRA Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association


  • Campaign of civil disobedience
    • Rates & rent strike
    • Schools boycott
    • Withdrawal from public bodies
    • Alternative Assembly in Dungannon, 26 October 1971
  • Protest marches against internment
    • Including Londonderry, 30 January 1972
why did the government continue with the policy
Why did the government continue with the policy?
  • Protestant pressure to maintain hard line
  • Best use of limited resources

Click below to start video of Protestant rally.

what was the attitude of the army at the beginning of 1972
What was the attitude of the army at the beginning of 1972?

‘Bloody Sunday’ cannot be seen in isolation. It was a tragedy waiting to happen. For many months there had been endless rioting in the city.

Every day, at tea time, there would be a confrontation at the corner of William Street and Rossville Street between soldiers guarding the entrance to the city centre and the rioters operating out of ‘Free Derry’.

Day after day soldiers would stand there being pelted by rioters and the stone throwers would get in plenty of practice. The junction was known, with good reason, as ‘aggro corner’.

Peter Taylor, Provos, p. 114

  • Privately critical of security policies unaccompanied by political initiatives
  • Felt exposed - targets for IRA, etc.
    • Deaths

6 Feb. 1971: First British soldier killed

Soldiers killed before & after internment

  • Paratroops determined not to be

sitting ducks

lt col wilford s priority that his men stayed alive
Lt.-Col. Wilford’s priority‘that his men stayed alive’

In my view, this was a war. If people are shooting at you, they're shooting not to wound you but to kill you. Therefore we had to behave accordingly.

We blacked our faces, we took our berets off, or at least our badges from them, and put camouflage nets over our heads. We always wore our flak jackets and when we moved on the streets, we moved as if we were moving against a well-armed, well-trained army.

Now that might have been a compliment to the IRA but it wasn't really. It was a compliment to my soldiers. I wanted my soldiers to stay alive and I actually said to them, 'you will not get killed’. That was really my coda throughout my period of command.

what were the consequences of bloody sunday
What were the consequences of Bloody Sunday?
  • Increased tension & violence
    • IRA membership & activities increased
    • Became burning Catholic/nationalist grievance e.g., song ‘Bloody Sunday’

    • Protestant backlash began, increased by ‘Bloody Friday’, 21 July 1972

  • Inquiries
    • Controversial Widgery report, 1972, did not blame paratroopers
    • Saville Inquiry, 1998, yet to report
  • International criticism, especially in America & Irish Republic
  • British government patience exhausted
    • Suspended Stormont, 24 March 1972
    • Established direct rule of NI by Westminster

Click below for video on Bloody Sunday confrontation from starter.

Click below for video on immediate aftermath of Bloody Sunday.

what does the ira campaign 1969 72 say about the effectiveness of political violence
What does the IRA campaign, 1969-72, say about the effectiveness of political violence?


  • Brought down Stormont
    • Undermined what little Protestant & Unionist belief there was in the efficacy of reform
    • Resultant security policy ruined any chance the reforms had of creating confidence in the justice of the Stormont regime & giving it legitimacy in the eyes of the minority


  • Did not achieve aim of driving Britain from NI & uniting Ireland
  • High price paid
    • Re-inforced & deepened sectarian divide
    • Cost in human suffering

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