Page 3, 27th March 1975

27th March 1975
Page 3
Page 3, 27th March 1975 — Constituent Assembly may lead to bloodbath, says Paddy Devlin

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Constituent Assembly may lead to bloodbath, says Paddy Devlin

The power-sharing Assembly in Northern Ireland would have survived if Westminster had acted against the Ulster Workers' Council strike, but the forthcoming Constituent Assembly may lead to a bloodbath.

These opinions are expressed in the first book* to be written by a Minister of the powersharing Assembly, Mr Paddy Devlin, who graphically describes the body's five months of life.

It is the story of one who had his hand firmly on at least one of the pulses of Northern Ireland society and an excellent introduction to the elections for the new Assembly, expected on May I.

Mr Devlin, of the Social and Democratic Labour Party, who was appointed Minister of Health and Social Services when the power-sharing Executive began operating in January, 1974, makes it clear that it was no mere political gimmick.

The writer, who prepared with Mr John Hume the final draft of the six-strong SDLP party's proposals on the executive, said it was based on intensive study of the Social Democratic parties of other European countries, including Britain.

The overall proposals to increase the Six Counties standard of living were largely adopted by the new executive. Mr William Whitelaw, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, agreed to phase out detention from the moment the new executive took office — a promise his current successor, failed to honour, The Loyalist groups, who did not support the idea of powersharing agreed to by the Unionist group led by Mr Brian Faulkner, formed a minority in the Assembly as a whole, and did everything they could to prevent the Executive being set up.

When it was finally agreed on, the Loyalists, including the Rev Ian Paisley, Mr William Craig and Mr Harry West, "retaliated at the next Assembly session by staging a full-scale riot," using fists and boots.

The executive's brief life was a creative period, New ideas flowed in on how to solve the North's practical problems, Mr Devlin said.

"Academics, businessmen and leading trade union officials were keen to get movement going in areas where they had special expertise . . .

"The results of these combined efforts began to impress Loyalist members of the public to the extent that early indifference began to give way to open-minded interest and in some cases to timid support."

Mr Devlin said that "no single four-year session of Parliament since 1921 produced a work-load or performance to equal that of the Assembly during the five exciting months that business was conducted by its Executive."

Many changes were adopted and industrial development issues, regarded as "sacred cows" by the earlier Stormont Parliament and not discussed, were openly aired.

It was not all work, however, and Mr Devlin has an amusing account of a party held at Downing Street during the Sunningdalc talks, which confirmed the new Executive. At this the ebullient Northern representatives made quite an impact.

Sir Alec Douglas Home was asked: "How is the grouse shooting this season in Scotland, old boy?" and "the look of surprise on his face kept the rest of us laughing for the rest of the night."

The Ulster Workers' Council grew out of the Loyalist Association of Workers — antiCatholic trade-unionists who wanted to restore Stormont. LAW, after financial scandals, became the UWC.

Mr William Craig early urged Loyalist workers "to compile lists of Catholics for liquidation" and discrimination has reduced the number of Catholics working in Belfast shipyards to 100, or about 1 per cent of the total workforce, This discrimination has continued in spite of the fact that the Belfast shipyard§ management has received £30m in Government grants on the precondition that the extra jobs created be used to balance the numbers of Catholics and protestants.

The scene there is in sharp contrast to that at Belfast deepwater docks, where workers, substantially Catholic, are members of the all-Ireland Irish Transport and General Workers' Union.

Mr Devlin said this union was highly sensitive to sectarianism and any evidence of it would lead to a member being expelled.

The first major threat to the Executive was in the February Westminster elections last year, when the dissident Loyalists formed the United Ulster Unionist Council.

The UUUC pushed the Faulkner Unionists out of control of the Unionist Party machine and gained II of the 12 Westminster seats on 51 per cent of the vote, the Faulkner Unionist and Catholic votes being split among candidates in several seats.

The UWC had been openly considering for months industrial action to destroy the power-sharing Executive. Early in May Mr Merlyn Rees, the new Secretary of State, "in a large public relations exercise" revealed IRA plans to practise a scorched earth policy in Loyalist areas.

Mr Devlin said: "At that time the Provisionals were not in a position to occupy anything more than a telephone kiosk." The publicity given greatly helped the UWC strike on May 14, which finally led to the dissolution of the Executive.

He described the strike as "an unadulterated coup d'etat for political reasons,' which "was carried out in front of an inert combined security force of over 30,000. Incredibly, not one single case of arrest was reported. Yet, for 14 whole days there was a state of complete lawlessness in the North."

The inactivity of the security forces served to create the impression that the strike was not illegal, said Mr Devlin.

It was backed by the Loyalist Para-military organisations, the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force,both of whom Mr Devlin claimed had ready access to the training facilities and weaponry of the official Ulster Defence Regiment, which replaced the former "B" Specials.

The failure of the "march back to work" led by Mr Len Murray, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, was because "the military allowed the Loyalist para-military organisations to block off every housing estate during the night, thus closing the roads the workers would be using . . .

"Moreover, the military let it be known.before the march that there would be no power for the factories if the workers broke through the lines of thugs and gunmen," said Mr Devlin.

Mr John Flume, the SDLP Assembly Minister responsible for fuel and power, had an emergency plan ready to take over vital oil depots and dis tribution outlets, and Mr Merlyn Rees had said he could provide experienced technical personnel for the power stations.

Mr Devlin said that if this plan had been acted on, the Loyalist UWC would have backed down.

He said: "We reckoned that the Loyalists were largely the product of a law and order com munity and would not operate outside the law once it was es tablished that they were in breach of it," but this was not understood by Mr Rees or Mr Wilson.

After SDLP members had heard that Mr Wilson would

back the plan, he instead made a "pathetic" speech calling the Loyalists "spongers" something, as hardworking people, Mr Devlin affirmed, they certainly were not.

Brigadier Kitson, when in Ireland for three years, Mr Devlin believes, put the Army firmly on the side of Loyalists, not unaided by General Tuzo, whose model was General Massu, leader of French Algerian colons.

Nor does the Government of the Republic of Ireland escape criticism. Mr Devlin said the "Council of Ireland" dimension of the Sunningdale powersharing agreement, making for limited co-operation between the two areas, was seen as a guarantee of protection by the Northern Catholic minority. When Loyalist politicians opposed it, Southern leaders suggested its terms should he further limited, failing to realise it was seen as a protection.

Unfortunately, Mr Devlin's hook lacks both an index and proper continuity, being organised in a series of chapters not necessarily following the situation as it developed, but dealing with separate aspects of the history of the power-sharing Executive.

Apart from books by Bernadette Devlin and Maria McGuire, the former "Provo" girl, it is the first book by an important individual actually part of the Northern Ireland situation.

While Paddy Devlin's opinions may be more his own than those of the SDLP, as hinted at in the introduction by Mr John Hume, they give more of the true feeling of the situation than the dozens of hooks written by academics and journalists since 1969.

Mr Devlin sees some hope in the future in the splintering of Unionism into four groups —, three uneasily united under the UUUC umbrella. He points out that the UUUC leaders have shown no interest in the social and economic issues debated in the North over the last few years.

The working-class organisers of the UWC also see the Loyalist leaders as purely middle-class. The UWC are at present "engaged• in trying to hold off elections for the NI Assembly, against the wishes of politicians, until their own leaders are better prepared," he says. But the alternative is grim, and Britain can no longer ig nore the situation her policies helped to create, Mr Devlin says.

The myth of ignorant Irish natives fighting among themselves "will be exploded in the near future when the favourable treatment extended to Loyalist para-military forces in the recent past will enable them to seize power if they get a majority at the next Assembly election.

"If this happens it could lead to a bloodbath similar to that which happened in the Congo some years ago."

• "The Fall of the NI Executive" by Paddy Devlin, published by The Kerryman Ltd., Russel Street, Tralee, Co Kerry, Ireland. Price 80p.

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