Why were the British Troops sent to Northern Ireland in August 1969?
On the 14 and 15 August 1969 British Troops were deployed to Northern Ireland to the cities of Derry and Belfast - Why were the British Troops sent to Northern Ireland in August 1969? introduction. They were sent in to try and stop the ongoing crisis between the Protestants and Catholics which had resulted in riots. This increase in violence just caused a lot more mistrust between the two groups. So when the Battle of the Bogside took place and other cities in Northern Ireland heard about it, more riots started. These made the British Government feel like there was no other option but to send the British army in to try and restore law and order.
There were many different reasons for the British Army being sent into Northern Ireland. Some of these were quite long term. These related to events which happened anything up to four hundred years before the troops were sent in. For example there has always been a history of violence between Protestants and Catholics. For example in 1610, Protestants were starting to settle in the North of Ireland and taking land of the Catholics to make into farms or plantations. This upset the Catholics and people started to make their own private, but much smaller, armies and started to attack the Protestants and burn their property.
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There had always been a lot of conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants as well. For example, the Battle of the Boyne happened around the times of King James I in 1690. The Protestants won this particular battle and because of this victory it led to annual marches to celebrate their win. Some of the events only happened about fifty years before but could also be blamed for the increase in violence that escalated over the years. The Home Rule bill was also a long term cause as in 1914, Britain was going to let Ireland run itself, but then World War One broke out and the bill was left as the war was seen as more important.
Another cause that happened no more than five years later in 1919 was the Irish Civil War. The violence always kept getting worse and this led to Ireland being split under the Partition in 1921 as a temporary fix to the problem, but still to this very day Northern Ireland remains. The civil war may also have come around as the Home Rule bill was dropped, and then some of the Nationalists may have decided to provoke the English government into signing the bill quickly so that they could concentrate more fully on the war.
But Partition also didn’t help either as there was an increase in riots and violence because of the Irish Question. Catholics said that Ireland should once again be united and become one, but Protestants were saying that it should remain as part of Britain and as long as they stayed in power this would be the case. The British Government also had their own concerns about the violence that was breaking out all over Northern Ireland by the 1960’s. One of the main things they feared was a break out of another Civil War.
They feared this as they believed that this would be worse than the last one, because there was a lot more tension between the Catholics and the Protestants than there had been in the previous war. They were scared that there would be a lot more violence where they believed people would lose their lives. With all of the fighting as well it made Britain look bad as they weren’t united with a country that they had a lot of power over. They believed that the IRA would start using their terrorist techniques in Mainland Britain as well as in Northern Ireland.
They were also fearing that they would start receiving a lot more complaints from the Catholics about Stormont because people didn’t think they were doing their job properly and were taking advantage and only helping themselves. Another complaint that they believed was getting worse was the way that the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) couldn’t do their jobs as some off duty B-Specials were attacking Catholics on marches. For example, when Catholics went on the march going across Burntollet Bridge they were caught on television cameras attacking the marchers, which was creating a lot of bad publicity for the British Government.
There were a few short term causes for the British troops being sent in as well, one of which was Austin Currie’s (Catholic MP) sit in. He and a lot of other Catholics went and sat in a woman’s house and refused to move. They decided to do this sit in as they were protesting against the unfair allocation of housing in County Tyrone. They refused to move until eventually the RUC came and moved them from the woman’s house. Another short term cause was the incident at Craigavon Bridge. This is where Catholics went on a march through Londonderry and were blocked by police barricades.
They, like the Austin Currie sit in, were marching because they believed they were not getting their human rights, due to the unfair allocation of housing because Catholics were being forced to stay with other families in one house, sometimes only sharing two bedrooms with eleven or twelve people. They were then shot by water cannon and even people who were just stood watching were also beaten. This was also caught on television cameras and it showed the RUC being quite brutal to the marchers and using methods that could be deemed as harmful, which created bad publicity for Stormont and for the British Government.
The Burntollet Bridge incident was quite important as this was where violence started to get worse as off duty B-Specials were attacking Catholic marches because they didn’t believe what concessions they wanted were fair. The people who went on the march believed that what they were asking for was fair, as they were only what some people would call basic human rights. These basic human rights were; fairer council house allocation, more jobs for Catholics and to abolish the extra votes for wealthier citizens.
The worst reason which was the trigger for the Government sending in the troops was the Battle of the Bogside. This is where Protestant people were standing on the top of the city walls of Londonderry and started to wind up the Catholic people in the Bogside. The Catholics were outraged but instead of trying to stop the violence the RUC took down the barricades between the two groups and let them fight. They then jumped in and the fighting escalated. When other towns and cities all over Ireland heard about this, riots were kicking of all around the country.
The British Government had three different reasons for sending the British troops into Northern Ireland. One of which was the official reason. Another was a private reason, and the other was a secret. The official reason that was given for the troops being sent in was to help the RUC to keep control over Northern Ireland and help stop the violence. They thought this would show them in a better light and not as people who don’t care. There private reason was because they thought the RUC couldn’t keep control and were not doing what they were meant to be doing.
In other words they thought they were doing a rubbish job. But their secret reason was the most important. They had received intelligence that the IRA were planning on launching terrorist attacks all over Britain, causing hundreds, maybe thousands of deaths. But this intelligence was incorrect and no attacks were launched. In conclusion I believe that there were many contributory factors and reasons for the British Government to send in their troops, one of which I believe was obvious, to try and keep the violence down and try and make the streets as peaceful as possible.
I also believe they did it so that they could help the RUC gain control once again and make sure they were being fair to all parties. When the troops were sent to Northern Ireland the Catholics saw them as neutral because even though at the time Britain was a Protestant country, because they hadn’t lived in Northern Ireland, they would be fair to both sides. So you would quite often see house wifes, children etc, bringing out cups of tea, sandwiches for the soldiers.
But when they found out all they were there for was to stop violence and were not on anybody’s side they quickly lost the support of the Catholics and more violence was occurring all over Northern Ireland. So when they shot thirteen Catholics on a march they had to find an excuse for killing them, even though they didn’t have any weapons on them. I believe the biggest reason for the British troops being sent in was because the fighting had increased so much that they were getting bad publicity because they couldn’t control a country in their own kingdom.