The Role of the Army in Northern Ireland

  • Ian Oliver


It would seem that both the government of Northern Ireland and the Westminster government were taken by surprise in 1969 by the extent of civil disorder and the inability of the RUC to cope with it. Although it was the Unionist government that requested Westminster to authorise the army to deal with the rioting, it is apparent that central government had a hand in initiating that request. The situation was a difficult one from a political viewpoint: Westminster had to retain its control of the army and thus of the security situation in Northern Ireland, since it would have been unlawful to allow the troops to be under the control of a Unionist government which was viewed with suspicion, if not outright hostility, by many of the minority community. The causes of the rioting were seen to be largely a result of the neglect of the Unionists over the previous fifty years. The Northern Ireland government was under the impression that the troops could go in and restore order with a short, sharp and effective action and then withdraw. However, it was apparent to James Callaghan and to Denis Healey, then Minister of Defence, that once the army had been committed it would have to remain in the Province for at least two years. Indeed, Callaghan saw the use of the army as being one step nearer to the assumption of direct rule by Westminster and warned the Unionist government of his feelings in this matter.1


Police Officer Security Situation Inspector General Civil Defence Unionist Government 
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Notes and References

  1. 2.
    See also Brigadier C. T. Shortis, Public Order in the 80s, Seaford House Papers, 1981;Google Scholar
  2. and Merlyn Rees, Northern Ireland: a Personal Perspective (Methuen, 1985).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See also Desmond Hamill, Pig in the Middle. The Army in NI 1969–1984 (Methuen, 1985), pp. 39 and 40;Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    G. Marshall, The Armed Forces and Industrial Disputes in the UK, published in Armed Forces and Society, February 1979;Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    Criticism of the ‘unconstitutional’ role of the army in the Province has been voiced on many occasions, but particular reference should be made to an article by Professor Claire Palley, ‘No-Go Area Between the Cabinet and the Army’, The Times, 13 February 1973Google Scholar
  6. Captain K. O. Fox, ‘Public Order: the Law and the Military’, Army Quarterly, April 1974;Google Scholar
  7. 16.
    Patrick O’Farrell, ‘The British Army in N. Ireland’, Pacific Defence Reporter, December/January 1975.Google Scholar
  8. 17.
    See Brigadier G. L. C. Cooper, ‘Some Aspects of Conflict in Ulster’, April 1973. Extract from BAR, No. 43.Google Scholar
  9. 19.
    R. Fisk, The Point of No Return (Times Books, 1975) p. 101.Google Scholar
  10. 21.
    See Col. Jerome J Haggerty, ‘The War that Never Stopped Bleeding’, Military Review, Vol. 49, 1979.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Ian Oliver 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ian Oliver
    • 1
  1. 1.Central Scotland PoliceStirlingScotland

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