As we move deeper into these post-conflict (or, arguably, intra-conflict) times, am I the only one to be struck by the sheer volume of historic accusations made against the UK forces and authorities in the north-east of Ireland that have turned out to be true? Dismissed as “republican propaganda” throughout the 1970s to ’90s by a domestic clique of politicians and journalists acting as British-apologists we now know that the claims of torture-centres and death squads, car-bombers and gunmen, were in fact correct. It seems incredible that this form of historical denialism continues to be propagated by several unionist-sympathising newspaper columnists to the present day. Yet new facts keep rolling in, particularity from a younger generation of international news media who simply don’t buy into the myth of the Pax Brittanica inter Hibernienses that the colonist-deniers want to sell.
From Vice Magazine:
“Between 1972 and 1974, rumors about black magic spread through Northern Ireland while the country was on the brink of civil war. Press headlines raising the specter of black masses, animal sacrifices, and child abductions started appearing alongside the usual articles about the political crisis and the assassination and bombing campaigns that followed.
Over the next 40 years, Richard Jenkins, professor of sociology at Sheffield University, investigated this phenomenon, gathering material in libraries and speaking to witnesses. During his research, he discovered where these fears may have originated: the British Army.
The main source of these allegations is Captain Colin Wallace, already well-known for his previous revelations about the Army’s unorthodox methods employed during the Troubles. These revelations got him sidelined and framed: he spent six years in prison on a conviction of manslaughter which was later quashed in the light of new forensic and other evidence (which was investigated in Paul Foot’s book, Who Framed Colin Wallace? ).
The former officer of information of the Army’s psychological operations unit (known as Information Policy) told Jenkins that his small team had set up mock ritual sites in various places like ruined houses or an abandoned churchyard. They hung upside down crosses made of tomato crates, drew magic circles, and displayed black candles and blood from the Army’s kitchen. They also wrote fake reader’s letters to several newspapers, provided scripts for unattributed briefings with journalists, and helped zealous citizens to write misleading ads for the press.
The Information Policy group may not have started the rumors, but they fed them in order to smear paramilitary organizations. It was only one aspect of a broader black propaganda strategy, which also relied on more “classic” defamatory rumors involving misappropriated money, communism, and drug trafficking. Their aim was to establish a link in the public opinion between the rise of paramilitary groups’ violence and things that both the protestant and catholic communities would find objectionable. Ireland’s strong religious culture and supernatural folklore gave the military the idea of this new kind of threat which could also encourage people—especially children and teenagers—to stay home at night.”
As R.W. Johnston say’s in a review of Paul Foot’s book (which the Thatcher government in Britain tried desperately to ban):
“Recruited into Information Policy, an undercover psychological warfare unit working closely with MI6, Wallace was put in charge of black propaganda operations. These consisted in feeding a host of alarmist stories about the IRA to the British press – wading through them, one begins to wonder, glumly, how far one can trust anything the British press writes about Ireland.”
On that score at least, relatively little has changed. and not just with the British press.
“The IRA not only exists but continues to operate moles in the civil service to protect and promote its huge financial network and other interests, senior garda sources have revealed.
The Garda Special Detective Unit is aware of the identity of several moles who they believe have being carrying out infiltration of the public service for years.”