Thursday, October 16, 2014

Liam McMillen and the 1964 Election 50 years on

(above: Liam McMillen, front, and one of his staff,  Bobby McKnight, back)

(McMillen outside a mural with one of his election slogans, taken from the poem "Spirit of the Nation/ Song for July 12th" by Thomas Davis or John de Jean Frazer. *

(above: Election flyer)

Scenes from his Election HQ:

(Thanks to GB, J O'B, PJD, and all who originally posted the above)

 *- The Full poem is worth posting. It becomes all the more poignant when one recalls the chain of events  in the years following the elections.

Come—pledge again thy heart and hand—
 One grasp that ne'er shall sever;
Our watchword be—"Our native land"—
Our motto—"Love for ever."

 And let the Orange lily be
  Thy badge, my patriot brother—
 The everlasting Green for me;
And—we for one another.

 Behold how green the gallant stem,
  On which the flower is blowing;
 How in one heav'nly breeze and beam
 Both flower and stem are glowing.

 The same good soil sustaining both,
Makes both united flourish:
But cannot give the Orange growth,
  And cease the Green to nourish.

 Yea, more—the hand that plucks the flower
Will vainly strive to cherish:
The stem blooms on—but in that hour
The flower begins to perish.

 Regard them, then, of equal worth
While lasts their genial weather;
The time's at hand when into earth
The two shall sink together.

 Ev'n thus be, in our country's cause,
Our party feelings blended;
Till lasting peace, from equal laws,
  On both shall have descended.

 Till then the Orange lily be
Thy badge, my patriot brother—
 The everlasting Green for me;
 And—we for one another.

 An account of the riots from Andrew Boyd's "Holy War in Belfast": 1964: THE TRICOLOUR RIOTS

 RIOTING and terror returned to the City of Belfast on Monday 28 September 1964. That evening a detachment of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, acting on the explicit instruction of Brian McConnell, Northern Ireland’s Minister of Home Affairs, attacked the Divis Street headquarters of the Republican Party in West Belfast. Their mission was to remove an Irish tricolour. This took place during a general election for the British House of Commons, an assembly in which Northern Ireland has twelve seats, besides having its own parliament of 52 members. The Republicans had nominated Liam McMillan to contest West Belfast; the other candidates in the constituency were Unionist, Republican Labour and Northern Ireland Labour. When McConnell, himself a Unionist, ordered the police to move against the Republican headquarters he was responding to pressure from Ian K. Paisley, leader of the Free Presbyterians. Paisley had threatened that if the RUC did not remove the tricolour he would lead a march of his followers to Divis Street and take it down himself. For several days before this threat was uttered, the RUC and the Ministry of Home Affairs had been pestered by anonymous telephone callers, all complaining about the tricolour and demanding its removal. Anonymous callers had also warned the Republicans that their headquarters would be burned if they continued to display the Irish flag. James Kilfedder, the. Unionist candidate in West Belfast, complained about the tricolour too, and sent this telegram to McConnell: "Remove tricolour in Divis Street which is aimed to provoke and insult loyalists of Belfast."

 McConnell acted, even though Divis Street is in a part of Belfast where few of those people whom Kilfedder described as "loyalists" are to be seen. He held a conference of his senior police officers on Monday morning and ordered that the flag be removed. His authority to do this was the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act. At the same time, exercising the power given to him by the Public Order Act of 1961, he restricted a Paisleyite protest march to an area within the vicinity of the City Hall. This was a part of Belfast which the minister considered to be a safe distance from Divis Street. Traffic was brought to a standstill on Monday night of 28 September when it became known that the RUC were coming to seize the flag. More than 2,000 Republican supporters blocked the roadway and scores of constables were rushed to the scene in armoured cars.

The constables, though armed with sten-guns, rifles, revolvers, riot-batons and shields, were made to look ridiculous by groups of little boys who ran about with miniature tricolour emblems which they stuck on walls, trolley-buses, police-cars and the windows of the Republican headquarters. Meanwhile, at the City Hall, Paisley had decided not to march; but he held a meeting which he opened with prayers and readings from the Bible. Then he read a telegram from an organisation of people calling themselves the Ulster Loyalist Association. The telegram congratulated him "on his stand against the tricolour."

After that the meeting became the familiar Paisleyite medley of prayers, anti-popery and political invective. By this time the RUC, using pickaxes, had smashed down the doors of the Republican headquarters and taken possession of the flag. They carried it away through a barrage of stones and empty bottles, and to the prolonged jeers of crowds of youngsters.

 Next day Liam McMillan telegraphed Harold Wilson, leader of the British Labour Party: "armed police using crowbars smashed into Republican headquarters, Belfast, without warning. Seized Irish flag. Demand you clarify attitude to this violence against democracy." He also announced that unless the police returned the tricolour by noon on Wednesday another would be put in its place.

The confiscated flag was not brought back so McMillan hoisted a new one, and, as he did so, 300 people cheered and sang "A Soldier’s Song," national anthem of the Irish Republic. The nearest policeman, fifty yards away, was directing traffic. Shortly after two o’clock that afternoon the RUC cleared Divis Street to make way for an armoured car. When the car stopped outside the Republican headquarters eight policemen emerged and began another attack on the place, with crowbars and pickaxes. They failed to break down the door, but one of them smashed the window, reached in and pulled out the second tricolour.

 By Wednesday news of the events in Divis Street had spread throughout the world. Belfast became the hub of the general election campaign, attracting television reporters, camera teams and newspaper men from many countries. That night thousands of Republicans, armed with petrol-bombs, sticks, stones, rotten vegetables, and some with loaded firearms, gathered outside their headquarters to sing Irish patriotic songs. A battle began at eleven o’clock when police tried to disperse them.

The television teams and the commentators were on the spot to record all that happened. For the first time ever, people in many parts of the world were able to watch, on their television screens, the intensity of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. At the first indication that the Republicans would fight, some fifty RUC men, who had been held in readiness in the small streets between Falls Road and Shankill Road, were rushed into Divis Street. But the Republicans, who seemed to be acting in accordance with a pre-arranged strategy, drove them back into the side-streets. They attacked them with stones, bottles, chunks of metal and petrol-bombs.

 In Divis Street a Belfast Corporation trolley-bus was set on fire. Eight RUC men jumped for their lives when a petrol-bomb was thrown into their car. Bottles, stones, sticks and heavy iron gratings were hurled in all directions. Plate-glass from the windows of wrecked shops crashed to the ground. By midnight the police had succeeded in sealing off Divis Street and in clearing it for several hundred yards on both sides of the blazing trolley-bus.

 Order was largely restored, but thirty people, including at least eighteen members of the RUC, had been injured seriously enough to require urgent hospital treatment. Next day it became evident that events in Northern Ireland were being regarded with astonishment throughout the world. In vain did Terence O’Neill, Prime Minister and leader of the Unionist Party, appeal for restraint and a return to law and order. His appeal brought only sneers and insults from the Paisleyites. They looked upon him as a liberal weakling and believed that his policies of reform and reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants were destroying the Protestant Ascendancy. Since 1963, when O’Neill had secured the premiership by outwitting his nearest rivals within the Unionist Party, the Paisleyites had been demanding his removal from office. "O’Neill Must Go" became the policy of their newspaper, The Protestant Telegraph. Their campaign was intensified when he met Sean Lemass, An Taoiseach (Premier) of the Irish Republic, in January 1965.

 On 6 October, five days after the Divis Street riots, Professor Robert Corkey, Unionist senator and former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, indicted Paisley as the man mainly responsible for the disturbances. "His loud protestations of Protestant principles," said Professor Corkey, "have attracted a considerable following of thoughtless people." Next day, in the Northern Ireland Parliament, Harry Diamond, a Republican Labour MP, also blamed Paisley and described him as "a half-demented exhibitionist." Diamond alleged that a caucus of the Unionist Party in Belfast Corporation had urged Paisley to complain about the tricolour and threaten to pull it down. The involvement of members of the Unionist Party might explain why O’Neill refused an official investigation into the events which resulted in the Divis Street disturbances. He pleaded in the House of Commons that there "was no precedent for such an inquiry." The Unionists won West Belfast and the eleven other Northern Ireland constituencies. When the count closed on 15 October, Kilfedder was declared elected with a 6,000 majority. His first words, after the result had been announced, were directed to Ian Paisley without whose help, he said, "it could not have been done." 

Nevertheless, the Republicans had their own victory.
On Sunday 5 October they carried the tricolour, in public and in broad daylight, at the head of a parade of 5,000 people who marched from Beechmount on Falls Road, through Divis Street, to an election rally near Smithfield. Police lined the route but made no attempt to seize the flag. The same day a congregation of 2,000, in Belfast’s Ulster Hall, heard Ian Paisley accuse "many Ulster Protestant leaders of showing weakness in the face of Republican pressure." If they did not stand firm their Protestant faith was in jeopardy, he warned. This alleged threat to Protestantism in Ulster and the weakness of certain Unionist political leaders were the main points on which Paisley was to base his campaigns and rally his followers after the battle for the Divis Street tricolour.

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