Derry City and Strabane District Councillor Eamonn McCann has said that a secret handwritten memo penned by a London based Foreign Office diplomat in the summer of 1972 exmplifies the colonial attitude displayed towards the people of the Derry by the British political and military hierarchy.
The memo suggests that the no-go areas of Derry should be “encouraged” to rot from within via the spread of disease.
The document, written by an Adrian Thorpe, centres on his advice on how to handle the no go areas in Derry and also gives a list of options of how the British could deal with the overall situation in Northern Ireland.
The document, dated June 27 was drafted just one day after the Provisional IRA had declared a ceasefire whilst its leadership was flown to London to hold talks with senior British government and high-ranking secret service figures.
That IRA ceasefire collapsed on July 9, 1972 and almost exactly three weeks later on July 31, the British Army launched Operation Motorman-an incursion into Derry's no go areas during which two teenagers were shot dead in Creggan.
Last Thursday, the Coroner's Court declared that the killing of Seamus Bradley (19) by an unidentified member of the Royal Scots Regiment during Operation Motorman was “unjustified.” Another ex-soldier is to face murder and attempted murder charges in relation to the death of Daniel Hegarty (15) on the same day and the wounding of his cousin Christopher Hegarty.
Adrian Thorpe, a Cambridge graduate, joined the British Diplomatic Service in 1965 and served in a number of sensitve postings including Beirut in the mid-1970s, Bonn in the former West Germany and Kuala Lumpar in Malyasia. Also, in the 1980s he headed up the Foreign Office information department for three years.
Thorpe's first ambassadorial posting was to the Phillipines between 1995-1998 and he served as Ambassador to Mexico from 1999-2002. In 1994 he was knighted and was made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George and has now retired from public service.
Eamonn McCann recently unearthed the documentagain in preparation for talks on the recent 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Bogside. The memo had originally been released by the Foreign Office and was used as part of a portfolio of evidence to the Saville Inquiry, but was never widely publicised.
Mr McCann said: “What stands out in this memo is that first it's headed 'The Problem of Londonderry' and it's marked secret. Basically, it's an account by an important civil servant, shall we say, in London stating what his position was. He's writing to another another senior civil servant about what to do about the north.
“In summary it says that option one is to let things continue and see what happens. But, he comes to the end of it and writes 'you know I have always been in favour of encouraging the no-go areas to rot from within, there is no reason why we should not encourage the breakdown of essential services and the spread of disease etc.'
“This is a statement from a senior civil servant, called Mr Adrian Thorpe. Now, Mr Adrian Thorpe went on to subsequently have a glittering career in the diplomatic service. During the Saville Inquiry when I dug out this document he was the British Ambassador in Mexico. So this boy was a high flyer.”
When the memo was written in 1972, Mr Thorpe was a 29-year-old desk officer at the Foreign Office department dealing with the Republic of Ireland. Amongst the six options for dealing with the no-go areas mentioned in the memo it's stated that “forcible occupation” was the preferred one.
Option 5 was one which was focused on the prospect of a united Ireland, of which Mr Thorpe wrote: “Cession to the Republic was never a serious possibility and would be a matter for duscussion at a conference which is still a long way off.”
When the document was briefly mentioned at the Saville Inquiry in 2000, it was noted that Thorpe had expressed regret to his own colleagues but that he had not been asked for a formal explanation of his written remarks.
Mr Arthur Harvey QC, who was senior counsel for many of of the relatives of Bloody Sunday victims during the 12-year-long tribunal said of Thorpe's comments at the time: “It shows contempt for the people of Derry which it is difficult to imagine-that they really should be left to rot by the spread of disease.
“It is an affront to the conscience of any rational human being, but it appears that certainly, whatever the background at the time, it is an indication of the menatlity of those persons and their attitudes to Derry.”
Eamonn McCann continued: “I remember trying to talk to him (Adrian Thorpe). I kept phoning the British Embassy in Mexico City and asking to speak to him. Three of four times I spoke to someone there and they kept asking me what I wanted to talk to him about. They were probably intrigued when I said I was calling from Derry in Northern Ireland and I wanted to speak to the ambassador.
“When I explained that I wanted to talk about Derry in 1972, they must have related this back to him, and I'm not saying this it was a direct result of me calling, but shortly thereafter Mr Thorpe was replaced in Mexico and I didn't have his phone number anymore.
“What I think is interesting about that is that it's very traditional Victorian class snobbery. It's not to do really with nationality so much, it's class-'these people are dirty, they don't deserve sanitation, let them rot.'
“I mean, that's what the colonial governors might have said. So, that tells you something about the attitude behind the attitude that was led to the British Army and the British conservative governments and their actions in the north at the time.
“When you read that you can see that they didn't see the people of the Bogside as fully human beings. And, that explains an awful lot. It wasn't just soldier's on the ground, it wasn't rogue soldiers. It wasn't Para's going beserk on a particular day-what they were doing was reflecting an attitude that lay at the heart of the British establishment towards places like the Bogside.
“We tend to blame, and rightly so, individual soldiers, blame Soldier F, I blame him for what he did, but he didn't go in and do something which was out of kilter with the attitudes of senior political, diplomatic and military people.
“The Para's knew, or thought they knew, that they had licence to go in and kill people because of the attitudes of those above them. Whether or not they were given orders to go in and kill people, they were given to understand that there would be no comeback if they went into the Bogside and killed people.
“That confidence they had when they opened fire in Rossville Street, Chamberlain Street and Glenfada Park, that confidence was rooted in the attitude of the British ruling class, towards all working class people, but specifically towards working class people in Derry, who had the nerve to rise up against them.
“I've just finished reading a book on the great massacre at Amritsar by British troops in India, which to some extent led onto independence because it gave a massive boost to Indian nationalism, specifically Hindu nationalism. So the British had gone through this before. Amritsar was a much bigger massacre, it involved hundreds of people, nevertheless you can see the parallels, the similarities between what they were doing in India and in Africa, where they regarded people as savages, you weren't entitled to human rights.
“The basic attitude was that these native people's were not clean or well advised. Definitely, some of them saw working class people in the Bogside in the same way they saw native people's everywhere in the world. That comes through in Mr Thorpe's memo.
“Speaking about a battle in Sudan, it was Hilaire Belloc the Catholic essayist once said after 10,000 Sundanese troops were killed for the loss of 38 British soldiers, and the reason it happened was the disparity in weaponry, said 'whatever happens we have got the Maxim gun and they have not!'
“There's an attitude of being careless about human life. They say now that republicans and loyalists have been careless of human life in the north, that's absolutely true, both republican's and loyalists did unforgivable things, but it seems to me they weren't as big or unforgivable as things done on a routine basis by the British Army, or any other imperial army.
“I always remember a wonderful a memo from one of the garrison commanders in Derry in the midst of the riots. It was like Caesar going through Gaul and it said 'fleet of foot and full of guile, the Bogside hooligan is a formidable enemy.' It was almost an admiring tone-they regarded them as exotic creatures.”
CAPTION: Eamonn McCann examining a batch of documents.
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