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19/10/2021

"The wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time"

"The wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time"

David Burke's book, "Kitson's Irish War" tells of how General Frank Kitson's approach to Ireland culminated into the massacre that took place in Derry on Bloody Sunday

A damning indictment of General Frank Kitson appears in David Burke's, “Kitson's Irish War: Mastermind Of The Dirty War In Ireland”, couldn't be any clearer.

In it, Burke accuses Kitson of the following: “Had he set out to become a recruitment sergeant for the IRA, he could not have done a better job”.

A cynic might say that such an accusation can only be made in hindsight but voices at the time during the early 1970s were saying it as well.

One such voice was Stormont Parliament MP, Paddy Devlin of the SDLP, who wrote that Kitson “did more than any other individual to sour relations between the Catholic community and the security forces”.

Burke's book reveals how the tragic events of Bloody Sunday was not a case, of a few troops being 'out of control' but the culmination of a number of poor, ill-formed decisions that had its roots in the British army's counter-insurgency techniques employed in their then-colonies of Malaya, Kenya and Aden.

Such techniques also involved many incidences of torture used by the army – something that would visit Derry and the rest of the north of Ireland when Kitson arrived.

The Savile Report of 2010 vindicated the victims and those attending the Civil Rights march on that fateful Sunday in 1972 but neither General Kitson or his elite troops were held accountable.

Burke, a Dublin-based barrister who is also the son of Richard Burke – the Education Minister in Liam Cosgrave's Fine Gael government, attempts to set the record straight regarding Kitson's involvement and how his tactics during his time in the north of Ireland spiralled into the murder of 14 civil rights marchers in Derry.

“I tried to write the book in a way that's not overly academic,” said Burke, but there are footnotes there to show my research and to back up what has been written.

“It wasn't written for an audience who had not known anything previously about the subject matter but for people who are interested in what happened in the north in 1971 and 1972.

“I wrote a book last year, which was called 'Deception and Lies: The Hidden History of the 1970 Arms Crisis', One of the themes of that book was why The Troubles started.

“In that I pointed out that in the mid-1960s, the IRA had all but laid down their guns. There was a rapprochement opportunity between the government in the Republic of Ireland and the Stormont Government in the North.

“That had sparked militant responses from people like Ian Paisley and they had turned up the heat and they had created by 1969 violence and inter-communal fighting.

“In that context this book is a continuation of the previous one in that it looks as why did it go wrong, why did you have a situation where British soldiers came and they did a fantastic, really honourable job and they were rightly and correctly welcomed with cups of tea and sandwiches during the so-called honeymoon period.

“You can imagine back in 1969 being an 18 to 21-year-old soldier and being invited in on Christmas Day to join families. There was a good relationship there.

“So this book looks at why all that went wrong. I quote Paddy Devlin in it where he's critical of the IRA – the Provisionals in particular – for turning up the heat. Then there was the rioting which was unfortunately part of the deterioration. And then there was the change of government (first in Stormont and then in Westminster).

“One other factor was the arrived of Kitson and Kitson's career in the colonies had always been about counter-insurgency. He was, as I say in the book, 'the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time'.

“In fairness to him, he did try the 'hearts and minds' approach at first but then the Provisional IRA didn't want that co-operation. So very quickly, Kitson reverts to his counter-insurgency technique. Documents from 1971 show that they took the decision to 'take the war' to the IRA. They decided not to try to suppress the violence of the Loyalists – later on, of course, there is collusion with those groups.

“All of this is aggrevated by the Ballymurphy Massacre and then of course, Bloody Sunday. My conclusion is that Kitson's heavy-handed tactics and the heavy-handed behaviour of the paratroopers in particular, played into the hands of the IRA.”

One such tactic was for Kitson and his staff to rely heavily on accounts given by so-called 'men-on-the-ground' who came off as 'being in the know' but turned out to be fantasists.

Observer B was an agent of both British Military Intelligence and MI5 who had access to the 'no-go' area of Derry back in 1972. This character continually fabricated information that he constantly fed to his handlers – one included the report of an imaginary IRA battalion supposedly conducting a paramilitary drill in practice for a 'big operation' on January 30, 1972, the day of the Civil Rights march that was brutally ended by Bloody Sunday.

Burke continued: “When I looked at Bloody Sunday, it was like being given the parts of a watch and having to put it altogether. I came to the only conclusion I could come to in that Observer B's information was kept within a very tight circle and it wasn't tested.

“Had it been given to the likes of RUC Inspector (Frank) Lagan then maybe he might have been able to point out the inaccuracies of some of Observer B's ridiculous claims.

“But this information from Observer B was going through his handlers who don't know what Derry's like and don't understand it and he's their source of information as they're not relying on anyone else. It's from there a catastrophe begins to unfold and becomes understandable.”

The Saville Report has been presented as the final denouement on what happened on Bloody Sunday but Burke says questions still remain to be answered.

He added: “Their activities have been hidden from the ordinary person in Britain. There's a darkness in Whitehall which has a knee-jerk reaction, every time when something like this happens, to cover it up.

“I'm a barrister and I know that (Lord) Saville is entitled to come to the conclusion that the soldiers 'were out of control'. I respectfully disagree with him. I think there's another interpretation of it.

“The book points out that there is something much more deeper going on here.”

“Kitson's Irish War: Mastermind Of The Dirty War In Ireland” by David Bourke is published by Mercier Press and is out now.

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Review: Kitson's Irish War: Mastermind Of The Dirty War In Ireland – David Burke (Mercier Press, 2021)

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