The intent of BBC Scotland’s programme to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the recent ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland was embedded in the title, ‘The War Next Door’. At a superficial level, there was an attempt to provide a semblance of balance with the early inclusion of an articulate, Lanarkshire woman of Irish nationalist descent. Commentary was provided by two historians, Ian S Wood of Napier University, a UDA specialist and Edward Burke of Nottingham University who has studied and written extensively on the role of the British Army in Northern Ireland.
Contributions were made by former Scottish soldiers who had served in the early seventies, representatives of the Orange Order in Scotland and a couple of Republican sympathisers. Tommy typified the attitude of the squaddies, identifying their role as ‘being in the middle’ of sectarian strife, although he acknowledged that initially they had been made very welcome in the nationalist areas. He was a member of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Highland Fusiliers and his brigade was deeply affected by the killing of three off-duty comrades when they were lured into an IRA honey-trap. He admitted that they had welcomed the opportunity ‘to get stuck in ‘ at the earliest opportunity as some kind of personal retribution.
I was invited to contribute to the documentary and spent an hour in the studio. The producer emailed me a couple of weeks before the broadcast was due to air, letting me know that my input, unfortunately, had not made the final cut; although it had been highly valued by the team, it had all come down to ‘ a balance of voices’. I suspect that my view that the problems in the failed Northern State began long before 1969 did not sit well with the editorial premise that British Army involvement was merely that of peace-keeper in the midst of sectarian strife. My fate was sealed when I questioned the outcomes of the Savile Report into Bloody Sunday and the roles of General Ford and Captain Michael Jackson – now General Sir Mike , retired Chief of the General Staff , the highest post in the Army. This programme was no place to remind viewers that Major General Ford believed and wrote that ‘we have to shoot selected leaders among the Derry Young Hooligans’. Jackson, of course, was the author of the lying narrative, the notorious ‘shot list’ that became Britain’s official position on the 1972 killings for 40 years.
The programme aired in the middle of a General Election where there has been little made in this country of the impact of Brexit on life, peace and stability in Ireland. It is unlikely ,in that climate, that it interested many Scots. My fear would be that it might purport in future to be a valid snapshot of what happened during those thirty years or so.
That would be a disservice to history.
The programme, in two parts, may be viewed here