Thursday, July 21, 2005

Tribute to Edward Heath is wide of the mark

Brian Feeney:

True, it's normal to pay tribute to someone who has just died. De mortuis nil nisi bonum and all that. People make an effort to emphasise the best bits. Still, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern got it completely wrong when he said "Sir Edward Heath will be remembered with particular affection in Ireland because it was he who negotiated the Sunningdale Agreement of 1974."

He'll be remembered for the Sunningdale Agreement but 'with particular affection'?

Professor Ronan Fanning was nearer the mark when he said Sir Edward's reputation had "nowhere to go but up" with regard to his dealings with Ireland.

It was during Heath's premiership 1970-74 that the critical mistakes of the seventies were made in the north – the Falls curfew, internment and Bloody Sunday.

Certainly his Labour government successors got off to a bad start in 1974 and took several wrong turns thereafter but on Heath's watch the death toll soared exponentially in 1972 to reach the highest total of any year in the Troubles, 497, of whom 259 were civilians. It was during his time that the British army made itself obnoxious to the nationalist population and the UDR was deployed in an ever-increasing role battening on the whole Catholic community.

It all happened very quickly after Heath unexpectedly won the June 1970 general election. No-one in the nationalist community at the time was under any illusion that the terms of trade with the British government had altered. Both Stormont and the British army were almost immediately allowed a much freer hand which within a month proved completely disastrous when four people were killed during the Falls Road curfew. The full weight of the security forces was thrown against the nationalist population in the next few months ignoring the much larger caches of weapons in loyalist districts. The security forces also turned a blind eye to emerging loyalist paramilitary groups, notably the UDA.

One of the reasons for this turnaround was Heath's choice of home secretary, the man who in effect ran the north before direct rule. He was Reggie Maudling who had stood against Heath for the Tory leadership and became his deputy. Maudling was clever, lazy, a sot and deeply corrupt. He was up to his neck in all kinds of illegal property deals and back-handers. He couldn't care less about the north. He it was who coined the phrase "acceptable level of violence". He hated wasting his time here. After years of interference by Labour ministers, unionists at Stormont felt the reins slacken.

Heath's managerial style of government allowed Maudling to 'get on with it'. In fact of course he did nothing. Instead, he allowed the British army and unionists to get on with it and what a mess they made. Reform, the very last thing unionists wanted, was put on hold and the problem was treated as an insurrection. As a result, violence escalated dramatically.

It was only when the toll of death and injury started to reach catastrophic levels in 1972 that Heath became personally involved in dealing with the north. Until then he had paid scant attention, even continuing yachting during the internment sweep of August 1971 despite appeals from West Belfast MP Gerry Fitt to recall Parliament. Scandalously as British prime minister he had viewed the scenes of destruction and carnage in part of the UK with equanimity. Clearly for him the north of Ireland was a place apart.

When Heath did become involved, however, there was no doubt where he laid the blame for the events of the previous two years.

Stormont unionists had had their chance. All the advice they had pressed on him had been wrong.

He took more radical action than anyone had imagined.

He involved the Irish government for the first time since 1922.

Heath broke generations of Conservative policy by ending positive support for the Union.

He declared that Irish unity was a legitimate aspiration and if "at some future date a majority of the people of Northern Ireland want unification I do not believe the British government would stand in the way". He abolished Stormont and unionists have never forgiven him just as nationalists never forgave him for internment and Bloody Sunday. 'Particular affection'? No.

Heath was direct rule architect

Northern politicians ‘will not remember Heath fondly’

Heath will always be remembered for his role in the Bloody Sunday Massacre - Mitchel Mc Laughlin MLA

Heath's selective memory

Heath in Bloody Sunday shame

Ex-PM Heath holds on to Bloody Sunday secrets


Heath: Bloody Sunday set peace back 30 years

Former British Prime Minister Edward Heath gives evidence to Bloody Sunday tribunal

Britain: Military testimony indicates Bloody Sunday cover-up

Bloody Sunday - time for the truth

Heath's secret Bloody Sunday talks

Bloody Sunday probe urged to consider Heath role in ‘disaster’

Ireland News Update

Imposing Democracy on the World

The Tories wrecked peace hope


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