Events to protest the second anniversary of the introduction of internment without trial in Northern Ireland were organised for Thursday, 9th August 1973.
In a vain attempt to unite the various competing nationalist organisations under a single banner, a “Political Hostages Release Committee” was formed.
It had the task of attempting to numb the very real tensions existing between the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, the Republican Clubs/Official IRA, Provisional Sinn Fein/Provisional IRA, the People’s Democracy and various smaller leftist/socialist groupings, mostly composed of students.
Two PD leaders, Michael Farrell and Tony Canavan, were on hunger strike in Crumlin Road prison for political status for having breached orders regarding public marches.
At one of the many proposed protests across Northern Ireland – at Falls Park in Belfast – the anti-internment rally was nominally under the PHRC auspices, but it was in fact run by the Belfast branch of the Civil Rights Association, which supplied the platform, the sound equipment and also the stewards who kept order and an eye on the equipment.
The Belfast branch of the CRA happened to have a lot of support from the local Republican Clubs – the political face of the Official IRA – and this fact was not lost on the Provisional IRA and its political front, Sinn Féin.
The People’s Democracy grouping was at this time giving more support to Provisional Sinn Féin.
On the eve of the protest, SDLP leader John Hume gave a speech in Dungarvan, County Waterford, declaring that the civil rights movement had both gained political changes in Northern Ireland and sympathy around the world for its non-violent methods:
SDLP leaders had been negotiating the release of ‘short term’ prisoners such as the People’s Democracy activists Michael Farrell and Tony Canavan and a large number of these prisoners were released on the morning of the planned protests.
On the day of the protests, the Provisional IRA exploded a car bomb at an Omagh housing estate for families of British soldiers from the Lisanelly army camp next door.
The Provos managed to injure 16 women and children in their campaign to Unite Ireland.
Among the many condemnations of the Provisional IRA’s attack on British army families, was one by the Tyrone branch of the Civil Rights Association:
Some time before the end of the Falls Park protest on August 9, the Provisional IRA’s Maura Drumm and a gang of IRA ‘heavies’ tried to take over the meeting by force.
The last scheduled speaker was obstructed as the Provo gang heaved Maura Drumm onto the platform after chanting her name.
Civil Rights Association stewards were unable to prevent the Provos’ attempted takeover of the meeting but were able to switch off and dismantle the sound equipment which prevented the Maura Drumm from being heard.
A report in The Guardian the following day recorded the Provos assault on the Belfast CRA platform:
[Catholic priest Fr. Des Wilson – self-appointed chaplain to the Belfast Brigade of the IRA – stopped his car to tell reporters:
“We have got to get these bastards (the soldiers) out. Even civil war would be better than this and you can quote me.”
Wilson was one of a small number of Catholic priests who openly supported the Provisional IRA.]
The Belfast Civil Rights Association members and stewards were well aware that Maura Drumm was a Commander in the women’s wing of the Provisional IRA, Cumann na mBan.
She had already been arrested and imprisoned a number of times in two jurisdictions for short periods for calling on people at rallies to support the Provisional IRA.
Maura Drumm was also the Chief of Staff of Cumann na mBan throughout Ireland and this earned her a position on the Provisional IRA Army Council.
The following year when Protestant churchmen asked to meet the the Provisional IRA Army Council to sound out a possible ceasefire, Canon William Arlow was assured that all those present at the meeting in Feakle, County Clare, were members of the IRA Army Council:
Drumm was also a vice-president of Sinn Féin, thereby personifying the unity of the IRA and Sinn Féin.
So, the Belfast branch of the Civil Rights Association – and the stewards – were well aware that the group of Provisional IRA ‘heavies’ who heaved Drumm onto its platform – uninvited – were fully capable of physical violence either right there at the platform or afterwards in reprisals.
And in case anyone was in any doubt about her IRA membership – apart from regularly calling on young men to join the Provisional IRA – Drumm had often marched around Belfast’s republican areas leading groups of women – Cumann na mBan volunteers – carrying hurls while dressed in para-military fatigues.
There was no love lost between the Provisional IRA and the Civil Rights Association after Falls Park.
Following the Provisional IRA assault on the Civil Rights Association platform at Falls Park, any unity among the groupings disappeared.
A planned protest march to the Maze prison was the first casualty.
Repercussions from the Provos assault on the Civil Rights platform continued.
By the time of the Provisional IRA’s assault on the Falls Park Civil Rights platform, Cumann na mBan Chief of Staff Maura Drumm had participated – directly and indirectly – in a welter of PIRA murders.
She had supplied the “girls” who were cooperating with Gerry Adams’ “unknowns” – the special IRA gang dedicated to abducting, torturing, murdering and then disappearing the corpses of alleged informers and others who had broken the PIRA’s rules.
Drumm was aware of the abduction, torture, murder and disappearance of Jean McConville eight months earlier.
She had only recently supplied the “girls” – the Price sisters – who had four months earlier been arrested after bombing London along with Gerry Kelly, Hugh Feeney and others – the “girls” who were now on hunger strike in Brixton prison.
Maura Drumm believed that political murder was good, and any casualties arising – whether of men, women or children – were necessary evils.
The Provos told their younger recruits in the early 1970s: “You can’t make an omelette [a United Ireland] without cracking eggs [causing civilian casualties].”
Pacifist organisations that would draw young people away from “armed struggle” were enemies of the Provisional IRA and of its aim of a United Ireland by force – and these enemies included the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association.
NICRA marches and protests had been very useful for a time to agitate and energise a political consciousness in a population that only a decade previously had refused to support the IRA’s disastrous “Border Campaign”.
But the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association – like the Peace People some time later – was to be disrupted and intimidated out of republican areas if possible, not least because of its association with the [Official IRA’s] Republican Clubs.
By 1978, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association had penned a rather sad retrospective account of its own rise and fall.
The booklet contains its 1978 opinion of the Provisional IRA movement:
[The NICRA booklet may be read here in full.]
How is it that the Provisional IRA movement and its armed-struggle loving political front Sinn Féin were ever allowed to express a background in or love for the Northern Ireland Civil Rights movement?
What has the IRA or Sinn Féin ever had in common with Civil Rights which they denied to tens of thousands of maimed and murdered IRA victims?
How has a movement dedicated to violent, bloody armed struggle been allowed to point to ANY association with pacifist Civil Rights activism?
Maura Drumm – who celebrated armed struggle – became one of its victims in 1976 when she was shot dead by loyalist paramilitaries.
She was possibly the highest-ranking Provisional IRA target murdered by loyalist paramilitaries – Chief of Staff of Cumann na mBan and IRA Army Council member, not forgetting vice president of Sinn Féin.
Her funeral in 1976 was the purest IRA paramilitary theatre – uniforms, berets, black glasses, young men and women marching to celebrate the IRA death machine – a celebration of death and destruction.
Falls Park was the occasion chosen by the Provisional IRA to attack the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association – only 19 months after the Parachute Regiment’s attack on the Civil Rights movement on what became known as Bloody Sunday – and IRA Army Council member Maura Drumm was chosen to lead the assault.
Maura Drumm went to her grave believing that Irish Republican principles would never be sold out by the Provisional IRA movement – she gave an interview in May 1974 in which she declared that republicans would NEVER enter a British assembly in Northern Ireland:
[The unpublished interview may be read here.]
It’s only fair to give the final word on the IRA and Sinn Féin to the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement in 1978:
The Provisionals were the men who first broke the civil rights pledge of no talks until Internment ends.
Their sporadic sectarian war against Protestants and their campaign of murder against civilians has been one of the greatest denials of civil and human rights in recent Irish history.
Fuelled initially by Fianna Fail money they rocketed across the Irish political scene leaving death and destruction, reactionary politics and repressive legislation in their wake, and their present orbit is powered by the continuing sectarianism generated by their own actions.
Their production line in martyrs and heroes has provided the raison d’etre for the continuation of their campaign and the living and dead bodies of their members which lie scattered across the prisons and cemeteries of Ireland are mute testimony to the futility of their actions.
Provisional IRA Army Council veteran Gerry Adams unveiled a portrait of Maura Drumm to hang in the parlour of Belfast City Hall in March, 2020.