Northern Ireland

1968 RUC letter to minister warned of impending violence

Protesters regularly took to the streets to call for civil rights in the late 1960s
Image caption Protesters regularly took to the streets to call for civil rights in the late 1960s

A 1968 letter warning of impending public disorder across Northern Ireland in the wake of and run-up to civil rights marches, has been discovered by students in a history class.

The letter was from the Inspector General of the RUC, Sir Albert Kennedy, to William Craig, the Stormont minister of home affairs in November 1968.

It was found in the Public Records Office by a group of history students.

In the letter, Sir Albert advocated for marches to be allowed to take place.

He said police had not supported any bans on marches.

He added that "a number of people on what I call the loyalist side are confused and are not making any distinction between the IRA and the civil rights marchers… this is resulting in opposition to peaceful marches".

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption The letter was sent to William Craig, the Stormont minister of home affairs in November 1968.

He referred to "demonstrations and meetings of such a nature as could lead to armed conflict, with the IRA stepping in to take advantage of the situation".

"Death and destruction would be inevitable and the impact on the whole way of life in Ulster would be catastrophic," he added.

The letter went on to advise people in public positions to refrain from making statements that could inflame passions.

Sir Albert said that "the police force of Ulster may soon be unable to maintain law".

Peter Weil, who teaches the history class at Belfast's Stranmillis College, said the find is significant for anyone who is interested in how violence took hold in Northern Ireland.

"There is no doubt the police were telling the minister for home affairs: 'Don't do it, don't bend them. If you don't bend them, we will probably be OK. If you do bend them, you will be unleashing all kinds of horrors," he said.

"I think that is very significant."

Related Topics

More on this story