Bloodless Battle Between British Army And The PIRA
(Part 2)

“The business people request the restoration of this vital amenity, so necessary to citizens for the preservation of life and limb, for the safeguarding of property, and prevention of any person, bent on vandalism or robbery. Also as chairman of Newry and district Road Safety Committee, I must demand the restoration of that public service, so important for road safety.”

And Mr Mackle stated: “Surely people have suffered enough, without being harassed and deprived of their rights. I would ask all business people to consider the illumination of windows and electric signs at night, in order to help alleviate the disgraceful situation in our town.”

In a hard-hitting statement, the chairman of Newry and Mourne district council told the members: “Newry faces economic ruin. What businessman or industrialist is going to look favourably on what threatens to become a shambles.

“We have a dying town, that could soon become a ghost town. Responsible people must openly demonstrate that they are opposed to what the IRA persists in doing, purportedly for the people. For what people? Have they asked the people what they want? It is high time that the people told the IRA what they want.

“We have worked for all sections of the people to make this area attractive to live in, for tourists, business and industry. And we were elected, not self-appointed. The situation has developed where what good was done by elected representatives has been negatived by a small, self-appointed group of unscrupulous people, obviously skilled in Mafia tactics.”

And the council chairman asked: “Are the overwhelming majority going to put up the shutters, lock ourselves in, and hope that we have been sufficiently conciliatory to merit being over-looked when they go on the rampage? The person who simply doesn’t care is simply a fool.

“The distinction between being sympathetic towards an ideal, while being totally opposed to the tactics, is patently wrong. What sort of ideals have men, who put guns into the hands of children, cynically exploiting their natural recklessness and high spirits? Who inflicts suffering on the very people they claim to protect? And whose insufferable arrogance blinds them to simple reason? Their fellow-travellers should take a long hard look at them.

“But what makes the situation so complicated is that many people find themselves caught between two uncaring forces. The British Army is supposed to give us security. But it’s my experience that their tactics of harassment and bully-boy approach makes people more insecure.

“I do not acknowledge the right of the British Army to take control of any public service, for what is basically in their own self-interest. They have the capability of controlling the lighting, - they may have the might, but not the right. It is up to their political master, Merlyn Rees, to see that this is rectified.”

Meanwhile, the crisis deepened in the Newry region, as the town’s public electricity system failed completely, with at least half of consumers being left without power. Hospitals, the health centre and old peoples homes were forced to use stand-by generators. Also affected were the creamery, meat factory, and plants on the Greenbank industrial estate.

The situation at the FMC meat plant was described as “desperate,” with orders cancelled and the factory at a standstill, while over £100,00 worth of meat in the refrigeration plant was lost.

And in households all over the region, electric cookers went cold, fridges stopped working, TV screens were blank and there was no hot water. As darkness fell, oil-lamps and candles replaced electric lighting, while battery-operated radios were rescued from attics. Farmers had to milk cows by hand, and there was a problem keeping thousands of chickens alive. Petrol pumps were also not operating.

Compromises by the British Army to limit to the control over street-lighting to the town centre and then only to shut-off sections at a time; and later a proposal to place the electric power in the hands of the RUC, were rejected by the Provisional IRA, who stated: “As soon as the British Army hand back control to the Electricity Service, their workers will be in no danger.”

A protest march, organised by the ITGWU, headed by a banner: “We demand the power to work,” drew a large crowd, which paraded to the UDR Centre on the Downshire Road. A deputation was admitted to discuss the situation.

Then a 13-man deputation from Newry and Mourne district council, along with leaders of business and industry, met the Secretary of State, Merlyn Rees and Minister for Commerce, Stanly Orme. They emphasised the necessity for the return of control over street-lighting to the civil authorities. It was decided that the NIES would be responsible for providing all electric power in the Newry district.

And the Newry Brigade of the PIRA issued a message for “all active service units to take note that, for the sake of the civilian population, who were left without heat or light, causing hardship to old and young people, as well as workers in industry, we call a halt to this dispute. Electricity Service workers can now go about their duties, in providing an essential service to our people.”

Finally, almost a month after the lights had gone out on the streets of Newry and surrounding areas, Electricity Service employees were back at work, repairing the faults. The wheels of industry and commerce, health and education, began turning again, people could have proper meals and showers, while house-wives could use their labour-saving devices, and settle down to watch their favourite soaps!

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008