Professor Henry Patterson of Ulster University was the author of a book entitled Ireland’s Violent Border. It was published in 2013 and explored the sectarian murder campaign carried out by the Provisional IRA in the border areas of Northern Ireland.
At the launch of the book Sir Kenneth Bloomfield a former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, described that Provisional IRA campaign around that area as “ethnic cleansing”.
Patterson himself said: “I wanted to write about the border, the problems of north-south security co-operation and the terrible price which border Protestant communities paid for it, because it’s a crucial, but largely ignored, story.
“It’s very common in literature on Northern Ireland and the Troubles to see it largely in terms of a dominant Protestant majority and a Catholic minority, but in the border areas it was the Protestants who were in the minority and who suffered for it.
“It has been ignored in large part because it does not fit into the oppressive Protestants/oppressed Catholics dichotomy.”
In his book Patterson gave the example of Douglas Deering, the last Protestant shopkeeper in Roslea, close to the border in Fermanagh.
He was a married man with three children and a devout Christian who attended a gospel hall across the border in Clones. His shop was bombed four times and then, eventually, he was shot dead in the premises on May 12, 1977.
Republican politicians and propagandists often claimed the targets for IRA violence were men and women who had served in the security forces, but Douglas Deering was not and never had been a member of the security forces. This was a sectarian murder and part of a wider republican strategy of ethnic cleansing.
This phrase appeared again in the Press a few days ago when veteran republican Colm Murphy (below) said that the Provisional IRA had intended to carry out a campaign of ethnic cleansing in south Armagh if there was any retaliation for the massacre of Protestant workmen at Kingsmills in 1976.
His use of the phrase ethnic cleansing became a headline and it led me back to Henry Patterson’s book, which should be compulsory reading for every politician, every journalist, every commentator and, indeed, anyone with an interest in the legacy of the past.
There is much talk in the media and in the political world about the past and the legacy of the past, and Irish republicans have been assiduous in collating and circulating material to support their selective interpretation of that past.
That is why First Minister Arlene Foster, whose family suffered at the hands of the IRA, was so insistent that she would “not allow Gerry Adams, or anyone else in Sinn Fein, to rewrite the past”.
The United Nations has defined ethnic cleansing as “a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic, or religious, group from certain geographic areas”. That is what happened along the border.
Patterson quoted the assessment of an Army officer of the effects of Provisional ethnic cleansing in a lecture given at a staff college in 1992: “In Fermanagh and south Tyrone, there were 203 murders carried out between 1971 and 1989, of which 178 were carried out by republicans. Of these, only 14 have resulted in successful convictions.”
It was in the 1990s that the term ethnic cleansing came into common usage, and that was the term which the officer used.
Any exploration of the past must take full account of what was undoubtedly a campaign of ethnic cleansing carried out by the Provisional IRA and directed against minority Protestant communities in border areas in Fermanagh, south Tyrone and south Armagh.
That sectarian campaign must not be forgotten and both deserves and demands the same level of scrutiny that has been given to many other aspects of the Troubles.