Why was internment introduced in Northern Ireland in 1971? And what were the consequences?

In 1969, the nationalist IRA had split in two, and a separate paramilitary group was formed. They fought against the unionists and campaigned to remove Northern Ireland from the UK.

There was increasing violence of IRA campaigns in early 1971, with a particularly marked increase in intensity between July and August. The included campaigns of murder and intimidation, with many members of the public and security forces killed. They refused to cooperate with the government

British prime-minister Brian Faulkner was under increasing pressure from his own party to introduce internment to deal with those people in Northern Ireland believed to be terrorists. He felt that they were creating deeper divisions and antagonism within Northern Ireland and threatening both its economic and social survival. He decided that ordinary laws could not deal sufficiently with such terrorists.

Thus internment was imposed: there were mass arrests on 9th August 1971, when 342 men were arrested, and many were moved to holding centres and then to detention centres where they were often subject to physical ill-treatment.

Internment: (arrest and detention, often without trial) was imposed in order to reduce violence, yet arguably ended up having the opposite effect:


Violence levels increased, many homes and businesses were destroyed

Unionist support for the policy began to decline

IRA and other nationalist groups gained support as a result of internment

It enabled the IRA to organise, bringing them together inside internment camps and creating a new organizational identity which the movement had previously lacked

The British Government was mistrusted and Faulkner was criticized - perceived as a monster.

One major criticism of internment was that many who were interned were not active republican paramilitaries.  British aggressive interrogation tactics were also criticised – allegations of methods of torture used during internment

Mass anti-internment protest arranged: became known as Bloody Sunday – 30th January 1972 - when the British army opened fire on the crowds of protestors.

Failure of internment eventually led to imposition of Direct Rule in Northern Ireland in March 1972 by Heath’s British government, when they declared their intention to end internment. However, they still proceeded with caution… 

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