Quotations: The Long War

These pages contain quotations from or about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. These quotations have been researched, selected and compiled by Alpha History authors. They contain statements and remarks about Northern Ireland and the Troubles by notable political figures, military and paramilitary commanders, contemporaries and historians. New quotations are constantly being added to these pages and suggestions are most welcome. If you would like to suggest a quotation, please contact Alpha History.

“When it is politically costly for the British to remain in Ireland, they’ll go. It won’t be triggered until a large number of British soldiers are killed – and that’s what’s going to happen.”
Danny Morrison, IRA leader

“The Provisional [IRA] gunmen were usually unemployed, working-class Catholics, some of whom would probably have been ordinary criminals if not for the movement… The greatest single factor in their joining the Provisional IRA was a family connection… They were mostly young, under 23, and those who survived did so because they were street-wise and cunning.”
An intelligence report on the IRA, 1972

“I have the lowest possible opinion of [IRA volunteers]… They were out and out cowards; they hardly ever mounted an attack unless they were 100 per cent certain in their minds that there was no possible retaliation… There’s not a single IRA man I know of who ever deliberately, knowingly put his life at risk. He always tried to do it in a way that was risk-fre and I don’t count that as being soldierly.”
Alistair Irwin, British lieutenant-general

“The world recognises that the Provisionals are the greatest guerrilla fighters the world has ever seen.”
IRA statement, July 1972

“I’m not particularly motivated by religion. I don’t buy this British government idea that the problems in the North are to do with religion, a religious divide and so on. There are very clear political, historical and economic reasons for what’s gone on in the North. It’s not down to two particular groups from a religious perspective having a difficulty with one another and the British government are the thin line in between or the meat in the sandwich. I don’t buy all of that.”
Bobby Storey, IRA leader

“I wanted to be involved… because our whole community felt that we were under attack. I wanted to be part of that defence. From then on in, I got involved.”
Brendan Hughes, IRA member

“There was a feeling of comradeship and trust between those of us who had been through hundreds of hours of negotiations, and a sense of almost moral purpose.”
Brian Faulkner on the Sunningdale Agreement

“Mr Faulkner says it’s ‘hands across the border to Dublin’. I say if they don’t behave themselves in the South, it will be shots across the border.”
Ian Paisley after the Sunningdale Agreement

“I am very happy about the bombings in Dublin. There is a war with the Free State and now we are laughing at them.”
UDA spokesman Sammy Smyth on the Dublin-Monaghan bombings that killed 33 people

“These powers are draconian. In combination they are unprecedented in peacetime. I believe they are fully justified to meet the clear and present dangers.”
British Home Secretary Roy Jenkins on the Prevention of Terrorism Act

“The Prevention of Terrorism Act was a racist piece of legislation [because it] applied to Irish people. How would the American public react to legislation passed by Congress that only applied to Italian people or Israeli people? It’s absolutely absurd… an example of the whole blasé attitude of [British] contempt for human rights in regard to Irish people.”
Paul Hill, one of the Guildford Four

“Then when they were putting the bomb into the van and it went off and they started to murder us. It went from a happy, good atmosphere to murderous. They opened the gates of hell.”
Stephen Travers, survivor of the 1975 Miami Showband killings

“A car had gone over a hedge and Rachel [McLernon] and her friends went to help whoever was inside… At that moment an IRA bomb exploded and Rachel and [her brother] Robert were blown to bits. I remember the face of Rachel in the mortuary when I went to identify her. She had become engaged to be married that day and she was a beauty queen. I looked down and saw half of her face blown off. Her brother was in a small plastic bag stacked against a table because there wasn’t sufficient of him left. As I looked upon them I can assure you there was nothing glorious and nothing beautiful about the handiwork of terrorism.”
Unionist MP William McCrea on the death of his cousins in 1976

“We set out to train ourselves in such a way… that we didn’t give the impression to the other side that we were slack, in other words, you would never find a soldier looking down at his feet when he was on patrol, you would never find a soldier who was carrying his rifle in anything other than an alert manner, you would never find a soldier who wasn’t metaphorically and physically on the balls of his feet. I know, from personal observation, that other units weren’t quite so particular about that and if you’re a terrorist, you look out for the hard objects and you stay away from them, you go for the softer targets.”
An officer from the 3rd Battlion Scottish Regiment

“The ‘terrorist campaign’ is a guerrilla war between the Nationalist population and an occupying army… The use of the label ‘terrorist’ is designed to prevent people thinking about the real situation in Ireland. Too often people fear that to criticise the [British] army means ‘supporting terrorism’. But Britain is waging a war in Ireland and the Provisional IRA exists today because the Nationalist community has had to take arms to defend itself in that war.”
A pro-IRA newspaper, 1977

“The IRA are gangsters and gunmen… clearly and decisively rejected by the vast majority of the community of Northern Ireland.”
Roy Mason, Northern Ireland Secretary, 1977

“Northern Ireland is as British as Finchley.”
Margaret Thatcher, 1981

“There is no such thing as political murder, political bombing or political violence. We will not compromise on this. There will be no political status.”
Margaret Thatcher, 1981

“The biggest bastard we have ever known.”
Sinn Fein’s Danny Morrison on Margaret Thatcher

“There can never be peace in Ireland until the foreign oppressive British presence is removed, leaving all the Irish people as a unit to control their own affairs and determine their own destinies as a sovereign people, free in mind and body, separate and distinct physically, culturally and economically.”
Bobby Sands, 1981

“We were led to believe that only a minority of Catholics supported violence. To Protestants the hunger strike showed that Catholics were prepared to support the gunmen who murdered their fellow citizens.”
Frank Millar, Official Unionist Party

“He knows that if he dies, through his death, there will be so much anger stored up in the Irish people that it will fuel the struggle for the next ten years.”
Danny Morrison on Bobby Sands

“Ten people had the courage to stand by their country, to the point of dying for it. The H block issue became a worldwide issue. The Republican movement gained enormously in the number of people who joined, in favourable publicity and in finance.”
Daithi O’Conaill, Sinn Fein

“Would you like to try a cheeseburger Bobby Sands?
Would you like to try a cheeseburger Bobby Sands?
Would you like to try a cheeseburger?
You dirty melly Fenian rebel-loving fucker
Would you like to try a cheeseburger Bobby Sands?”
Loyalist song, circa 1981

“When Bobby Sands died many of us felt it’s back to square one. If you tried to call a peace rally now you wouldn’t get anyone to come. There is far more bitterness and a feeling of anti-Britishness.”
Mairead Corrigan, Women’s Peace Movement, 1981

“Armed struggle is a necessary and morally correct form of resistance in the Six Counties against a government whose presence is rejected by the vast majority of the Irish people… There are those who tell us that the British government will not be moved by armed struggle. As has been said before, the history of Ireland and of British colonial involvement throughout the world tells us that they will not be moved by anything else.”
Gerry Adams, 1983

“My reaction [to Adams’ 1983 election to the British parliament] was almost one of despair, that they were going to elect someone whom we considered to be a terrorist and who was not going to play any part at Westminster. I had no doubts at all that he belonged to the Provisional IRA. I think he summed up the Armalite and the ballot box [strategy] completely. What a waste the whole thing was.”
Peter Brooke, Britain’s Secretary for State for Northern Ireland, on Gerry Adams

“This attack has failed. All attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail.”
Margaret Thatcher following the Brighton Hotel Bombing, 1984

“Today we were unlucky. But remember, we only have to be lucky once – you will have to be lucky always.”
IRA statement on the Brighton Hotel bombing

“Where do the terrorists operate from? From the Irish Republic! Where do the terrorists return to for sanctuary? To the Irish Republic! And yet Mrs. Thatcher tells us that the Republic must have some say in our Province. We say never, never, never, never!”
Ian Paisley, 1985

“Having failed to defeat the IRA you now have capitulated and are preparing to set in motion machinery which will achieve the IRA goal – a united Ireland. We now know that you have prepared the Ulster Unionist for sacrifice on the altar of political expediency. They are to be the sacrificial lambs to appease the Dublin wolves. You can build your altar. You can use bent and corrupted law to ignite its fire. You can prepare to stifle truth with a propaganda of lies… but you can never break the spirit of Ulster Unionism.”
Ian Paisley to Margaret Thatcher on the Anglo-Irish Agreement, 1985

“We saw the coming together of Dublin and London, and this proved London could be shifted. The fact that Britain moved unilaterally was pivotal. They hit the Unionists a kick in the balls, saying to them ‘We’ve tried to work with you but that failed’. That didn’t go unrecorded in Republicanism.”
A Sinn Fein leader on the Anglo-Irish Agreement, 1985

“South Down… I spent all my holidays as a boy in that area. But then the IRA burned down my father’s house and I no longer had the privilege of spending my holidays there. I have been back many times since, however, and at the first meeting I attended there I mentioned that incident. I said to the people, “I’m sorry you burned down my home, otherwise you’d have seen more of me.” A little old lady at the back shouted out, “It’s a terrible shame.”
Ian Paisley

“Republicanism and Republicans are not geared for a long war and that’s why in the past IRA campaigns have probably lasted six years maximum… What happens is because we’re so small in number, people are killed, people go to prison, families become burnt out, so the moment has to call a halt because resources dry out.”
Marian Price, Real IRA member

“We cannot have justice and peace in Northern Ireland, because we do not have a society capable of upholding them.”
Gerry Adams, 1986

“I was sanguine about our role and justifiably proud of the impact we made… Yes, we were ‘at war’ with the terrorists, but were also realistic enough to realise that this war was not going to be won on the streets… a satisfactory political situation was the only way out of it, what had become in the mid-1980s a ‘no win’ situation for both sides.”
Mike Dent, British colonel

“It should be recognised that the Army did not ‘win’ in any recognisable way, rather than achieved its desired end-state, which allowed a political process to be established without unacceptable levels of intimidation. Security force operations suppressed the level of violence to a level which the population could live with, and with which the RUC and later the PSNI could cope.”
Ministry of Defence report, 2007