1979 – Irish Republicans stage daring attacks on the UK


Being half-Irish (as I am) could be difficult in the 1970s as the Provisional IRA launched bloody and audacious attacks on the UK mainland. I even earned the nickname “Paddy” at my first secondary school – even though I didn’t speak with anything like an Irish accent.

One night, the waterworks at the top of my road was bombed by the IRA and as a 12 year old kid lying in bed, I knew immediately what had happened. My heart sank at the thought of what school kids would be saying the next day about the Irish. Bad enough there were “comedians” on mainstream TV at this time cracking “jokes” about how thick “paddies” apparently were.

Airey_Neave
Airey Neave

1979 saw two murders that shook the country. On the 30th March, the INLA (Irish National Liberation Army – not to be confused with the IRA) blew up Conservative MP Airey Neave. You can watch the BBC TV news report by clicking HERE.

Neave was shadow Northern Ireland secretary and a close confidante of Conservative Party leader and soon to be PM, Margaret Thatcher. His car was blown up by a bomb attached underneath with magnets as it left the House of Commons car park. Needless to say that the security around the Palace of Westminster had presented no obstacle to the terrorists.

More shockingly was the slaying on the 27th August, 1979 of Lord Mountbatten: cousin of the Queen, the last viceroy of India and a very well known member of the royal family by the IRA. He was blown up on a boat with his son and a deck hand while on holiday in Ireland. Hours later, 18 British soldiers were killed at Warrenpoint in a devastating attack by Irish Republicans.

Mountbatten
Mountbatten

You can watch the BBC TV account of that by clicking HERE. Mountbatten’s murderer shared my surname, unfortunately, and was caught. He was released from prison in 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday agreement, put in place after the ceasefire.

These events undoubtedly exercised a huge political and emotional influence on Thatcher. When IRA prisoners went on hunger strike demanding to be treated as prisoners of war, Thatcher folded her arms and let them starve – to death. That was in spite of one of them, Bobby Sands, being elected to parliament from his cell.

Nuclear free zones – the early 80s movement


Nuclear free zones were an early 80s political phenomenon that swept Labour run local councils, student unions and other bodies. They were always derided by the Tories as a vainglorious gesture by grandstanding politicians. However, they captured a widespread anxiety about the threat of nuclear war that was very pervasive in the late 70s and early 80s. The turnout on CND demos surged massively at the turn of the decade and I remember being on one monster march to Hyde Park in 1981.

Here’s an announcement that Merseyside County Council (later abolished by Thatcher along with the GLC and other authorities that were nearly all Labour run) was going to declare itself a nuclear free zone.

Merseyside goes nuclear free!
Merseyside goes nuclear free!

Greenham Common, CND and no nukes


Seems like another epoch but you may remember the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp which saw an all-women permanent protest outside the RAF Greenham Common military base for nearly two decades. It started in 1981 at what was a high water mark for CND activity. I went on the huge demo that year in Hyde Park and it really felt like we were making a huge difference.

You have to remember this was the era of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. We also had nuclear friendly Margaret Thatcher as prime minister. The issues have changed massively now but the threat of a nuclear incident is always with us. Here’s anti-nuclear poster I found in my attic that might jog your memories.