Robert Fisk: The Belfast hotel where you check in but never leave

The Long View: "But 1973 should come in with hope for all men and women," the Governor wrote. Pull the other one

Related Topics

Wars never end. Not if you're fighting in them, even reporting them. The Syrian rebellion – or revolution/spring/civil war/awakening – seems unending. "Palestine's" occupation has gone on for 45 years and counting. And when I was sorting my own archives on Northern Ireland the other day, my notebooks, the paramilitary magazines, the pompous announcements from Whitelaw, the Unionists, Paisley, Craig, Hume, the Provos (as Brian Faulkner called them), the Brits – as the Provos first called them, an expression taken up by the ventriloquist Merlyn Rees – it felt like the "Ulster" war should never have ended.

On the Europa Hotel's message pads, my handwriting records "2 sold VSI RVH" (two soldiers very seriously ill Royal Victoria Hospital), "bomb in SR and VS St" (Sandy Row and Great Victoria Street railway station), "son of judge shot dead", "policeman ser ill", "2 Provos arrest, staff officers in 1st Batt, F co", Europa office bill for 22 May/10 June '73, £145, day after day, year after year. "An agreement was reached between the two anonymous and uniformed leaders of the UDA and Maj-Gen Robert Ford, Commander Land Forces Northern Ireland," I had typed, "that the army should man checkpoints at the end of seven mainly Protestant streets in West Belfast and allow the UDA to carry out unarmed patrols through the area."

Difficult to remember how we let the fascists of the UDA run parts of Belfast while objecting when the fascists of the Provos ran parts of the same city. Captain John Brooke, Unionist party chief whip (4 July 1972): "It is utterly tragic that citizens of the United Kingdom have been driven to non-political action but it is inevitable." Whitelaw's Northern Ireland Office ( 28 November 1972): "The Commissioners appointed under the Detention of Terrorists (Northern Ireland) Order 1972 today inquired into the cases of seven men held at the Maze Prison." Without trial, of course, though the NIO didn't say that. " discharge order has been signed and six detention orders were made..."

Oliver Napier, joint chairman of the non-sectarian Alliance Party (May 22 1972): "After another weekend of violence and murder, Northern Ireland has taken another step towards civil war." When John Graham, of the FT rightly called it a "civil war", Unionist leader Faulkner went into a tizzy. We had Widgery, Scarman, the Special Powers Act, White Papers, Green Papers, the Border Poll Act, Diplock, no manner of lies and truths and ruthlessness from our Westminster masters. Paddy Devlin, of the SDLP (21 December 1972): "Whitelaw is on trial... We are fed up to the teeth with his promises to act on the mounting assassination toll..." Another typewritten screed by Fisk: "Masked men burst into a Roman Catholic public house in Londonderry (sic) tonight and sprayed the customers with sub-machine-gun fire, killing five men..."

My tray at the Europa filled each morning. The Quakers (3 June 1972): "Northern Ireland men and women must be given every encouragement to solve their community problem (sic) for themselves in sanity and peace." The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (23 January 1973): "...unity of action is possible without distinction of creed or political affiliation between workers North and South..." The same phrase repeatedly, "the vast majority of ordinary peace-loving people" – the VMOPP, I cynically called them – were uselessly invoked. "...1972 goes out with sorrow for many and with shame for some," wrote Lord Grey (Governor of the province on New Year's Day), "but 1973 should come in with hope for all men and women of goodwill." Pull the other one.

Belfast Sinn Fein (6 December, 1972) on the death of Patrick Benstead: "His fingers had been cut off; privates cot (sic) off and put in his mouth; hair pulled out, face slashed, body burned and branded. No ordinary person... could surely be guilty of such a sadistic crime." Later Prod paramilitary memoirs would confirm it all. And the endless copy of the soldier shot out of the back of a "pig" armoured vehicle and of an inquest and the last words of a Protestant part-time soldier, murdered in front of his wife. Don't die, his wife pleaded with him. "Darling, I will never leave you," he said to her. And died. "Thought you'd spot that quote," old David Gilliland, of the NIO, muttered to me.

And how many quotes are there from dying Palestinians and dying Syrians and dying Bosnians and, yes, dying Israelis, in wars that have not ended or might end or have ended. They say – correctly – that the Second World War didn't end till the Berlin Wall came down. Long time coming.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

John Noakes was everyone’s favourite presenter in the 1970s. It’s a shock to realise the eternal boy scout is now an octogenarian suffering from dementia  

How remarkable that John Noakes still has the power to affect me so

Matthew Norman
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy