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

Share
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. "...one 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

Project Manager with some Agile experience

£45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsf...

Data/ MI Analyst

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

Secondary Supply Teachers to work in Peterborough

£110 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers required fo...

Project Manager (retail, upgrades, rollouts)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Francois Hollande at the Paris summit on Iraq with ministers from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on 15 September  

What's going to happen in Syria and Iraq? A guide to the new anti-Isis coalition's global strategy

Jonathan Russell
The colours of autumn leaves are among the many pleasures of the coming season  

In Sickness and in Health: As autumn arrives, more of us should wear high-vis clothes

Rebecca Armstrong
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week