Internment – the arrest and detention of people without trial – began in the early hours of 9 August 1971, in a British Army operation termed ‘Operation Demetrius’. Between 9 August 1971 and 5 December 1975, 1,981 people were interned. 1,874 internees were from a republican background, while 107 were from a loyalist background. Many internees were held in an internment camp at Long Kesh. Women were also interned in Armagh Gaol.
The policy of internment was proposed by the unionist NI government as a means of countering rising levels of political violence. However, it was initially only used against republicans, with loyalists not interned until February 1973. In addition, many people were interned on the basis of out of date or inaccurate information. This, alongside the method of the arrests and the treatment of internees, led to an increase in civil unrest, violence and support for the IRA.
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Key Events - Internment (1971-1975)
Internment: Reasons, actions and effects
McGuffin, J. (1973).
Internment. Tralee: Anvil Books
Devlin, B. (1982).
An Interlude with Seagulls: Memories of a Long Kesh Internee.
O’Hagan, D (2012)
Letters from Long Kesh. Dublin: Citizen Press.
We were prison officers, we were not internment officers. We didn’t like it at all
How do you think a prison officer might have reacted to internment? Now watch the clip of John. Does his view surprise you or meet with your expectations?
I was the sixth woman interned, and the youngest at that time
Watch the clip of Angela. How do you think the wider community might have reacted to a 17 year old girl being interned?
Internment was introduced in 1971
Why do you think there was such disparity between numbers interned from republican and loyalist community backgrounds?
You were just thrown in to this really strange and weird world
These huts were put up hastily in 1971 after the disastrous internment sweep
Watch the clip of Peter. Do you agree that the policy of internment was ‘disastrous’ for the British government? Why/ why not?
A lot of people were affected by this particular job
Watch the clips of John and Andy. What difficulties did prison officers face during internment?
Archives of Internment
A short film, produced by PMA in October 2019, which presents the experience of internment from many perspectives and reveals the human impact of the policy.
Running time: 60 min
Links to NI Curriculum
CCEA GCSE History: Unit 1; Section B; Option 2: Changing Relations: Northern Ireland and its Neighbours, 1965–1998
Questions based on GCSE CEA history exam papers
Using the clip of Peter and your contextual knowledge, do you agree that the policy of internment was ‘disastrous’ for the British government? Give two reasons.
How useful is the clip of Angela for an historian studying the reactions to the policy of internment in Northern Ireland in 1971? Explain your answer, using the clip and your contextual knowledge.