Former British Defence Secretary turned TV presenter Michael Portillo said this week the massacre of Dublin civilians on North King Street in 1916 by the South Staffrodshire Regiment was “because of unclear orders”.
The documentary, The Enemy Files, was screened on RTE on Monday night. The former Defence Secretary and one time Tory leadership hopeful spoke to former British Army General Richard Dannatt who said an order had been given that “no prisoners were to be taken”.
As the soldiers fought house to house, they were also told that every person found in a house from which shots were fired was to be considered a rebel, whether armed or not. In the months after the Rising, the British Army carried out an investigation into allegations that soldiers had massacred unarmed civilians.
The evidence of the investigation was not published after senior British official Edward Troup advised against it. In reference to the massacre, Troup said that the orders given to the soldiers was “the root of the mischief ”. Portillo suggested that the orders given to soldiers may have been unclear.
He replied: “The short answer is yes, I think it was the root of the mischief.
“I think Brigadier General Lowe, when he gave his written orders and then repeated them verbally to his commanding officers was unclear in what he intended.
“The soldier likes clarity and I think, as the orders were passed down…. clarity was inserted and the soldiers understood that you weren’t to take prisoners and if you weren’t to take any prisoners, people who you think have done wrong, you shoot.
“I don’t actually think Brigadier General Lowe intended that everyone be shot.” Journalist Robert Fisk gives his opinion on the Rising. The programme also featured testimony by British soldiers who sailed from England to fight the rebels who “had not the slightest desire to shoot down the Irish or any other English speaking people”.
Conversely, journalist Robert Fisk said in the documentary that the the British tactics were to defeat the rebels “at all costs” and that “casualties didn’t matter”.
Fisk also told Portillo that he believed the violent uprising was necessary for Ireland to secure its freedom.
Constitutional nationalism alone would not have been enough and that the Rising ‘broke the link’ between Ireland and England.
Portillo also visited Kilmainham Gaol and said in the programme that as Ireland was under Martial law at the time punishment was the decision of the army not the British justice system.
General Maxwell engaged in “swift and brutal justice” in executing the leaders but not all British politicians in London approved and feared it would lead them – as it did – into a “propaganda trap” by executing the leaders.
The refusal to honour the wishes of Pearse’s mother, whose two sons were executed, made the British appear “inhumane, shabby and sacrilegious.”
Photo: Midas Productions