Who Keeps Belfast Safe?

28 September 1921, Belfast News-Letter

The Ulster Special Constabulary was established in October 1920 with three different categories, but only the “B” Specials survived demobilisation in the mid-1920s. The “B” Specials were part-time constables who were locally recruited and almost entirely loyalist. They had a mixed reputation among the population of Northern Ireland. There is little doubt that they were an effective force against the IRA, but they were also implicated in numerous controversial episodes. Most notoriously, it is likely that Special Constabulary members were guilty of killing four members of the Catholic McMahon family in March 1922. This article from September 1921, published in the unionist Belfast News-Letter, describes the reformulation of the “B” Specials and reaction in Dublin. It also credits a recent lull in violence in Belfast with troop deployment. 

Remobilising the “B’s.”

Dublin Inquisitive.

Wisdom of the Step “Seriously Questioned.”

Why they were withdrawn.

Sir James Craig’s announcement in the Northern Parliament that the B class of special constables is to be remobilised has created distinct uneasiness in many quarters in Dublin, wires a special correspondent of the Press Association. While in the ranks of the regular R.I.C. there is, I am officially informed, a preponderance of Roman Catholics, it is common knowledge that the B class of specials is comprised almost, if not wholly, exclusively of Protestants. There was no such intention in the inception of the force, but, rightly or wrongly, Roman Catholics refrained from becoming enrolled. The fact that this force is to be again introduced into activity in a city where the basis of disturbance is sectarian is a decision the wisdom of which is here seriously questioned. In a leading article, the “Freeman’s Journal” asks whether the consent of the British Cabinet has been obtained and, if so, how that consent can be reconciled with the terms of the truce.

I was informed in a high official quarter that the withdrawal of the B specials at the commencement of the “truce” was not done in any way as a fulfilment of the terms of the “truce.” It was merely an act of grace, said my informant, and was done in the hope of creating a better atmosphere. After the “truce” became operative B specials discontinued the street patrols, and their remobilisation has been considered necessary only in view of the gravity of recent disturbances. Another point which should be made clear is that the decision was not of the Cabinet of Northern Ireland, which has not yet assumed control of the police and is, therefore, not responsible for the maintenance of law and order. 

Belfast again Quiet.

Presence of Military Proves Effective.

Shooting in York Street.

With the exception of a few shots fired in the York Street area about ten o’clock last night, and a case of assault occurring later, the city was quiet yesterday.

In the east end troops were on duty in the streets, and their presence prevented a recurrence of the riotous outbreaks which have been taking place in that neighbourhood recently. The military posts were strengthened during the dinner hour and at night when the workers were proceeding in large numbers through the affected area, but nothing occurred to call for their intervention. Fewer people than usual were about in the prohibited district during the day, and at night the authorities had little difficulty in enforcing the order against assembling.

The military report states that shots were fired into York Street from the lower end of Earl Street about ten o-clock, at which hour shots were also discharged into Nelson Street.