Read about British Information Policy and Propaganda in the North of Ireland 1971 in these short papers.
In July 1971, Clifford Hill was seconded by Britain’s covert propaganda unit, Information Research Department, to the Northern Ireland Office to promote British information policy and propaganda.
In Stormont circles, he was known as “Cliff the Spy”.
His short job brief and subsequent plans offer an invaluable insight into how the British state managed and presented conflict-related information to the public at the time.
The out-workings of the more sinister side of this can be examined in the disinformation produced in the aftermath of the likes of the McGurk’s Bar and Kelly’s Bar atrocities.
Indeed, these papers were written a month before the McGurk’s Bar Massacre.
It may be argued that this information policy changed little during the conflict and is evident to this very day.
Clifford Hill’s Brief
Hill was at the spearhead of “machinery placing anti-IRA propaganda in the British Press and media” and his Brief [PDF] and subsequent Plan [PDF] were succinct (and note they are not directed against Loyalist extremism).
Clifford Hill had three main tasks:
(a) To ensure that all the information agencies in Northern Ireland speak with one voice;
(b) To ensure that these information agencies react immediately to events or, when this is not possible, ensure that the presentational aspects are carefully considered…
(c) To report to London from time to time on the current thinking of journalists in Northern Ireland so that these can be taken into account in both the making and presentation of policy; and on the line taken with the press by the IRA and other opponents of HMG’s [Her Majesty’s Government] policy
The objectives of the British information agencies – which included NIO, British Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) were succinct:
(a) To emphasise at all times HM Government’s twin purpose, viz to root out terrorism and to bring about those conditions which will give each community a permanent and guaranteed share in public life…
(b) To give maximum publicity to the successes of the security forces against the IRA. The killing or capture of terrorists should be fully reported, pictorially if possible. At the same time, security forces must be immediately and vigorously defended against allegations of brutality or misconduct;
(c) To commend the restraint of the mass of the population and the courage of individual moderates in the face of barely tolerable provocation;
(d) To blacken the reputation of the IRA by highlighting their brutality towards individuals (including their own members), the cowardly character of their tactics and their callous disregard for the lives of innocent bystanders…
Clifford Hill’s Plan
Clifford Hill drafted a two-year programme on counter-propaganda.
His objectives in order of priority were:
(a) To disrupt and divide the various parts of the IRA and its associated bosies from the other. Further, to divide the IRA and, in particular, the Provisional IRA and its passive supporters among the Catholiccommunity in Northern Ireland.
(b) To explain the roles of the British Army, Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom, and the Stormont Government to the British public and the overseas media.
(c) To stimulate the Government of Eire to supporess and control IRA activities within its territory.
(d) Overseas, to concentrate on the Catholic communities of Europe, the chief media of the USA and Canada and of Australia and New Zealand.
Clifford Hill outlined his proposed methods for doing these:
(a) The provision of straightforward information covering the Northern Ireland situation speedily and factually.
(b) Promotion of stories, articles, statements, etc, and distribution of these for replay outside of Northern Ireland.
(c) Replay in Ireland (Northern Ireland and the Republic) of useful overseas stories, articles, etc.
(d) Influencing media representatives.
(e) Covert propaganda.
The Propaganda Themes
Clifford Hill defined the particular “propaganda themes” which each article, publication and news press release by the information agencies had to depict.
In hindsight, they are as powerful as they are simple. Each British Army, police or government Press Liaison Officer or Information Officer could refer to these simple themes quickly to ensure that their articles highlighted one or any number.
(a) The character of the IRA and its danger
(b) The reasonable and firm polcies of Her Majesty’s Government in Westminster and Northern Ireland.
(c) The military policy of minimum force.
(d) The precent of Northern Ireland for other areas and other “urban guerilla situations.
(e) The particular dangers for the Irish Republic in IRA success.
The power of these propaganda themes is evident if you read newspapers from the period.
They remain powerful if you consider news articles about the conflict in today’s media and test whether the same themes exist.
British information policy and propaganda regarding the conflict may be weapons of war that are yet to be decommissioned.
Clifford Hill’s Brief for Information Policy and Propaganda, November 1971 [Download PDF]
Clifford Hill’s Plans for Information Policy and Propaganda, November 1971 [Download PDF]