Karen McMinn dicusses living through Northern Ireland's conflict



Living through Northern Ireland's conflict The British LibraryKaren McMinn talks about the experience of living through the Troubles in Belfast. She continued to coordinate Northern Ireland Women’s Aid from 1981 to 1996, despite the dangers she faced on her journey to and from work.

For more information on the conflict in Northern Ireland you can watch a short film about the work of Bronagh Hinds, another peace activist and feminist.

What do the terms mean?
Nationalist: someone who supports the reunification of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland, with Ireland continuing to be fully independent of the UK. Nationalists are usually Catholics, who are in the minority in Northern Ireland

Republican: sometimes used interchangeably with ‘Nationalist’. Republicans support the reunification of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland. Republicans have sometimes used violent methods in attempting to oppose British rule.

Unionist: a supporter of the union between Britain and Northern Ireland. Unionists usually hold Protestant beliefs and are in a majority in Northern Ireland.

Loyalist: sometimes used interchangeably with ‘Unionist’. Loyalists support a union between Britain and Northern Ireland. Loyalists have sometimes used violent methods in attempting to support the Union of Britain and Northern Ireland.

Paramilitary: a group of civilians that operates as a military force. There have been, and still are, many paramilitary forces on both Nationalist/Republican and Unionist/Loyalist sides in Northern Ireland.

Internment: a security measure introduced in 1971 by the then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Brian Faulkner. It allowed the authorities to arrest and hold people without evidence on suspicion of terrorism. The period of internment lasted from 1971 to 1975. In 1972 there were huge riots against internment, one of which became known as Bloody Sunday because the British army opened fire on the demonstrators, shooting 26 people, of whom 14 died. The colloquial term for being taken away to be interred is to be ‘lifted’.



And I think it was Eileen Evason who, who, you know, coined the term, or, I remember her first using it anyway, of Northern Ireland as an armed patriarchy. Because there was so, there were so many men who had so many access to weapons, I mean whether they were police officers, member of paramilitary forces, or, even, you know, the British Army. There are examples, absolutely, we had women coming into refuges who had been threatened by partners or wives of, of police officers who had been threatened by their partners. And just living, I mean it was, it was a, just, just living and working in that environment, particularly in Belfast where, you know, everywhere you went, I mean, the police had sub-machine guns, there were soldiers, you know, in most... I mean not so much in East Belfast but, but certainly, you know, West Belfast, parts of North Belfast. It was very much an armed state, you know, you were, it was a military state. Later whenever I became coordinator, regional coordinator for Women’s Aid, I mean I used to travel all over the country, and, you know, I’d be coming home late at night at, say, 11.30 from a meeting, and you would be stopped in the middle, I was on my own, you would be stopped in the middle of nowhere by an army patrol, and, it was really quite frightening, because, you had to turn your lights off, so you would be completely in the darkness, and, you would be surrounded by these guys with, with guns. I mean a lot more people suffered, of course, a lot more injustice in terms of that. But even practical things, such as the police couldn’t offer protection to women, if a woman called the refuge and said that her partner or husband was, was, you know, threatening her, or abusing her, if that was in, say, West Belfast, the police would not go out, because they would, they would say that, they were at risk from an ambush. Which was potentially a legitimate argument, to some extent, but that left a whole community of women completely unprotected. And, the other side of that is that, you know, women from nationalist and republican areas even at that time could not really be seen quite often to be calling the police into their community, because that would have been, you know, very much against the culture there of the high level of hostility and distrust to the police. And even on occasions if the police did come in, they had to be accompanied by the Army. For women living in those nationalist areas, it really, it really wasn’t an option for them, so they, they were very much, you know, unprotected.
Karen McMinn dicusses living through Northern Ireland's conflict
3 July 2012
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Sisterhood and After: The Women's Liberation Oral History Project
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