September 28th 1964, The Tricolour Riots – Irish Revolutionaries

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September 28th 1964, The Tricolour Riots

September 28th 1964, The Tricolour Riots

Two years after the IRA border campaign had fizzled out the Republican movement at the time were considering entering more into politics.

In September 1964, the Tory Government in Britain had called a General Election for October 15th, in the sectarian, apartheid six county state Sinn Fein was a proscribed organisation so had to fight elections under the name "The Republican Party".

In the constituency of West Belfast, former Republican prisoner Billy McMillan was chosen to stand for Sinn Fein/The Republican Party, they made 145 Divis Street their election office HQ and put the Irish tricolour in the window of the office.

Under the Flags and Emblems Act 1954, the flying of the Irish tricolour could be seen as a breach of the peace and thus removed by the RUC, violations of the Act were punishable by a fine of up to £500, or up to five years in prison.

The flag had flown unnoticed for two weeks but then Ian Paisley a firebrand and sectarian preacher, upon hearing of the tricolour called for thousands of Protestants to gather in their thousands at City Hall in Belfast and march on the Republican election office on Divis Street if the RUC did not act.

A notice was served on Billy McMillan, under the Flags and Emblems Act and on Monday 28th September fifty RUC men, using pickaxes and crowbars smashed their way into the Republican offices, seized the Tricolour and drove off at high speed before anyone could do anything about it.

The office gave the RUC an ultimatum that if the tricolour wasn't returned by Thursday then it would be replaced, that night at city hall the Unionist candidate for West Belfast told the crowd:

“The Republicans must not be allowed to fly the Tricolour, and when the last vote is counted on polling day we must show the world that there was no wavering in the determination of the people to keep the Union Jack flying over West Belfast.”

On Tuesday 29th, Paisley held another rally at City Hall and called for the people who displayed the tricolour to be prosecuted, meanwhile a tense standoff had developed between the RUC and Nationalist residents on Divis street. By Wednesday night this had led to baton charges, scuffles and rock throwing.

On Thursday, October 1st after lodging their nomination papers, the Republican candidates returned to the election headquarters and once again placed a Tricolour in the window to the cheers of supporters. At 2 pm the RUC arrived, smashed the window and took the tricolour.

Almost immediately riots broke out on Divis Street and the nearby Falls Road which lasted for two nights, the worst seen in Belfast for about thirty years. Hundreds were injured, scores of people were arrested and some imprisoned for up to six months.

At the time Ian Paisley told a journalist:

"I don't accept that any area of Ulster is republican, I don't want to see the Tricolour flying here. I intend to see that the Union Jack flies everywhere."

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