As violence spiralled, the British Government, pressed by unionist leaders at Stormont, introduced internment (imprisonment without trial) in August 1971. The measure had been used against republicans in every decade since the foundation of the state.
Internment enraged nationalist Derry. Barricades were again erected and Free Derry resurrected. Armed IRA patrols appeared openly. Within hours, six British soldiers were wounded. Across the north, 17 people were killed in the 48 hours following internment, including the first British soldier shot dead in Derry by the IRA. Around 7,000 people fled their homes.
Internment united opinion in Free Derry in a way not seen since 1969. Angry protests became an everyday occurrence. A campaign of civil disobedience was undertaken. More than 130 non-unionist councillors withdrew from district councils. A rent and rates strike was launched.
In ‘Operation Demetrius’ (the British Army name for the internment arrest operation) in the early hours of 9 August, soldiers and police men smashed into homes and arrested 342 men across the north. Their intelligence proved faulty. The operation didn’t significantly damage the IRA. Sixteen men were arrested in Derry, not all of them republicans.