PTA arrests - Hands Off Ireland!

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no.4 May/June 1980

On Sunday and Monday 30 and 31 March two leading members of Provisional Sinn Féin (Britain) – Gerry MacLochlainn South Wales Organiser and Jim Reilly Home Counties Organiser – were arrested under the racist anti-Irish Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Both comrades have been subjected to the illegal and discriminatory treatment which all Irish people who fall into the hands of the British state suffer. Denial of access to solicitor and friends, systematic police lies to supporters making enquiries, constant transfer from one station to another and, in this case, actually disappearing for three days. Their case is typical of British harassment of Irish people and exposes the reality of British ‘democracy’ and ‘justice’.

Gerry MacLochlainn was denied all access to friends and solicitor for the 7½ days he was held prior to being charged. He was held in four different stations – Abergavenny, Cwmbran, Pontypool and Luton. All enquiries met with either blank refusals to give information or lies. Jim Reilly was allowed one visit from his solicitor on the second day and then he too was held incommunicado for the remainder of his 6½ day detention.

This treatment is standard for people held under the notorious PTA. It is part of the overall attack on Irish people carried out by British imperialism. It also established dangerous precedents for police power – precedents which are a necessary part of the ruling class’s armoury to deal with the struggles of the oppressed against imperialism.

Hands Off Ireland threw itself into the campaign to defend Jim and Gerry. Nightly pickets were placed on the stations where they were held. In South Wales they were organised by Hands Off Ireland. In Luton they were organised by Provisional Sinn Féin and Hands Off Ireland. The purpose of the pickets was two-fold – one to let Jim and Gerry know that they had support, two to draw attention to the police activities and break the silence surrounding the arrests. In this respect the pickets were highly successful attracting support from local people and feeding information to the local press so that the arrests were publicised.

Police assault picket

A vital part of police arrests under the PTA is the silence that ordinarily surrounds those arrests. Comrades are picked up, held for eight days completely cut off from friends and support. This allows the police to do whatever they want in that period in an effort to extract information or ‘confessions’. Therefore, the last thing they want is publicity and demonstrations. The picketing and protest is, in fact, a real threat to the PTA. This is why, on Easter Sunday night, the Luton police launched a violent assault on the picket.

That night’s picket was the largest of all, supported by Provisional Sinn Féin and Hands Off Ireland contingents from London, Manchester and Scotland. At 8.20pm the police attacked. 10-15 police rushed from the station and kicked and punched the demonstrators back from the entrance. This was followed by the arrest of five Hands Off Ireland supporters – four of whom were subsequently charged with ‘breach of the peace’.

The attack on the picket was designed to stamp out the defence campaign building up for Jim and Gerry – to allow the police to pursue their harassment undisturbed. In this it completely failed. We were back the next morning to picket the court where Jim and Gerry appeared on Easter Monday.

Court picketed

That morning Jim and Gerry appeared in court and were charged with conspiracy to cause explosions. The public gallery was filled with supporters – from Provisional Sinn Féin, Hands Off Ireland, Luton SWP and individuals. Outside, Hands Off Ireland maintained a picket throughout the proceedings. Jim and Gerry were remanded in custody – as is common practice for Irish people in the hands of the British police and their courts. They were whisked off to prison without even being allowed to see their solicitor after the hearing. Finding out which prison they were taken to was the next problem, for Jim and Gerry disappeared for three days!

Britain’s disappeared persons

At first it was said that they had gone to Bedford. Then it was said that they had been moved to Leicester. Then both prisons denied holding them. Their solicitor – Alistair Logan – could not find out where they were. Their friends and supporters could not find out. So right here, in ‘democratic’ Britain in the midst of an outcry about ‘human rights’ in Afghanistan, remand prisoners simply disappear. So much for British ‘democracy’ and ‘justice’. So much for the rights of remand prisoners – ‘innocent until proven guilty’. British imperialism tramples on any and every right in pursuit of its war against the oppressed.

Held in punishment block

The conditions under which Jim and Gerry are being held also violate their rights as remand prisoners. Both men are forced to wear prison uniform and are being held on 23 hour lock-up in solitary confinement and denied association or recreation. Since being moved to Leicester prison, they have been held in the punishment block. They have been denied copies of Hands Off Ireland! which have been sent in to them. All this treatment is meted out despite the fact that even the police conspiracy against them has not yet resulted in conviction! Irish prisoners are, in fact, treated as 'guilty until proven innocent' in this imperialist 'democracy of ours'.

Petit Bourgeois left betray Republican movement

The arrest and treatment of Jim Reilly and Gerry MacLochlainn makes it clear enough what is at stake: either the rights of the oppressed are defended in the face of attack or they're not. Those who defend those rights are siding with the oppressed against imperialism. Those who do not defend those rights are siding with imperialism against the oppressed. We have repeatedly condemned the petit bourgeois left as anti-Republican and pro-imperialist — the experience of Jim and Gerry's case confirms, once again, the justice and necessity of our condemnation of the fake socialists in the petit bourgeois left.

Let us look at the record. The IMG national leadership were kept fully informed of all developments and the time and place of all the pickets on police stations. They did not lift a finger to defend Jim and Gerry. They were nowhere to be seen.

The SWP has recently formed an End the PTA Campaign. This so-called campaign was also nowhere to be seen. Like the IMG, the SWP national leadership did nothing at all to defend Jim and Gerry whilst they were being held in Luton.

Local members of the SWP did give valuable and consistent support which we welcome. But the newspaper of their organisation - Socialist Worker — has yet to print a word about the arrests.

The RCT too has its very own PTA campaign — the Smash the PTA Campaign. The contribution of this 'mighty' campaign amounted to next to nothing. Three nights running the RCT stalwarts went home at 8.50pm long before the end of the pickets. On Easter Sunday, in common with the rest of the petit bourgeois left, they refused to support the mass picket called by Provisional Sinn Fein. So much for the RCT who are currently campaigning under the incomprehensible slogan 'Bring the Irish War to Britain'. They could have made a start by bringing themselves to Luton.

And what of the Troops Out Movement? They appeared on just one of the six pickets. Apart from that, nothing has been heard of them, nothing seen of them.

Free Gerry MacLochlainn!  Free Jim Reilly!

Jim Reilly and Gerry MacLochlainn are still in the hands of the British state. Both are well-known for their uncompromising commitment to the struggle against British imperialism. They deserve our complete and unconditional support. If they are found guilty they face long prison sentences. Gerry MacLochlainn can, in any case be deported — be torn from the life he has built in South Wales and simply kicked out of the country.

Hands Off Ireland has already made clear its complete commitment to the campaign to free Jim and Gerry. The petit bourgeois left has made clear its treacherous abandonment of these two comrades. If Jim and Gerry - both dedicated fighters for the working class — are incarcerated it is a defeat for us all. The defence of Jim Reilly and Gerry MacLochlainn against imperialism and all its allies must start now and continue until both men are free to once again take up the fight to drive British imperialism out of Ireland.


On Friday 25 April, the Luton magistrates refused bail to Jim Reilly and Gerry MacLochlainn. In opposing bail the prosecution concocted a network of lies and cynical supposition to show that the two could not be trusted to keep to their bail conditions. Lie 1: that Gerry was trying to sell his Welsh home and return to Ireland. Gerry bought the house only eighteen months ago and has just been offered pro-motion in his job. Hardly indications for selling up! Gerry denied this tale in court. Lie 2: that Jim Reilly is divorced with no family ties in Luton. Furthermore, knowing full well that Jim Reilly has been suspended without pay from work and that he will lose his job if he is detained on remand for much longer, the counsel argued that because Jim Reilly is 'likely to lose his job' and being 'divorced', there are ‘no community ties' that would ensure that Jim stayed in Luton if freed on bail. No 'community ties'! Jim has lived and worked in Luton for 34 1/2 years and has close family ties in the area.

The final trick was to claim that further questions had to be made of a person whose name the police inspector refused to divulge, and whose whereabouts were unknown!

The whole charade has a clear purpose. The police will oppose bail until Jim and Gerry have lost their jobs. If the police need to play hide and seek with persons unknown they will do so. If they need to lie they will. Gerry and Jim, who is in ill health with only a quarter of normal lung function left, continue to be held in Leicester prison.



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