Political status for Irish Republican prisoners now!/ FRFI 230 Dec 2012/Jan 2013

FRFI 230 December 2012/January 2013

On 1 November 2012, a prison officer was shot dead as he made his way to work at the notorious top security Maghaberry gaol near Lisburn on the outskirts of Belfast. It later emerged that the officer was a member of the sectarian Orange Order and had been working on the wing where Irish political prisoners are currently being held in appalling conditions; his career went as far back as 1980.

The response from the political establishment has been predictable, with widespread condemnation of the attack. Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein condemned it as a ‘pointless and futile killing’ and United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it was an ‘outrageous and cowardly act’. Despite the condemnation, the first such targeted execution of a senior British prison employee since the early 1980s has drawn public attention to the conflict in the north of Ireland and the increasingly bitter dispute over the treatment of Republican prisoners at Maghaberry.

There are currently approximately 46 Irish Republican prisoners in Maghaberry. For the past two years they have been protesting at their treatment – in particular the use of repeated, intrusive strip searches and of 23-hour a day lock down – with some prisoners refusing to wash and engaging in dirty protests, throwing excrement from their cells into corridors. On 27 October, the weekend before the attack on the prison officer, an international day of action in solidarity with Irish political prisoners saw protests and pickets across the north of Ireland and internationally, in 12 cities (including Glasgow, Manchester and London), calling for an end to the internment of prisoners such as Marian Price and for no more abuse of political prisoners.

Torture and inhumane treatment of Irish prisoners have long been a part of British control in Ireland. The commencement of internment (detention without trial) in August 1971 heralded the widespread systematic abuse of Irish nationalists. Hooding, posture control, loud noise and the deprivation of food and sleep became known as the ‘five techniques’. It is these sensory deprivation techniques which today the British and US militaries routinely deploy against political detainees the world over, from Baghdad to Guantanamo Bay. In 1976 the British government was found guilty of inhumane and degrading treatment of Irish prisoners by the European Court of Human Rights.

The prison struggle has long been a significant part of Irish resistance to British rule. In 1976 the Labour government withdrew political status as part of the wider criminalisation and normalisation strategy against the revolutionary national struggle against British imperialist rule led by the Provisional IRA. In 1976 IRA prisoners stated: ‘We are prepared to die for political status. Those who try to take it away from us must be fully prepared to pay the same price.’ Over the next tortuous five years, which included the no wash and dirty protests culminating in 1981 in the deaths of ten Republicans on hunger strike, 19 prison officers were killed.

As part of the political settlement in Ireland in 1998, political status was traded away and criminalisation reintroduced.

Restore political status now! End brutality in Maghaberry! Free all Irish political prisoners!

Paul Mallon

Free the Irish prisoners of British occupation! / FRFI 227 June/July 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 227 June/July 2012

The situation of political prisoners in the north of Ireland acutely exposes the reality of continued British rule. Imprisonment is being used in an attempt to silence those such as Marian Price and Gerry McGeough who criticise Sinn Fein’s collaboration with British rule. There are currently around 50 prisoners in Maghaberry prison on a dirty protest, following the repeated failure to implement an agreement reached in August 2010, which was intended to resolve a dispute over the use of strip-searches. In a further recent development, the Public Prosecution Service is now increasing the use of ‘intercept evidence’ in the non-jury Diplock courts in order to secure convictions against those accused of political offences.

Marian Price has been held in prison for over a year, for the large part in solitary confinement. The Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson has deliberately ignored the fact that her 1980 release from prison was effected on compassionate grounds via the ‘Royal Prerogative of Mercy’, and claims that instead she was on life licence, meaning that she can be recalled for the smallest alleged violation. Marian, who is 57 years old and suffers from ill health as a result of her time on hunger strike in the 1970s, was arrested during a police raid on her Belfast home on 13 May 2011 and charged with encouraging support for an illegal organisation. She was granted bail in court on this charge, but Patterson then blocked her release claiming she was in breach of licence.

Gerry McGeough, who in the 1980s was imprisoned in Germany and the US on charges related to IRA armed activity, was arrested in 2007 and subsequently sentenced to serve 20 years imprisonment for the attempted murder of an Ulster Defence Regiment soldier in 1981. Gerry and his supporters are certain that the reason he is actually serving this term, as opposed to having the sentence set aside under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, is that he left Sinn Fein and stood as an independent republican candidate in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections of 2007.

On 19 May seven people appeared in court facing terrorist charges following a series of arrests and house raids; three of them are relatives of prominent republican Colin Duffy. Paul Duffy is accused of ‘directing terrorism’, while his brother Damien Duffy and cousin Shane Duffy are accused of conspiracy offences including ‘conspiracy to murder persons unknown’. The so-called ‘intercept evidence’ is said to originate from covert recordings and tracking of cars and people. Spearheading the use of such tactics is the new north of Ireland Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory QC, a nationalist lawyer from West Belfast, who has represented Sinn Fein and who is a keen supporter of the reintroduction of the discredited use of supergrasses.

Free all Irish political prisoners!

Paul Mallon

Murder on the Rock, 6 March 1987

Murder on the RockTwenty-five years ago, on 6 March 1987, three unarmed members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) were shot dead by the British Army Special Air Service (SAS).  The cold-blooded execution of Mairead Farrell, Daniel McCann and Sean Savage was immediately welcomed by the Conservative government, led by Margaret Thatcher, by the Labour Party, led by Neil Kinnock, and by the British press, all of whom acclaimed the killings as a victory against terrorism.

Read more ...

Support Irish POWs! / FRFI 225 Feb/Mar 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 225 February/March 2012

Free Marian Price!

As we go to press, Marian Price continues to be held in in solitary confinement at Maghaberry prison, where she is the only female prisoner. Marian, who is 57 years old and suffers from ill health as a result of her time on hunger strike, was arrested during a police raid on her Belfast home on 13 May 2011 and charged with encouraging support for an illegal organisation. She was granted bail in court on this charge, but the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Patterson, then blocked her release by revoking the parole licence relating to her conviction on charges of bombing the Old Bailey in London in 1973.

Following her arrest for the Old Bailey bombing, Marian, her sister Dolours and two male political prisoners embarked upon a hunger strike for repatriation to an Irish prison, which lasted over 200 days and included 167 days of force-feeding. She was released in 1980, suffering from tuberculosis and anorexia and weighing around five stone.

In recent years Marian has been an articulate critic of Sinn Fein’s involvement in the political settlement at Stormont. This has been a huge embarrassment to those attempting to portray a picture of peace and progress in Ireland today.

Her incarceration – which is effectively internment – is a blatant misuse of political power and an abuse of human rights. FRFI calls for the unconditional release of Marian Price and an end to the continued political harassment of her family and supporters.

Colin Duffy – from prison protest to street protest

North Armagh Irish republican Colin Duffy was finally released from prison on 20 January 2012, following his acquittal on charges of murder in relation to the shooting dead of two British soldiers in March 2009. He had spent 34 months on remand at Maghaberry prison, where he was held in a small cell in solitary confinement with no fresh air or natural daylight and subjected to repeat strip searches and beatings, along with repeated interference with access to his legal advisers.

The day after his release Colin led a protest on the Falls Road in Belfast to highlight prison conditions. This was followed by a well-attended press conference which he used to highlight his own innocence and draw attention to the abuse of political prisoners. Since May 2011 some 35 prisoners aligned to different republican groups have been refusing to wash, shave or cut their hair in protest at the continued use of full body strip-searching.

The Friends of Colin Duffy and the Family and Friends of Republican Prisoners in Maghaberry have repeatedly called upon the authorities to implement the independently brokered August 2010 Roe House Agreement between republican prisoners and the prison authorities, whereby full body strip-searching would be replaced by the use of scanners and other non-invasive procedures. The agreement broke down after only a month when prison authorities claimed it did not apply to the prison reception area. As FRFI goes to press, the protest continues. For further information see: http://friendsofcolinduffy.com/default.aspx

Paul Mallon

Lessons from the north of Ireland as British state prepares for class war / FRFI 225 Feb/Mar 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 225 February/March 2012

On 20 December 2011 Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) published a report entitled The rules of engagement, which argues that serious consideration should be given to the use of plastic bullets and water cannon and, where necessary, lethal force. The British state is preparing for class war and social unrest and, in doing so, will be relying on its experience in suppressing opposition to its rule in Ireland.

The report was commissioned by the Home Secretary following the August uprisings in English cities. It recommends the establishment of a national framework for resolving public disorder, with new rules of engagement supported by ever more sophisticated communication after fatal or controversial incidents, backed up by an ‘all source hub’ intelligence gathering with a greater emphasis on ‘advanced software analysis’ and social media monitoring. The report also states that: ‘in extreme circumstances, where life is threatened, their commanders must also be able to use extraordinary measures’.

Sir Denis O’Connor, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary states: ‘if we don’t raise some of these awkward issues, then we are not giving people the chance to prepare for a future where we’re slightly more assured as to what will happen. Some new rules of engagement are necessary so the police can protect the public in confidence.’ These new rules of engagement will be dependent upon the balance of political forces at the given time; critical to this will be the role of the media and the need to control public opinion.

Anyone who for a minute considers that plastic bullets are not lethal weapons should look at the history of their use in the occupied north of Ireland. In 1970, when rubber bullets were first introduced by the British Army in Ireland, they were presented as not only harmless but humorous. The Guardian’s Simon Winchester described the ‘charming press officer’ of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, showing off the ‘soft and squidgy things’. Winchester reported how one Observer journalist was overheard saying ‘firing bullets made with rubber. Soon they’ll be lobbing grenades full of confetti, and guns that fire rose petals. You can’t take this sort of thing seriously at all.’1 Within three years rubber bullets had killed three people, including an 11-year-old boy, Francis Rowntree, and had caused countless injuries, including blinding. These deaths and injuries were said to be down to the unreliability of rubber bullets, which from 1973 to 1976 were then phased out in favour of the ‘safer alternative’ – the plastic bullet. These deadly weapons would go on to kill a further 14 people, including nine children; hundreds more people have been injured.

Clara Reilly of Relatives for Justice in Belfast stated: ‘What the British government did was keep coming up with all these schemes to try to cow the nationalist community into submission, and plastic bullets were used as a political control mechanism. Seven people were killed by plastic bullets during the hunger strike of 1981. Something like 60,000 bullets were fired over a few months.’2

As the struggle for political status escalated to hunger strikes which would lead to the deaths of ten men in Long Kesh prison, the level of terror on the streets intensified as the British army and police went on the rampage. On 13 May 1981 14-year-old Julie Livingston died after being shot in the head with a plastic bullet in the Stewartstown Road area of West Belfast. The bullet was fired by the British army from a distance of seven yards. They claimed that there was a riot going on following the death that day of IRA hunger striker Francis Hughes. This was not true and at her inquest the jury agreed that Julie had been an ‘innocent victim’.

A few days later, on 19 May, 11-year-old Carol Ann Kelly was shot by a plastic bullet fired from a distance of less than ten yards from a British Army land rover, as she was returning home with a carton of milk in Twinbrook, West Belfast. Again, the army press office claimed that there was rioting in the area as hunger strikers Raymond McCreesh (IRA) and Patsy O’Hara (INLA) had died that day. This lie outraged nationalist Ireland. Carol Ann Kelly died on 22 May 1981. The same day in Derry Harry Duffy died after being shot in the head by a plastic bullet by the British army, who yet again claimed that there had been a riot in the area at the time.

On 31 July 1981, as the hunger strike continued, Peter Doherty died, having been struck a week earlier by a plastic bullet as he stood in his kitchen in the Divis Flats area of West Belfast. On 9 August Peter McGuinness was hit in the chest with a plastic bullet on the Shore Road area of Belfast and died of his injuries. There was no riot in either area. Lily Fitzsimons, a founder of the Relatives Action Committees and leading campaigner for the fight for political status has stated: ‘We knew an enormous amount of support existed within the community, but many people were afraid to come out on to the streets because of the terror which was being inflicted on the community by the army and the RUC.’3

That the British police should raise the spectre of plastic bullets and water cannon, and the sanctioning of lethal force in such a way, gives us an indication of the current debate among the ruling class and how it intends to deal with the crisis. Preparation and plans are already underway and police forces across Britain are being systematically trained in public order control. The new movement in Britain must understand and learn from the experiences of the nationalist population of the north of Ireland at the hands of the British state, if serious effective opposition is to emerge.

Paul Mallon

1          Simon Winchester, In Holy Terror, Faber 1974, p88.

2          Interview with author, Belfast, 24 November 2006.

3          Interview with author, Belfast, 11 December 2006.

Ireland: the key to the British revolution by David Reed