UP TO FOUR SCORE PROTESTERS LINED A MAIN STREET IN NEWRY ON SATURDAY 2nd JULY TO PROTEST THE CONTINUATION OF INTERNMENT WITHOUT TRIAL OF POLITICAL ACTIVISTS
This the event was organised for the third year running by the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland and was supported by a number of organisations, campaigns and independent activists. AIGI was formed some years ago to raise awareness of the reintroduction of internment without trial by the use of remand in custody and revoking of licences.
Republican activists are being arrested on trumped-up charges and then refused bail outright or sometimes offered it in exchange for acceptance of conditions limiting their freedom to live normally and, in particular, to be politically active. This in itself lays bare the real motivation behind the charges – one who was unable to support the event because of his bail conditions told this reporter that he has to sign at a police station every day including the middle of the afternoon on Saturdays, is not allowed to speak about political prisoners, to attend political meetings or to post or comment publicly on social media. If refused bail, activists may await trial for two years and, if then found ‘not guilty’ by the no-jury Diplock Courts, will already have spent two years in prison anyway.
Former political prisoners released on licence under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement may be arrested and detained without trial, without charge, without even a police interview as happened to Martin Corey (four years without trial and released under gagging conditions). Currently Tony Taylor is in jail without charge under this system.
AIGI was founded to raise public awareness about these serious violations of civil and political rights. The Dublin branch of AIGI, the Dublin Anti-Internment Commitee, holds regular public pickets and meetings in the Dublin area and has facilitated other public events for other campaigns, such for example the framed Craigavon Two. Recently the Munster Anti-Internment Committee was also founded as another branch of the AIGI (both committees were represented at the Newry event).
SPEAKERS DENOUNCE BAIL CONDITIONS, REFUSAL OF BAIL AND OPPRESSION INSIDE JAIL.
A number of speakers called attention to the repression of the Six County state in its arrests of political activists, refusal of bail or imposition of oppressive conditions if bail is granted, imprisonment on trumped-up charges and through revoking of licences. The case of the Craigavavon Two was mentioned by a number of speakers, as was the case of Tony Taylor. The Craigavon two are in jail convicted of the killing of a British soldier, even though the case against them is riddled with holes and depends on an eyewitness who came forward nearly a year after the event, whose evidence is contradictory, whose movements on the night in question are denied by his own family and who is described by his own father as “a Walter Mitty character”.
All the speakers called for continuous action and unity against repression and were vigorously applauded.
JOE CONLON WAS THE FIRST SPEAKER. HE SPOKE ON BEHALF OF THE DUBLIN ANARCHIST BLACK CROSS, a support group for political prisoners.
In the course of his speech he pointed out that the struggle of Republican prisoners in Maghaberry Prison has been going on for well over a decade. Commenting on a brutal prison regime, Conlon focused on the attacks on “prisoners‘ families and loved ones being refused visits without any warning and loved ones being banned for a couple of months at a time also without warning.”
Attacking the system of solitary confinement within the jail, Conlon picked out the case of “Gavin Coyle (who) has spent five years in isolation,” while, he pointed out, non-Republican prisoners usually spend at most up to three weeks in isolation, as a punishment. “The use of forced isolation is to try destroy the morale, spirit and mind of a prisoner. In Gavin Coyle‘s case the British state are trying to break him down physiologically and MI5 have made several approaches to him in the Isolation block.”
Conlon went to assert that “these exact same tactics are being used ……. across Europe to get Anarchist activists jailed and used against prisoners and their families to break them,” and recalled that the previous year several anarchist prisoner had gone on hunger strike.
Calling attention to the 39–day hunger strike by Tasos Theofilou, who was sentenced to 25 years jail in 2014, Conlon said that “he was convicted of manslaughter, carrying a firearm and armed robbery, which he has always denied. The only evidence against him was DNA that was found on a moveable object, none of the witnesses in trial could identify him,” Conlon pointed out.
PAUL CRAWFORD OF CÓGUS AND REPUBLICAN NETWORK FOR UNITY ADDRESSED THE CROWD ALSO.
Thanking the organisers for the invitation to speak and declaring it a privilege to address the gathering, Crawford addressed some remarks towards the terminology of “internment” and raised some questions regarding its accuracy with regard to some cases, the injustice of which however he went on to denounce.
The media and political class came in for denunciation too for ignoring the fact of framing of activists on flimsy evidence.
Crawford went on to speak of his comrade Carl Reilly who, he said “is another example of selective detention.” Reillly is arrested on a charge of directing terrorism and, Crawford informed the crowd, “this charge is based on secret recordings allegedly taken in the 26 counties yet passed to the state forces in the north to use as evidence to remand him there.”
Crawford told those assembled that he himself is Carl’s co-accused, released on bail. “I am forced to endure draconian and repressive bail conditions which are clearly designed to prevent me from carrying out my role within my political party in an effective manner. I am not allowed to send Carl a birthday card, to talk to him or even to have third–party contact with him.” Crawford said. “In essence,” he continued, “I’m not even allowed to ask his wife to tell him I was asking for him. Many activists north and south are effectively interned on bail, in prison outside of prison walls.”
STEPHEN MURNEY, FROM NEWRY AND IN ÉIRIGÍ was himself a fairly recent victim of internment through refusal of bail for nearly two years, after which he was cleared of all charges.
“When republicans are targeted by the British occupation forces, backed by their political mouth pieces in Stormont,” Murney told the crowd, “they can expect to be held for anything up to five years in a British prison.” “Many of these cases are built on sand and eventually collapse before trial,” he continued, “although the end result is that those republicans are held in prison for several years despite being innocent.”
In the course of his speech, Murney pointed out that the families, whose battle is “largely unseen and unheard ……. are left to pick up the pieces”. Continuing, he stated: “I think it’s appropriate and important that today we acknowledge the struggle that women have to endure when their husbands and sons find themselves interned”.
Murney went to talk about the “living nightmare” that bail conditions impose on activists, making it “impossible to live anything that even remotely resembles a normal family life. Late night checks, daily bail signing, draconian curfews and being forced into exile are the order of the day.” He went on to say that those who are forced to wear an electronic tag “not only have to endure Crown force harassment, but they also find themselves being harassed by their lackeys In the G4S security company.”
Not even after completing there sentences are activists free from harassment, Murney declared, as “many find themselves with severe licence conditions being imposed and being unable to return to their homes to live.”
SPEAKER CALLS FOR SUPPORT FOR DEFENCE OF MOORE STREET AND HISTORY
Last to speak was Diarmuid Breatnach, introduced by the chair as representing the Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign. He began by quoting a saying, “Níl saoirse gan stair” (‘There is no freedom without history’). Breatnach spoke of the importance of history, of knowing it well and how it is interpreted; how those who hide or control history do so in order to control the people. He pointed out that history is not dead but is constantly being made, “as those of us here today are in a small way part of the history against the reintroduction of internment”.
Speaking about the last Headquarters of the 1916 Rising, the terrace of houses in Moore Street occupied by the GPO Garrison, Breatnach related how the long years of people campaigning for their conservation had resulted in an Irish High Court judgement that the whole of the Moore Street quarter is a National Monument.
However, Minister Humphreys is appealing the judgement, Breatnach told the crowd and the property speculators have applied for a seven-year extension on their planning permission for a giant shopping mall, which involves the demolition of the whole quarter with the exception of four buildings.
Focusing on the forthcoming march on Saturday 9th in Dublin (organised by the Save Moore Street 2016 campaign), Breatnach encouraged all to take leaflets, inform themselves and others about the issues and to march with the campaign and supporters in Dublin, “not just for the past, nor just for the present but for …. a future free from colonialism, imperialism and property speculators.”
“A VERY SUCCESSFUL EVENT …. HIGHLIGHTING THAT INTERNMENT WITHOUT TRIAL HAS NOT GONE AWAY”
Police vehicles passed along the street keeping the demonstrators under surveillance a number of times but did not stop, nor did police on foot appear. They also took a turn around the car park noting vehicle registration numbers.
People driving past in cars almost without exception accepted leaflets and some tooted their horns in solidarity. The presence of large numbers of cars of expensive make passing through the street drew an expression of surprise from one Dublin participant. “Green diesel prosperity,” replied his comrade laconically. Clearly there is more than one kind of ‘cross-border initiatives’!
“This was a very successful event,” stated a spokesperson for the organisers, a sentiment echoed by many, quite possibly all of those in attendance. “As in past events, people from different Republican organisations and Republican and socialist independent individuals participated. We also distributed in excess of one thousand leaflets here today and highlighted that internment without trial has not gone away.”
Newcomers to this event were in evidence this year also, with the banner of the Anarchist Black Cross (support group for political prisoners) clearly to be seen.
The presence of Munster and Dublin branches of the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland reflect the growth of the organisation and interest in its core principles of active committees, democratically run by participating activists, independent of any political organisations but open to members of all and of none.