Tens of protesters against undemocratic state repression through internment and special courts gathered at the Wolfe Tone Monument in Dublin’s Stephen Green on Saturday before proceeding through the park to the Irish state’s Department of Justice building at 94 Stephen’s Green.
The sun shone weakly through at times on bare branches of deciduous trees and their autumn leaves, along with the dark green of the evergreen foliage of holly tree and invasive bay cherry.
The Wolfe Tone Monument stands in the approximate location of the Irish Citizen Army’s trenches in 1916, fired on by British soldiers with machine guns who had occupied the Shelbourne Hotel opposite, killing one of the Volunteers below. The statue had been blown up by British Loyalists in the 1970s and some of the surviving remnant had been added to in order to rebuild the statue (a fact generally not known or conveniently forgotten).
As is invariably the experience of Irish Republicans, they were under surveillance by some Gardaí in plain clothes and also from a marked police car. Some of the participants were also harassed by them and required to supply their names and addresses.
The event, jointly organised by two fairly recent organisations on the Irish Republican scene, the Abolish the Special Courts campaign and the Irish Socialist Republicans organisation, was supported mostly by Irish Republicans, some independents and some belonging to a number of Irish Republican organisations other than the organisers: activists from the Irish Republican Prisoner and Welfare Association, Saoradh and the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee were also in attendance.
With their banners and placards the protesters stood on the median strip in the road opposite the Department of Justice, passing pedestrians and drivers slowing down to read the texts displayed, some drivers tooting their horns in support. Some, apparently visitors, took photos or video footage.
Later, supporters of the protest crossed the road to the pavement outside the Green to hear speakers. Ger Devereux of the Abolish the Special Courts thanked people for attending and introduced Brian Kenna from Saoradh to speak.
“NOT CONVICTED FOR ANY CRIME BUT FOR BEING …. IRISH REPUBLICANS”
Kenna gave a detailed and comprehensive account of how the Offences Against the State Act has facilitated the imprisoning of Irish Republicans not for any crime they have committed but for being just who they are – Irish Republicans. Observing that half those Republicans in jail in the Irish state are serving time on conviction of allegedly “being a member of an illegal organisation”, the speaker emphasised that the only ‘evidence’ necessary for the Department of Public Prosecutions to secure such a conviction under the Offences Against the State Act is the word of a Garda at the rank of Superintendent or above, along with some vague additional ‘evidence’ that could mean lots of different things.
Brian Kenna warned that not only scheduled offences1 can be tried in the Special Criminal Courts as of now but should the DPP wish it, also other minor offences such as allegedly criminal damage or against public order and he believed that except for the existence of a few factors, including the presence of an MP among the accused, the Jobstown water-protesters would have been tried in the Special Courts, where convictions are the almost automatic result. Kenna called on all people to stand up against these undemocratic laws.
Devereaux then introduced Mandy Duffy, national Chairperson of the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association.
“HUMILIATION, VIOLENCE AND ISOLATION”
Mandy Duffy spoke about the conditions under which Irish Republicans are being held in a number of prisons in Ireland on both sides of the Border. In Maghaberry in particular, which Duffy said was much more modern than Portlaoise (in the Irish state), Republican prisoners are guarded by a prison staff recruited from among Loyalists2, who hate Irish Republicans and are determined not only to keep them in jail but to make them suffer while they are there.
Duffy focused on the practice of continually strip-searching prisoners every time they are taken from the prison or returned as one of humiliation and of violence when the prisoner is non-compliant.3 The speaker also referred to unreasonable and additional punishments such as keeping prisoners in isolation.
Mandy Duffy concluded by calling for solidarity with Irish Republican prisoners and in thanking those present for giving her their attention.
Devereux then called on Diarmuid Breatnach to speak on behalf of the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee.
“WE STAND TOGETHER OR WE GO TO JAIL SEPARATELY”
Diarmuid Breatnach began in Irish by thanking the organisers for the invitation to speak which he then repeated in English. Breatnach said that their Committee held pickets around Dublin mostly on a monthly basis and did so in order to raise awareness on the ground, among the public, that internment without trial continues in Ireland long after it was allegedly terminated by the British in the mid-1970s. He also reminded the protesters that people had resisted internment and protested it in Ireland and in many places around the world, including in Britain. In the Six Counties the Ballymurphy Massacre had been inflicted on people protesting internment in 1971 and again in 1972, the Bloody Sunday Massacre in Derry.
Stating that internment is essentially jailing people without a trial, Diarmuid Breatnach stated that returning a former Republican prisoner who is at liberty under licence to jail without any trial, as has happened for example to Tony Taylor, is effectively internment, albeit of a different kind. Refusing a Republican bail for no good reason when on a charge awaiting trial, which might take up to two years, is also internment of a different kind, the speaker said, stating that the only justifiable reasons for opposing bail are supposed to be a likelihood of the offence being repeated or the charged person absconding, for both of which credible evidence should be produced. Breatnach also drew attention to the recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights which castigated Turkey for their two years of preventive detention (or refusal of bail) of a Kurdish Member of the Turkish Parliament while awaiting trial, on the principle that the period of detention was unreasonably long and was being done deliberately for political reasons.
The speaker also referred to the unreasonable bail conditions when bail was granted, which included non-attendance at political demonstrations, pickets and meetings which, he said, made it clear what the whole intention of the repression was about.
Breatnach reiterated what an earlier speaker had said about the potential of these forms of repression being used against a wider section of opposition to the State and referred to recent arrests of Republicans who had allegedly mobilised against the launch of the fascist group Pegida in 2012. The speaker urged unity across the board against State repression because they either stood together now or later would “go to jail separately”.
Devereaux thanked the participants and encouraged them to keep in touch with the Abolish the Special Courts campaign and the street meeting broke up into informal groups as people began to collect placards, banners, etc getting ready to disperse.
Dublin Anti-Internment Committee: https://www.facebook.com/End-Internment-581232915354743/
Abolish the Special Courts campaign: https://www.facebook.com/Abolish-The-Special-Courts-208341809705138/?
Socialist Republicans are a part of Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland: https://www.facebook.com/AIAIreland2/
1In Ireland this normally means ‘crimes’ which are associated by the State with subversive intent (source: http://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/justice/courts_system/special_criminal_court.html)
2The term “Loyalist” in an Irish context and especially in the occupied Six Counties means “British Loyalists” usually understood not only as those who support the Union with England but as those who do militantly and with bigoted hatred of Catholics (in particular Irish Catholics or people from that community who might well be atheists).
3There is a graphic and accurate depiction of this practice employed on non-compliant Irish Republicans on the “Dirty Protest” in the Steve McQueen film “Hunger” (2008). In the film, the prisoners were nearly naked already but in more ‘normal’ prison conditions, the practice also involved removing the prisoner’s clothes – by force if he or she is non-compliant.