The violation of the civil rights of Osgur Breatnach (then a leading member of the IRSP) exposed in the program in the Finné series on TG4 (Irish language TV channel) shown recently and repeated a week later was set in the 1970s but the injustice did not end there.
Even after a High Court admission that he and McNally had been subjected to “oppression” and his conviction thereby overturned 17 months after his jailing, the court still maintained he had beaten himself up – a fiction it maintains to this day.
Of course to say otherwise would have been to admit the Gardaí special unit that came to be known as “The Heavy Gang” were vicious thugs who fabricated “confessions”. And that the judiciary of the Special Criminal Court had, despite the medical evidence and signs of beating on all, including the three who had “confessed” and the repudiation of those statements in court, colluded with the beatings, accepted the statements as true confessions and convicted three of the men for up to 12 years’ jail. And to admit that the Court of Appeal and High Court had been complicit in accepting as a “finding of fact” which could not be overturned that they had beaten one another up (and done it to himself, in the case of Breatnach).
All of which meant that the Heavy Gang got more encouragement for their ‘work’ so that some of them were able to turn up on the scene of other scandals, including that of the false confessions of Joanna Hayes and her family (about which Gardaí nothing has been done either).
Even today, not one of those Gardaí has been even charged and the complicit judiciary and State Prosecution carried on in their jobs and in some cases rose higher.
The injustice did not stop there, for when Nicky Kelly, who had been on the run, gave himself up, even though exactly the same evidence had been used to convict him, he was told he had run over the timeframe in which he could appeal and it took four years of campaigning to get him out too. And then only for “humanitarian reasons,” so the “guilty of armed robbery” verdict still stood for his reputation, potential relationships, job prospects etc.
Another eight years later he received a Presidential “Pardon” from Uachtarán Mary Robinson.
Then the State fought the financial compensation case, taking it to the extreme of bringing Gay Byrne to court over an interview he had given Osgur Breatnach. At this point some wiser heads decided to limit the damage, pay up but with the condition that the three did not go after the police or proceed with any case about the beatings.
A facet of British and Irish civil law of which many are probably unaware is this: If the respondent (i.e the one against which you are taking the case) offers you a sum and you refuse it, and you later win the case but are awarded less than what you were offered earlier, you have to pay all the costs of the defence! You can actually end up owing money!
But back to ongoing injustice. Since not a single one of the Heavy Gang was ever even charged or disciplined over this and other similar behaviour and some were even promoted; since not a single member of the legal profession or judiciary was even reprimanded for their part in it; no warning about where the boundaries are has been given to the Gardaí much less to the judiciary. Which means that it can all easily happen again.
The defendants in the Jobstown case were not beaten up to force them to ‘confess’ but when we hear Garda after Garda, including a senior one, affirm under oath in court that one of the defendants said something which all the video evidence proves he did not, at what conclusion can we arrive other than that they were all lying? But not one of them has been charged or even disciplined either.
Conversely, the State has no problem with dragging anti-fascists to court recently and this to answer charges such as “violent disorder” arising out alleged actions preventing the European fascist organisation Pegida from launching a branch in Dublin.
ARE THINGS TODAY IMPROVED?
The Heavy Gang is not operating as such today (or at least not yet) but in some respects things are actually worse than they were back in the 1970s ad ’80s. There was one Special Criminal Court then – now there are two! The Public Order Act was brought into force in 1994 to give Gardaí great powers to repress public protests and the scheduled offence of Violent Disorder was included in that Act: three unconnected individuals at the scene of a “disorder” can be convicted under the latter provision and sentenced up to ten years in jail or fined an unlimited amount (or both)!
Courts are imposing bail conditions preventing activists from continuing to be politically active, i.e from attending public meetings, rallies, demonstrations, pickets etc – for up to the two years it can take the case to come to trial.
And just as in the ‘bad old days’, the unsupported opinion of a Garda of Superintendent rank or over is sufficient to convict Republicans of “belonging to an illegal organisation” and visitors to the public gallery of the SCC have to give their names and addresses to the Gardaí before being admitted.
Special Branch officers still routinely and openly watch Republicans carrying out their peaceful political work and demand their names and addresses on pickets. But now not only is surveillance carried out on people’s electronic communication equipment, communication is also being blocked at times by special equipment of the Gardaí.
Sadly, as the struggle over social and political issues becomes more acute in this state, we will see more repression, as the State tries to force the whole of civil society into compliance, especially by concentrating that repression on society’s more politicised and active sectors. Already in Dublin we have seen masked bailiffs and masked police carrying out an eviction of a small token occupation group in an empty house and, a week later, armed police turning up to a dispute between a couple and their landlord.
Only by admission of wrongdoing followed by actions overturning the current impunity of the Gardaí and the judiciary can a worsening of the situation perhaps be averted. But there is no sign of that happening.
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