(Reading time: 5 mins.)
The Dublin Anti-Internment Committee held a well-attended picket on Saturday (5th March) against the continuing practice of interning Irish Republicans without trial and also in support of human rights for political prisoners. At one point the picket was subjected to the unwelcome attention of the Irish political police.
The event was in furtherance of the Committee’s advertised intention to hold monthly public events to highlight the deprivation of civil rights from Irish Republicans — on both sides of the British border — through the operation of special legislation and in particular of the no-jury political courts (Special Criminal Courts in the Irish state and Diplock Court in the British colony). The Committee has admitted that it does not always succeed in holding a public event every month and in fact its most recent public appearance was during the December festive season, in solidarity with Irish Republican prisoners, when it was supported by a number of organisations and independent activists.
WHY THESE PUBLIC EVENTS?
The Dublin Committee holds these public events because it believes that most people are unaware of the abuse of civil rights in Ireland, the civil right to belong to an organisation that criticises the State and seeks profound change. The reaction of people receiving a leaflet at their public events would seem to bear this out.
Choosing a couple of extracts from their current leaflet: ‘At various times in Ireland’s history, people have been rounded up and jailed without bothering with a trial – people whom the government found troublesome and wished removed. Today the same process carries on although they don’t call it “internment” now – other names such as “due process”, “remanded in custody” are used ….”
‘Even when Republican activists are granted bail, it is on outrageous conditions such as not being permitted to reside in their own home, having to observe a curfew and wear an electronic tag, not being permitted to attend meetings and demonstrations …..’
The leaflet text makes the point that one doesn’t have to agree with the politics of Irish Republicans to see that these injustices are profoundly undemocratic abuses of civil rights — and “are ultimately a danger to all oppositional movements, whether Republican or not”. One aspect of their protest was against the denial of open family visits to Republican prisoners in the jails of the British colony in the north-east of Ireland — a violation of human rights.
The surprise in learning the facts is not confined to Irish people because often it is expressed by tourists or migrants, even if they have encountered such practices in their own countries of origin.
An example of the interest from abroad on Saturday was of a Basque man and, separately, of two young Basque women, reacting warmly to seeing the Basque flag among the picketers. The Dublin Committee objects not only to the incarceration of Irish Republicans but also of people seeking freedom in many other parts of the world, for which reason the Palestinian and Basque flags are frequently flown on their pickets, next to the revolutionary Irish workers’ flag of the Starry Plough.
A person who expressed support for the right to campaign without state repression was, interestingly, from Barcelona. However he did not wish for Catalan independence, wanting instead a unitary but democratic Spanish state – a position held by some communists and the main socia-democratic parties there. Although his position did not concur with that of the picketers, who tend to support the struggles for self-determination, the conversation was conducted without hostility.
Not so with another individual, who approached some picketers to argue for their support for the Ukrainian state in the current armed conflict there, a question that has deeply divided the Irish Left and Republican movements. He went further and announced his support for the Azov Battalion, an East European fascist organisation integrated into the Ukrainian state’s military, at which point the tolerance of the picketers for his intervention ended and he was urged to depart.
POLITICAL POLICE INTIMIDATION
Another temporary presence unwelcome to the picketers was of three members of the Irish State’s political police. These are members of what used to be called the Special Branch but are now officially called the Special Detective Unit, formerly C3 and successor to the CID when the Irish State was created. This type of political police force is modelled on the Irish Special Branch of Scotland Yard, the HQ of the British police, founded to spy on the influence and activities of the “Fenians” (i.e the Irish Republican Brotherhood) in the cities of Victorian-era Britain. However, in Dublin under British occupation, their parallel force was the G Division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, known as “G-men”; it was they who identified many Republican and other prisoners of the British military after the 1916 Rising, ensuring death sentences for many (though most commuted to life imprisonment) and jail sentence for many others. During the War of Independence (1919-1921 they were identified as the intelligence service of the British occupation and many were selectively assassinated by the IRA of the time.
The Garda “Branch” (as they are known colloquially) of the Irish State have a long history of harassment of and spying on Irish Republicans, sometimes associated with violence and often with perjury in court. Their unsupported observations through the mouth of a Garda officer at the rank of Superintendent has been enough “evidence”, in the no-jury Special Criminal Court, to send many Irish Republicans to jail on a charge of “membership of an illegal organisation.”
One of these gentlemen on Saturday approached the youngest supporter of the picket, who was distributing leaflets to passers-by, identified himself as a Gárda officer in plain-clothes and demanded the young activist’s name. His accosting of the leafletter attracted the attention of others on the picket and two went quickly to support the subject of State harassment. The Branchman demanded no further information and sone moved away. However, when he had reached about half-way along the picketters, he stopped and began filming them.
At that point one of the picketers began to call out to passers-by, many of whom were tourists, that this man was a member of the secret political police, who was filming and attempting to intimidate people on a legal political protest, that this is the kind of ‘democracy’ that exists in the Irish state, etc, etc. Shortly thereafter, the Branchman departed, along with another two of his colleagues that had been observed further down towards Temple Bar.
According to picket participants this intervention of the political police represented an escalation of their attentions in recent times, though not in the least unusual in the past, when every picketer might have their name (and even their address) demanded and jotted down.
A spokesperson of the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee stated that it is independent of any political party or organisation and that it welcomes the participation at its public events of democratic individuals, whether independent activists or members of organisations and had distributed many of its leaflets. It regrets that a number of political activists — who should have an interest, even if only in self-preservation – in defending the democratic rights to organise and to protest, decline to support their events.
Anti-Internment Group of Ireland: https://www.facebook.com/End-Internment-581232915354743
Azov Battallion: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azov_Battalion