In the midst of an arrest operation on Wednesday of 21 people for alleged misuse of public funds to assist the Catalan independence movement, the Spanish State issued a statement alleging that Russia had offered the movement 10,000 Russian soldiers to aid their struggle. It wasn’t the only Russian connection to the Spanish police operation, which they had named Operación Volkhov.
The arrests this week form part of measures by the State against Catalan independence activists since 2017. That year, a coalition of pro-independence political parties and a huge grassroots movement in Catalonia pushed for a referendum to vote for or against an independent Catalan republic, which the pro-Spanish union opposition called on people to boycott. The Spanish State sent its police to raid Catalan regional government offices, confiscate ballot papers, search for ballot boxes (unsuccessfully) and, on the day of the Referendum itself on October 1st, to storm polling stations and beat up voters.
Since then, the Spanish State has jailed seven Catalan politicians and two leaders of grassroots movements on charges of sedition, charged senior Catalan police officers with disobedience (recently acquitted), charged activists with possession of explosives (turned out to be fireworks), other Catalan politicians – including the former President — are in exile, the current President of the regional government has been banned from holding office, 700 local town mayors are under investigation and others are facing charges arising out of strikes and acts of civil disobedience such as blocking streets and a motorway (for which one activist was charged with terrorism). The raid this week comes in addition to all those legal processes.
There is something of an irony in charging Catalan activists with misuse of public funds in pursuance of independence, given that independence is what many of the Catalan public desire but even more ironic considering the rampant corruption endemic in Spanish political circles and the Monarchy itself, the former King Juan Carlos resigning amidst allegations of financial corruption and being allowed to flee the country ahead of an investigation.
Whatever about the charges of misuse of public funds it is unlikely that most political observers will take the allegations of an offer of Russian military intervention seriously and not only because it comes from Guardia Civil intelligence, a police force maintaining the fascist Franco dictatorship for four decades and, according to many, especially Basques and Catalans, not much changed since. The notion that Russia would risk a war with the EU and the US-dominated NATO, in order to help free a nation of 7.5 million people nowhere near its own territory, must be laughable.
For those facing charges, under investigation, in exile or already in jail, the situation is not humorous. And then there is the sinister name of the police operation. During WW2, General Franco, dictator of a neutral Spain sent fascist volunteers to aid the Axis in Europe, many of them fighting on the Russian front. Franco had quite recently led a successful military-fascist uprising against the Spanish left-wing Popular Front Government, for which he had been aided by Nazi German and Fascist Italian armament and men. His victory was followed by a repression that left Spain with more mass graves than anywhere else other than Cambodia. The Spanish volunteers to fight Soviet communism formed the Blue Division – blue, from the colour of the Falangist shirts and uniforms.
SPANISH FASCISTS ON THE VOLKHOV FRONT
Among the Nazi German forces in the Volkhov region were the men of the Blue Division and it seems they carried out a successful night crossing of the Volkhov River on 18th October 1941. A subsequent Red Army advance in January 1942 failed ultimately because not all the components of the operation had advanced according to plan. In August 1942 the Blue Division was transferred north to take part in the Siege of Leningrad, on the south-eastern flank of the German Army.
However in February of that 1943, operations on the Volkhov Front formed Part of the Red Army plan to first break the siege of Leningrad and then trap Nazi forces in encirclement. According to what seems a Spanish-sympathetic Wikipedia account of the battle at Krasny Bor, in the vicinity of Volkov, the Blue Division fought stubbornly from 10-13 February 1943. On February 15, the Blue Division reported casualties of 3,645 killed or wounded and 300 missing or taken prisoner, which amounted to a 70–75% casualty rate of the troops engaged in the battle. The remnants were relieved and moved back towards the rear.
Red Army casualties were much higher and, although forces attacking well-fortified positions backed by good artillery and tanks, all of which the Nazis had, can expect to lose three attackers for every one defender, Russian analysis later blamed bad leadership, ineffective use of artillery and clumsy use of tanks for their losses.
A Spanish police force evoking today the memory of Spain’s fascist troops in WW2 might seem ominous but to those who believe that the Spanish ruling class and their police force have never ceased to be fascist, the only surprise will be its effrontery. To the Guardia Civil, the fighting in the vicinity of Volkhov in October 1941 might seem the finest hour of the Blue Division but they might do well to remember that effectively it also met its end there in 1943: the Division ceased to exist and was reformed as the Blue Legion, soon afterwards to be disbanded, some soldiers absorbed into the Waffen SS and others withdrawn home.
RUSSIAN TROOPS FOR CATALONIA?
Fast forwarding to the present, the Russians, at least in their Embassy in Madrid, treated the allegation of their offering troops to support Catalan independence as a joke. The following post in Spanish appeared on their electronic notice and comment board (translated):
Note: The information that appeared in the Spanish media about the arrival of 10,000 Russian soldiers in Catalonia is incomplete. It is necessary to add a further two zeros to the number of soldiers and the most shocking thing of all this conspiracy: the troops were to be transported by “Mosca” and “Chato” planes assembled in Catalonia during the Civil War and hidden in a safe place in the Catalan Sierra (mountain range) until they received the encrypted order to act through these publications.
Around 30 Irish Republican prisoners in Roe House, a wing of Maghaberry Prison in Co. Antrim (occupied Six Counties) and in Portlaoise Jail in the Irish state announced a two-week hunger strike on Wednesday 16th in solidarity with Dr. Issam Hiijawi, a Palestinian, who is also on hunger strike within Maghaberry jail. Over 30 attended a solidarity picket this evening in Dublin, which was harassed by Garda Special Branch.
A number of Irish Republicans in the Six Counties were arrested some weeks ago in what was admitted to be an operation fed by MI5 intelligence and which involved entrapment with a British agent named in a number of reports as Dennis McFadden. Dr. Issam Hiijawi, a Palestinian, was arrested along with them.
All the arrested were remanded in custody and went through solitary confinement in a different block to the usual one for Republican prisoners, allegedly for Covid19 quarantine but have been back in Roe House for some time. Dr. Issam Hiijawi had been waiting for an MRI scan due to his medical condition but, after finally being taken to an outside hospital for the scan, was returned to solitary confinement once again upon his return to the prison. This is in Foyle House, which the prisoners describe as “filthy and dilapidated” and point out that Dr. Hiijawi could easily have been quarantined in Roe House, in communication with other political prisoners but was not permitted to do so. The prison guards who accompanied him to the hospital are under no restrictions. Vindictive harassment and oppression and not health requirements appear to be the real motivation here and Dr. Hiijawi went on hunger strike.
The Irish Republican prisoners of Maghaberry Jail, Roe House and Portlaoise Jail landings E3 and E4 said in a statement that Dr. Hiijawi has been subjected to “concerted, petty targeting ……. since entering Maghaberry” and took their action in solidarity with him. The IRPWA called on “the Maghaberry regime to step back from confrontation and apply common sense by transferring Issam to Roe House ….”
DUBLIN PICKET HARASSED BY POLITICAL POLICE
Over 30 Irish Republicans and independent socialists responded to a short-notice call by Saoradh and the Irish Republican Prisoners’ Welfare Association to assemble in Dublin to highlight the hunger-strike. The picket was held on O’Connell Bridge and received some support from passing vehicle drivers and pedestrians, with others interested in reading the leaflet being distributed or hearing the reason for the picket.
There were a number of uniformed Gardaí hanging around on both sides of the Bridge, including some in plainclothes, i.e the specifically political section known as “the Special Branch”. It was not long before two of the latter force began to accost picketers, demanding their names and addresses under threat of arrest if they refused, under the Offences Against the State Act. This Act is supposed to be used by the police to prevent a crime being committed but these Branchmen were using it to build up profiles on peaceful and legal political activists and also as an act of intimidation.
Some passers-by took notice when one of the picketers began to shout out to them explaining what was happening but the Branchmen just ignored him and carried on filling their notebooks.
The Dublin protest was the first on this issue but others are planned in various towns and cities in Ireland, in particular in the occupied Six Counties.
The construction of an Independent and Socialist State that integrates Araba, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, Lapurdi, Nafarroa Behera, Nafarroa Garaia and Zuberoa.
(On the 18th I reported on the launch of the Basque organisation Jardun, a coordinating body seeking to unite Basque left-national organisations and collectives in a revolutionary movement. Since then they have published a fuller manifesto of their aims, here translated from the Castillian version.)
The construction of a society based on the power of the Basque working class, on overcoming the class struggle and on the socialization of the means of production.
Overcoming all oppression against working women.
Reunification of Euskal Herria.
Remaking Euskal Herria Basque-speaking.
The new alternative of the Basque Working People is a pro-independence and socialist political project whose ideological principles have six main points:
The national question is framed within the various oppressions suffered by the Basque Working People, oppression that in the opinion of this coordinating organisation can only be overcome through independence. In other words, when we speak of self-determination, we are referring to the undeniable right of the Basque Working People to separate from the states that oppress them and to undertake a process of building an independent and socialist state.
Before talking about socialism, it is convenient to specify what we mean when we speak of the Basque Working People. The Basque Working People is made up of everyone who lives and sells their labour power in Euskal Herria. Every worker within the Basque Working People, from the moment they suffer exploitation and oppression, that is, from the moment they suffer the blow of capital in a crude way in their day to day life, has the potential to organize the revolution. Therefore, when we speak of socialism, we refer to overcoming the class oppression suffered by the Basque Working People, on the way to creating a classless society.
We must understand that the Basque Working People cannot undertake the fight against capital alone. It is necessary to maintain contact with the different oppressed peoples and to acceptmutual aid. Even so, JARDUN will always set down an unpassable red line, that the national framework of the Basque working people can never be doubted. (Translator’s note: I was unsure about what exactly was meant by this sentence but one Jardun’s supporters told me it means that any struggle expecting solidarity from Jardun must accept the Basque people as a nation).
It is necessary to overcome the sex-gender dichotomy and the reproductive role that capital imposes on working women, in order to overcome the oppression suffered by working women and the structural reasons that originate it.
Amnesty is a strategic term that, going beyond confining itself to the freedom of all those fighterswho have worked for the freedom of Euskal Herria, implies political recognition in the eyes of working people of the struggle they have carried out and placing at the disposal of popular justice those who have systematically oppressed them.
Within the current capitalist production model, the environment suffers from overexploitation, responding to the logic of obtaining the highest possible economic performance, generating more waste than can be managed and creating a degradation that in many cases puts living conditions at risk. That is why the environmental struggle can only be approached from a root change in the production processes.
The six points outlined above that define the ideology of JARDUN cannot be understood or addressed in an isolated way, since if their achievement does not go hand in hand with the others, the only thing that we will achieve will be to perpetuate the oppression suffered by the Basque Working People. In the same way, only by addressing these points from a class point of view will the workers of Euskal Herria be able to obtain control of the productive processes and political power, neutralizing the bourgeoisie.
Although the Basque Working People have the potential to carry out the revolution, only by acquiring awareness of their situation and organizing themselves in pursuit of national and social liberation can they begin the revolutionary process, forming the Basque Revolutionary Proletariat. JARDUN needs to be the organizational space of the Basque Revolutionary Proletariat. At the same time, the working people at an organic levelshould be composed of different sectoral organizations working under the same strategic objectives, for the construction of an independent and socialist Euskal Herria.
In the same way that our predecessors faced the oppression that this people has suffered and fought against fascism in Albertia, today, it is up to us to confront the oppression that working people suffer and for that, unity is necessary, it is necessary join forces. It is time to start joining forces. It is time to start adding forces. It is necessary to get together with different groups in Euskal Herria and defend a common project. It is necessary for different groups to join JARDUN, so that each one from their own fighting trenches can contribute what they can, with a firm commitment, and thus respond as a people, as a working people to capital. Since we are very clear about the way forward and what strategy has to be carried out. And let there be no doubt that we will continue working in that direction. For those who have given their lives, for Euskal Herria and for the workers of Euskal Herria.
“Whaaa ?” You wake up suddenly, wondering what was that noise. Your partner sits up beside you. The bedside clock says it’s 5 a.m While you’re still wondering what it was, there’s another crash. Your front door? “The children!” you think, jumping out of bed to protect them, as you hear men bursting into your house, running up the stairs ….. Too late, they’re in the doorway of your bedroom, shouting at you, at your partner, pointing guns at you … you can hear one of the children screaming ….
On Tuesday this week, 18th August, members of the Garda Armed Response Unit raided the homes of Irish Republicans in Dublin, Cork, Laois and Kerry, smashing through the front doors of their houses, frightening children ….
They took away laptops, phones, paperwork (including children’s school work and test results). In helpless rage or frightened, their victims could only watch ……. they were outnumbered and the invaders of their homes were armed.
Much more than an information-gathering exercise, this was a brutal act of State terror, to intimidate Republican activists, terrify their partners and children.
On the other side of the British Border, the counterparts of the Gardaí, the PSNI, armed British colonial police, raided Republican centres in Belfast, Derry, Dungannon and Lurgan, turning the places upside down, confiscating electronic equipment and documents. On Tuesday 18th, they also detained people, holding seven men and two women without charge and, according to a legal firm acting for some of the victims, were intending to hold them for further five days without charge.
The activists subjected to the early morning raids by the Garda Armed Response Unit are all supporters of the socialist Republican organisation Saoradh and it was their centres that were raided by the PSNI. For months members have had their cars stopped by the PSNI and searched as they went about their lives. The raiding parties claimed to be searching for evidence of involvement in “the New IRA” (a previously unheard of organisation).
SHAMEFUL REPORTING AND FELON-SETTING
The media reporting on this was a shameful exercise in parroting the line of the States involved, giving the victims no voice to tie the “New IRA” (sic) in with the killing of Lyra McKee, which has never been proven and going further to call it “murder” (i.e intentional homicide) which has not been proven either (and was most likely unintentional – an organisation calling itself the “IRA” did claim the shooting and stated the killing was accidental).
Irish newspapers quoted Sinn Féin fears of bomb attacks on them by the organisation on the basis of information they allegedly received from the PSNI, which is dubious reporting at best (hearsay second-hand from an unverifiable source) and absolutely shameful felon-setting collaboration from Provisional Sinn Féin. BBC reporting to its credit did not report the PSF-PSNI allegations, nor call the killing of Lyra McKee “murder”, though it did link “the New IRA” to her killing and also prejudged the detained (who have not even been charged), calling them the “New IRA nine”; interestingly, the report gave MI5 as the source for the intelligence upon which the raids were allegedly based.
The linking of the raids both sides of the Border on the proclaimed basis of information from the British secret service, MI5, raises questions not only about democratic rights and the powers of the states in question but even about the alleged independence of the Irish State. It intensifies the speculation that was rife when Drew Harris was appointed Garda Commissioner, having come straight from the PSNI, with allegations that he was an MI5 asset.
What should be our response to these raids, as Irish Republicans, as Socialists or as just plain Democratic people? Clearly it should be solidarity with the victims and condemnation of the attacks by the states. Of whatever the states may or may not suspect the organisation, according to the alleged democratic system, they are supposed to charge them or leave them alone. We are not supposed to tolerate the states deciding they don’t like an organisation or consider it “dangerous” and on that basis set out to harass and intimidate them and terrorise their families. States where that can happen are not democratic and we are all vulnerable to those assumptions of secret services and the actions of police forces. Gárdaí acting in this manner led to the unjust jailing of the IRSP Three, the false confession forced out of Joanna Hayes and her family, the harassment of the McBrearties, etc. In Britain it led to the jailing of a score of innocent Irish people in five different cases in the 1970s (including the Birmingham Six) under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and, in fact, the successor of that Act is now the Terrorism Act in the UK, the one under which nine Republicans are detained currently in the British colony.
It is not too difficult to proclaim one’s solidarity with struggles far from home, particularly when they gather a lot of international support. It is a different matter to stand in solidarity with the victims of the State at home. It is also more of a test when one may not agree with the ideology or some of the actions of those persecuted by the State. But if we do not stand in solidarity with victims of the State, we are telling it, in effect, that it may continue acting in the way it is doing, until the early morning we wake to our own doors being battered down, our own partner and children being terrorised and ourselves sitting in cells without daylight being deprived of sleep and interrogated without access to solicitor, family or our own doctor.
The monthly picket of the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee on Saturday attracted broad support across the spectrum from Irish Republican to Anarchist and revolutionary Socialist. Shoppers and passers-by on Dublin’s busy Henry Street observed the picket with interest, some stopping to engage the picketers in discussion. Several hundred leaflets were distributed explaining that, albeit under another name, internment without trial continues in Ireland on both sides of the British Border.
Just prior to that event, a mostly young Black Lives Matter campaign group had held a lively protest also in Henry Street and the Debenham’s sacked workers’ campaign were demonstrating outside the entrance to the store from which the staff were sacked while they were out due to the pandemic lockdown. The BLM group protest then moved to the Spire and apparently there had been a protest about political prisoners in Belarus outside the GPO, while the Far-Right and fascists gathered to support an Irish Yellow Vests demonstration outside the Custom House on the north quays. Earlier there had also been a protest in Molesworth Street at the auctioning by Whyte’s of a large number of artifacts of Irish history, including a Wolfe Tone’s handwritten notes for his address to the court that sentenced him to hang in 1798.
As well as about the practice of jailing Republican activists without jail, the picket today focused on the cases of three Irish people being extradited to other states and of Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, 36 years so far in a French jail.
A spokesperson on the issue of extradition pointed to, apart from Liam Campbell, another two Republicans: Ciaran Maguire, currently in Port Laoise jail fighting extradition to the Six Counties British colony and Sean Farrell, who was extradited there fairly recently from Scotland. The spokesperson conveyed solidarity greetings to their families and supporters and, in regard to Maguire and Farrell, to stated their attendance in order to “highlight injustice by the British and the the ineffectiveness of the ‘Free State’ Government” in allowing these.
Liam Campbell is a veteran Irish Republican whom the Lithuanian state seek to extradite to face charges of arms smuggling but he has never been nor is he accused of ever having set foot in that country. For a state to be able to extradite a person who has never been in their country is a serious precedent to set — it would have permitted the USA for example to extradite Julian Assange to face trial there for what a number of their politicians have described as “spying” — i.e exposing many dark secrets of human rights violations through “Wikileaks” In fact the USA military brought prisoners to an illegal jail they ran in Lithuania for which they were heavily criticised. Nevertheless a judge in the Irish High Court has agreed to the extradition and Campbell, currently in custody, awaits to appear in court to be served with the warrant and flown abroad. During this week Donegal Council passed a motion condemning the extradition of Campbell and will be writing to the Government to ask that the extradition be not permitted.
36 YEARS IN JAIL, SEVEN YEARS PAST RELEASE DATE
According to the End Internment FB page, this month’s international focus was on Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, Lebanese but “in a French jail for 36 years now due to fighting in defence of Palestine during the 1982 Lebanon War. 14 January 2013 was the scheduled date for Abdallah to be released and deported to Lebanon after almost 30 years of imprisonment in France.”
BIG POWER INFLUENCE
There are allegations that both the extradition demands and the ongoing keeping in jail of Georges Ibrahim Abdallah are influenced by the interventions of other powerful states. It is claimed that Campbell’s extradition to Lithuania is influenced by the UK authorities, although similar charges against Campbell have already failed to have him convicted by a British court. In Abdallah’s case, after a number of legal cases his release date was set for six years ago but the USA objected, the French Minister of the Interior then refused to sign his release papers and Abdallah remains in a French jail.
Commenting on the picket today, a spokesperson for the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee indicated that the organisers were pleased with the numbers attending and the broad spread of political ideology represented there.
“We are an independent committee and we welcome the participation of all who are genuinely concerned with civil rights, in particular the right to organise and to protest to affect change” said the spokesperson. “Today there are Irish Republicans, Anarchists and revolutionary Socialists here, many of them independent activists and we view “that very positively. Indeed there are other bodies that we think should be represented here too – the protection of civil rights is a concern for all democratic people.”
The Dublin Anti-Internment Committee expects to organise another picket on similar issues next month, the details as usual to be announced on the End Internment FB page.
Basque independentist militant Itxaso Zaldua was arrested on Tuesday in Hernani, in the Basque province of Gipuzkoa and according to media is to be charged with complicity in the killing of a senior right-wing politician in 2001. She has spent only three years at liberty in the southern Basque Country after nearly twelve in a French jail and is now back in custody pending trial. Her arrest has been denounced by both wings of the Basque pro-independence movement but from different perspectives.
As according to the bilingual GARA newspaper Zaldua was not held incommunicado, i.e without access to friends and relations, lawyer or doctor of choice, it is not likely that she will be tortured. Until a few years ago the use of a variety of types of torture during the five-day incommunicado period under the “anti-terror” (sic) laws was the rule rather than the exception. However, all detainees charged under the terrorism laws of the Spanish State are always taken to Madrid for interrogation by the Guardia Civil and then for court appearance, the distance from their homes placing an additional burden on friends, relatives and supporters (it is 450 km from Hernani). Some of those will be given temporary accommodation and support by Madrid organisations in solidarity.
TWELVE YEARS IN JAIL
Back in April 2005 Itxaso Zaldua was arrested in the Lannemezan area of the Occitan region of the French state, along with her comrade José Segurola Querejeta. They were charged with membership of ATAKA (sub-structure of the armed Basque resistance organisation ETA), of which she was accused of leading and duly convicted and jailed in the French system (which also disperses political prisoners to jails throughout the territory).
Zaldua was released in 2017 and right-wing Spanish unionist organisations including the “Association of Victims of Terrorism”, many of their members relatives of Spanish police or military, complained at the traditional honouring reception she received upon her return home from French jail. Zaldua walked hand-in-hand with her young daughter down a street with well-wishers on both sides cheering, was presented with a floral bouquet, two women danced the aurresku (honour dance) before here and another shouted the irrintzi, the high-pitched yodeling cry reputed to have been a battle-cry (see embedded video) and the Eusko Gudariak (“Basque Soldiers”, similar to the Irish “Soldiers’ Song”) was sung by all.
The “official” Basque independentist movement responded quickly to the ex-prisoner’s new arrest: the Sare organisation convened a demonstration in Hernani the same afternoon demanding Zaldua’s release and the trade union works committee of her place of employed also denounced her arrest. The official movement’s political party EH Bildu (headed by Arnaldo Otegi), issued a statement that “It is time to be emptying the jails, not filling them,” a reference to the nearly 250 Basque political prisoners still in jail.
The party’s statement called the arrest “another obstacle in the path chosen by this nation towards peace, coexistence and freedom; a path which, cost whatever it may, we are determined to follow”.
However the ‘dissident’ organisation Amnistia (Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression), which also condemned the arrest, issued a statement declaring that “There will be no peace until the reasons that are at base of the conflict are resolved and until all the militants who are punished as a consequence of said conflict are free.
Both organisations called the people to action, with EH Bildu referring to “the participation and activation of Basque society” and Amnistia in contrast stating that “the working class need to organize”.
“THEY WANT TO HUMILIATE THE BASQUE COUNTRY”
The Basque organisation ETA ended its armed struggle in 2012 as part of a unilateral bid for a peace process of the movement under the leadership of Arnaldo Otegi. However, a peace process requires the participation of at least both antagonists and the Spanish State has shown no interest in negotiation. Whatever one may say about such processes in Ireland or in South Africa, the resistance organisations in those countries ensured the freedom of their imprisoned members before they signed up to the deal. This was not so in the Basque case.
It is no doubt difficult for observers to understand why the Spanish State is now pursuing an ex-prisoner for alleged complicity in an assassination nineteen years ago when State has gained not only the ETA’s abandonment of armed struggle but even its dissolution. Nor is there any sign that Zaldua is a sympathiser of the “dissident” movement; the statements in her support from across the “official” movement and the speed of response is in stark contrast to the “officials’” response to the hunger and thirst strike of political prisoner Patxi Ruiz in May. Ruiz had denounced the “official” leadership some years ago and been expelled from the collective that leadership controls (and which precipitated the resignations of another four Basque prisoners in solidarity).
Ironically, it is the assessment of the “dissident” Amnistia which seems correct: “This arrest, like other previous ones, shows that the States (i.e French and Spanish) want to humiliate the Basque Country. By means of life sentences against a specific against a specific model of resistance, they want to intimidate the new generations that join the struggle.”
Whatever the eventual outcome of the judicial process against Zaldua in the no-jury National Court in Madrid, it is clear that the struggle against the Spanish State is far from finished in the southern Basque Country, though its armed stage seems over at least for the present.
The “official” leadership has been following an electoral path and quoting the support of external political figures such as Bertie Ahern, Gerry Adams, Kofi Anan, Tony Blair and Brian Currin of South Africa.
In the Euskadi regional government elections on Sunday in the southern Basque Country, the “official” party led by Otegi, EH Bildu, as expected came in second. The PNV, the Basque Nationalist Party, came in first and the PSE, Basque version of the Spanish unionist PSOE, in third place. Despite periodic approaches by the EH Bildu leadership, the PNV will govern the three provinces either in coalition with the PSE or in “confidence and supply” agreement with the party.
Even if EH Bildu in years to come were able to reach first place in Euskadi regional elections, what of the other region, Nafarroa? And the three northern provinces of the Basque Country, under French rule? And, even with an eventual majority in all seven provinces, if the Spanish State were still to deny independence, as it does with an independentist majority in Catalonia, what then?
Over to the Amnistia movement, which advocates street power: “If we are to achieve peace, it will come from the full implementation of total amnesty, with the unconditional release of prisoners, refugees and political deportees, with the expulsion of the occupation forces and with the overcoming of the reasons that pushed so many people to fight. That will be the only guarantee to end arrests like today and other similar repressive actions.”
That seems a realistic enough assessment. But as to how to achieve their objectives against the opposition of the Spanish and French states, neither section of the Basque independentist movement seems to have an answer.
On June 24th, as the repressive Offences Against the State Act was up for debate in the Dáil, it was voted for renewal by TDs of the Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green parties, along with Labour, while only a Solidarity/People Before Profit and two Independent TDs voted against. For the first time since Sinn Féin had TDs present in the Dáil in 1997, they abstained in the vote. They failed to vote against an undemocratic Act that was brought into being precisely to repress their own political ancestors.
The Offences Against the State Act was made law by the De Valera Government (Fianna Fáil) in 1939 and 1940 to nullify the writ of habeas corpus served by Seán McBride (Irish Republican, former IRA officer and later one of the founders of Amnesty International) which gained the release of IRA prisoners interned without trial under the previous Emergency Powers Act 1939. The Act established the Special Criminal Court which processed the rearrested internees and sent them back to prison and concentration camp in the Curragh.
BRITISH INTELLIGENCE FATAL BOMBING HELPED TOUGHEN LAW AGAINST REPUBLICANS
In 1972 the Fianna Fáil Government sought to strengthen the Act even further, among other attacks on civil liberties to permit an inference of guilt by the Special Criminal Court from refusal to answer questions by the Gardaí, along with the taking of a senior Garda officer’s word, unsupported by any substantial evidence, as the main “proof” of membership of an illegal organisation. However, the forecast looked bad for the Government since the Labour Party and Fine Gael were predicted to vote the Amendment down. During the debate, two bombs exploded in Dublin killing two Dublin public transport workers and injuring a number of others, some horrifically (two years later a similar bombing team was to kill 33 and injure around 260 in Dublin and Monaghan). The 1972 explosions, most likely the work of Loyalists working with British Intelligence, were blamed on the IRA and the opposition to the Amendment crumbled, ensuring it passed into law — and there it has remained.
The Act empowers the Government to bring internment without trial into force by order (i.e without debate, even if the Government should be a minority one). Among its powers the OAS permits the State to ban organisations and subsequently (with its 1972 Amendment) jail people for membership of said organisation, the unsupported testimony of a Garda not below the rank of Chief Superintendent being considered prima facie evidence of said membership.
In a state where trials of all indictable offences under criminal law are by jury with a judge presiding, the Special Criminal Court is a non-jury court. Virtually all Irish Republicans serving time in prisons of the State have been convicted in the SCC, where even the unsupported word of a senior Garda officer is considered important proof and the standard of additional evidence required is very low. As one might expect in such conditions, the conviction rate is unusually high. On the charge of “membership of an illegal organisation” and largely on the word of senior Garda officer, conviction is almost certain and becomes an easy way to remove Irish Republican activists from circulation for the standard two years.
“GREATEST MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE IN THE IRISH STATE”
In two trials in 1978, the Special Criminal Court, in what has been called “the greatest miscarriage of justice of the Irish State”, tried and sentenced three Republicans to long terms of imprisonment for a mail train robbery at Sallins in which they had played no part. The judges in the Court chose to believe what 12 jurors would likely not have done: that the defendants had voluntarily confessed to actions they had not committed, that they had not been beaten by Gardaí and that the defendants’ bruising had been self-inflicted. The Garda “Heavy Gang” went on to obtain “voluntary confessions” from others, including Joanna Hayes and her relations in the “Kerry Babies” case, later also cleared and recipients of a Government apology in 2019. Those convicted of the Sallins mail train robbery were eventually cleared and released. The circumstances of those false “voluntary confessions” accepted by the SCC have never been investigated.
In 2001 Colm Murphy was convicted in the Special Criminal Court of conspiracy to cause a bombing on the basis of Garda evidence which Murphy said was untrue — but the judges chose to believe the Gardaí. The Court of Appeal ordered a retrial when it was shown that the Gardaí’s notes had been fabricated and Murphy was cleared in the SCC in 2010.
In 2003 Michael McKevitt was convicted in the Special Court of leadership of the Real IRA on evidence widely believed not to have met the standard necessary for conviction, including that given by a paid informer. McKevitt is still serving his 20-year sentence.
Although the title of the Court includes the word “criminal” it was clearly created for political purposes and until 1998 all but one of its trials have been of Irish Republicans. That did not prevent the TDs of the Greens, a party with a record of previous opposition to the Act, using gang crime along with Labour as an excuse for voting for the Act’s renewal during the recent debate.
“THE SPECIAL BRANCH ACT”
The granting of wide powers to the State to use against their political opponents has resulted in even those powers being regularly exceeded. Without ever even charging anyone with any crime, the Act has been used by generations of the Special Branch, the political police renamed the Special Detective Unit, to harass and intimidate Republican activists and their supporters. People have been approached and their contact details demanded by these secret police when they have attended a protest picket or rally, public meeting, visited a Republican office or were observed talking to a Republican. People have been searched in the street, had their vehicles stopped and searched also.
Sellers and distributors of Republican newspapers have been harassed and threatened. Without any authorisation even by the Act, officers have approached parents of young activists and their school or college, as well as the place of employment of older activists, to express their concern at the activity or associations of the activists concerned. Officers of the special unit, all of which go armed, have displayed their weapons on occasion to intimidate Republicans (on one famous occasion discharging their firearm in a busy shop). They have filmed and photographed Republicans without any legal right to do so, followed them around, sat obtrusively outside their offices and even their homes, often day after day for months or even years. So widely have the secret police of the Irish State come to see the Act as entitling their intimidation and file-building that when, at a recent Dublin picket about political prisoners, a Republican asked what legal authority the officer had for harassing him, the man replied in all seriousness: “Special Branch Act.”
But on the 24th June, only three TDs voted against the Act’s renewal: Mick Barry (Solidarity/ People Before Profit), Michael MacNamara (Independent, formerly Labour) and Thomas Pringle (Independent). Two TD abstentions were recorded: Pa Daly and Martin Kenny (both Sinn Féin).
“UNTENABLE IN A DEMOCRACY”
Traditionally, Sinn Féin, along with other Irish Republicans, have opposed this undemocratic repressive legislation. But not just SF, also the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International, Irish and international jurists and UN Rapporteurs and Committees on democratic rights of the United Nations. And not just once but a number of times. The following statement was released by the ICCL in the week before the debate.
23 June 2020
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), ahead of the mooted renewal of the Offences Against the State Act next week and the Dáil debate tomorrow, renews our call for repeal of the Act and with it the abolition of the non-jury Special Criminal Court.
There is no jury at the Special Criminal Court and it accepts secret evidence from gardaí. This is in violation of our right to a fair trial, our right to trial by jury and our right to equality before the law. ICCL has opposed both the Act and the Court since their introduction to deal with a terrorist threat in 1972. We continue to strongly oppose these emergency measures which have now become the norm in dealing with organised crime.
ICCL’s Executive Director, Liam Herrick, said:
“It’s untenable that in a democracy like ours, which prides itself on its human rights record abroad, a law and court like these can exist.
The State contends that it needs the Special in order to protect juries but it has never considered alternatives to abandoning jury trial.”
The protection of jury members is of deep concern to ICCL. But the State has never demonstrated, as required by human rights law, that alternatives to a non-jury trial are ineffective. There are a number of obvious options for protecting juries such as anonymising juries, the use of video link for juries, or granting special protections for juries.
Last year at the Special Criminal Court, Judge Tara Burns acquitted two men of IRA membership after the head of the Garda Special Detective Unit refused to disclose underlying evidence pertaining to “belief evidence” to the prosecution. This meant gardaí were seeking a conviction without disclosing evidence to the defendant’s legal team, the Court or the DPP. ICCL welcomed the Judge’s decision but the case revealed some concerning attitudes and practices at the Court.
ICCL is not alone in our opposition to the Special Criminal Court. Various UN human rights independent experts and the UN Human Rights Committee have repeatedly declared the State to be in violation of its human rights obligations because of the continued use of the Court beyond the emergency it was designed to address. Eminent Irish legal experts, Mr. Justice Hederman, Professor Dermot Walsh and Professor William Binchy have also called for abolition of the Court.
At its introduction in 1972, the Special Criminal Court was considered a radical and purely temporary departure from the norm. Forty years have passed since then. It’s time for its abolition. Statement ends.
Defenders of Sinn Féin have said that dropping opposition to the OAS from their election program for government and even after their party won the highest number of elected TDs (delegates) in the February 2020 General Election, was purely a temporary tactical one. Presumably this decision was in response to Mícheál Martin’s statement last year that Sinn Féin was not a legitimate choice for government because they were against the Act.
Not a legitimate choice for whom? one might ask. Do the mass of working people in the country want this undemocratic Act in place? Not that they were ever asked by any Irish Government! Now there was an opportunity to put this before the electorate — but it is not the opinion of the mass of working people that Sinn Féin worries about but that of the ruling class and their media hounds.
When however the two main parties of the Irish Gombeen capitalist class went into coalition with the “alternative” Green Party in order to exclude Sinn Féin from government – and one might have thought SF had nothing now to lose by voting against the renewal of the OAS – even then they failed to oppose it. Some say SF’s tacticians expected the negotiations between the other parties to collapse and then to be able to put themselves forward as a credible alternative. But again, credible to whom?
For years now, Sinn Féin has been at pains to demonstrate that it is a safe pair of hands for Irish capitalism (which entails also being safe for foreign capitalism and British colonialism). It is not necessarily a question of supporting armed struggle or not but to enter into the administration of an invader, as SF did in 2007 when it became part of the British colony’s government, would for most patriots and anti-imperialists be considered a clear crossing of the line. After WW2 many liberated countries executed a number of those who had taken part in such administrations and from one example, a new adjective entered the English language: “quisling”.
Sinn Féin has gone even further now to show the Irish ruling classes and both states that their panoply of repression on both sides of the British Border is safe: undemocratic legislation granting special powers to the police, politicised police forces and special non-jury courts with low quality “proof” required for convictions.
It is understandable with so little viable alternative choice that so many voted for SF candidates in February and in fact, would probably have elected even more had the party fielded sufficient candidates. All the other main parties and even the Greens have been in Government previously, all have approved bank bailouts and austerity budgets.
Sinn Féin is the only major party who had not been in Government and those who wanted to see them in practice had a reasonable point. But seeing them in “opposition” is also instructive. A political party that is so afraid of the ruling class and its media that even in opposition it will not vote against undemocratic repressive legislation and instruments, that were brought in precisely against its own earlier members and supporters – is not going to be braver in government, when it will inevitably be in a coalition with a capitalist party or parties.
However, the undemocratic Offences Against the State Act and its non-jury Special Courts remain and must be opposed. The struggle against them will continue to be waged by its victims, currently the “dissident” Republicans and by people and bodies concerned with civil rights. As the State encounters increasing resistance to austerity measures it may well be that it will widen the list of targets of this Act to include social and economic campaigners, as it was rumoured considering against the Jobstown water protest defendants in 2017, all of whom were cleared by the jury who did not believe Garda witness lies (exposed by recordings).
It is essential to oppose this Act and a wider opposition to it needs to be built – one that does not depend on false friends.
The results of opinion polls prior to the the elections for the government of Euskadi predict a majority for the Basque Nationalist Party. The predictions have EH Bildu, the party of the official Abertzale Left leadership, coming second with third place going to the social-democratic PSE, the Basque version of the PSOE, currently governing the Spanish State in coalition with Podemos Izquierda (whose Basque version will come a very poor fourth).
The elections on Sunday, although they usually described as for “the government of the Basque Country” are nothing of the sort. The are for the government of what is termed “the Basque Autonomous Region”, which covers only the Basque provinces of Bizkaia, Alava and Guipuzkoa – the fourth province within the Spanish state, Nafarroa (Navarra), has its own autonomous regional government. The remaining three provinces of Euskal Herria, the true Basque Country, are over the border in the territory controlled by the French State. And the Spanish State allows the Basque regions autonomy only to a point, as with all the “autonomous regions”, ultimately answerable to the Spanish State.
The PNV, Basque Nationalist Party, many of whose ancestors fought Franco in the Spanish Anti-Fascist War, have long accommodated themselves to this situation and given up the dream of Basque independence and the party has hardly any representation even in Nafarroa, to say nothing of the three northern provinces, across the Border. Since their fiefdom was granted autonomy after the death of Franco, they have dominated it electorally and used that domination to the commercial and financial advantage, both legal and illegal, of the Euskadi capitalist class (Irish readers will readily see a parallel with the Fianna Fáil party).
EH Bildu is the official party of the Abertzale Left, political descendants of the Herri Batasuna party, substantially changed and the main internal opposition to the PNV, at least on the electoral front. Herri Batasuna evolved as the political expression of ETA, the left-wing movement for Basque independance that in the 1960s developed an armed wing against the armed might of the Spanish State. Under the leadership of Arnaldo Otegi and others, ETA gave up armed struggle in 2012 and the EH Bildu and Sortu parties developed a theory of a “Basque Peace Process” which had no substance, since the Spanish State’s only interest was in surrender and never even ceased repression or released its around 900 Basque political prisoners (now around 700 as prisoners served their sentences – or died).
Batasuna and its iterations over the years in the face of bannings by the Spanish State have at many times sought alliance on a nationalist basis with the PNV (the Irish parallel holds here again, as with periodic overtures of the leadership of the Provisional Sinn Féin party to the Fianna Fáil party), which on the whole have been rejected by the leadership of the PNV. The Basque Nationalist Party has preferred to rule in coalition with the PSE and even to allow the Spanish-unionist party to rule Euskadi on its own. Therefore the call from some Basque nationalist quarters for a PNV-EH Bildu coalition is very unlikely to bear fruit.
At least as unlikely is the raising by the electronic media Publico of the possibility in Euskadi of a “Government of the Left”, on the basis of the poll results. The left-wing Publico itself conceded it an unlikely eventuality, based on a coalition of EH Bildu/ PSE/ Unidas Podemos (the Basque version of Podemos Izquierda). Whatever one may say of the “Left” credentials of EH Bildu and of Unidas Podemos, one can hardly credit the PSOE or its Basque version with any. No doubt there are genuine people of the Left in that social-democratic party, as there are within the Irish and British Labour Parties too – but that does not affect the character of the parties in government, which have always been servants of capitalism and, in the cases of the UK and Spanish state, of their imperialist ruling classes.
On the poll results therefore it is certain that the PNV will be in government, whether in coalition with the PSE or with its tactical support. EH Bildu looks no nearer to achieving its dream of governing even Euskadi, not to mention all four southern provinces of the Basque Country.
MEANWHILE, ON THE STREETS
The Amnistia movement meanwhile has shown little interest in the elections, apart from chiding EH Bildu for its focus on elections and neglect of resistance anywhere else, including the jails. The Basque struggles for independence and against repression have paid a price in huge numbers of political prisoners and, though down to around 700 now from its height of 900, the Basque nation probably has the highest percentage of political prisoners of anywhere in the world. After all, the total population of the Basque Country is under 1.5 million and such a high concentration of political prisoners means that there is hardly a Basque who does not know a relation or friend of a prisoner, if not indeed the prisoner him or herself.
When Arnaldo Otegi and others led the majority of the Abertzale Left to the institutional road, they kept referring to the Good Friday Agreement in Ireland and the release of political prisoners. However, the Provisionals ensured that the release of political prisoners of their allegiance was delivered before finally decommissioning their weapons. The Otegi initiative went in reverse and their prisoners are still in jail. For some years now the leadership has been telling the prisoners that basically they are on their own and must negotiate with the prison authorities their reduction from Grade 1 down to Grades 2 and 3 and eventual release on parole. And telling the families that they have no hope of an amnesty so to stop asking for it and instead demand an end to the dispersal of political prisoners all over the jails of the Spanish (and French states), hundreds of kilometres from their families. There is no sign of even that basic human right being granted.
One of the Basque political prisoners, Patxi Ruiz, publicly denounced the new path of the movement and, after attempts to silence him were unsuccessful, he was expelled from the Basque Political Prisoners’ Collective. His treatment caused another four to break with the Otegi leadership too. Amnistia supported them and criticised the leadership of the movement which, in turn, accused them of using the prisoners for their own ends, since they did not agree with the new direction.
Persecution by the prison authorities including beatings by guards and refusal to allow him to attend his father’s funeral drove Ruiz last month to a hunger-and-thirst strike. After 8 days he abandoned the thirst strike but continued refusing food, ceasing that protest too after 31 days. His support movement led by Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression (to give Amnestia’s full title in English) brought Basque political prisoner solidarity back on to the streets, from which it had largely disappeared apart from the ritual demonstration each January and weekly pickets by families and friends, diminishing in attendance.
Solidarity actions were taken in the jails too, not only by the other four “dissidents” but by some of those still in the Collective and by a number of political prisoners from other struggles, GRAPO and PCE(r).
In a number of statements, Amnistia acknowledged that some of their support in street actions has come from progressive sectors not traditionally from within their own ranks. There is a substantial autonomous movement in the Basque country consisting of youth occupations of empty buildings, anarchists, feminists, LGBT campaigners, animal rights campaigners, environmental activists …..
On Saturday 4th July, in spite of a ban by the Spanish State’s Delegation in the city and a heavy police presence at an expected starting location, Amnistia led a fairly large demonstration through streets of Irunea/ Pamplona, capital city of Nafarroa, calling for complete amnesty for the prisoners and that “the struggle does not cease”.
Today, the 11th, they led a march to the Murcia jail (where Patxi Ruiz is held currently). In a brief report on the event and their reasons for undertaking it, they commented even more briefly on the elections due tomorrow:
“There will be elections tomorrow in a part of Euskal Herria (the Basque Country) but none of the political parties will propose any alternative to bring to an end the capitalism that tramples on and murders the working class or to destroy the imperialism that occupies peoples and makes them disappear but will instead debate different ways to manage the same system and the same misery.
“None of them will demand amnesty for those who endure repression for fighting for these goals. The strength and pressure exerted by the people on the street will be the key to reversing the situation. With the popular struggle amnesty, independence and socialism.”
The occasional driver or occupants of a car passing through the quiet leafy and very expensive area of Dublin 4 might have been very surprised to see a large gathering outside one of the houses in Ailsbury Road with a number of flags and placards in evidence. Then again perhaps not, for this area is sometimes known as “Embassy Land” and embassies often attract protests when people object to the actions of the states they represent. The protest was outside the Lithuanian Embassy and just a few doors westward is the French Embassy.
The targeting of the Lithuanian Embassy on Saturday 4th July was because the State of Lithuania has issued a European Extradition Warrant for Liam Campbell, a long-time Irish Republican activist and the protest had been jointly convened by Anti-Imperialist Action and the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland at the request of Liam Campbell’s family. Last month the Irish State’s High Court opened the way to the extradition, Justice Aileen Donnelly waving aside all objections about the state of the justice system within Lithuania and accepting only the terrible conditions in Lukiskes remand jail in Vilnius as an impediment but considering this removed with news of the closing of that jail. Thus ended a 12-year legal battle, with only the formality of producing Liam Campbell in court on the 13th to hear the judgement remaining, after which he will have one week to seek leave to appeal the order.
On the footpath opposite the Lithuanian Embassy, a number of Gardaí in uniform were in attendance, along with two men in plainclothes, clearly members of the Irish secret political police, known colloquially by their former name, the Special Branch.
Outside the Embassy itself, the representative of AIA chairing the event thanked the large crowd for attending to oppose the extradition of an Irish Republican and introduced Diarmuid Breatnach to speak on behalf of the Anti-Internment Group. Speaking first in Irish and then repeating some of what he had said in English, Breatnach pointed out that Michael Campbell, Liam’s brother, had been held in Lithuania for four years on charges of which he had then been cleared. Subsequently, after he had returned home, another warrant had been issued for his arrest and he had been tried in absentia, with his legal representation excluded from the trial. Pointing out that no-one should be extradited to an administration so careless of justice and even of basic legal procedures, Breatnach concluded by calling: “No extradition for Liam Campbell!”
REPEATED CALLS FOR UNITY
Cáit Trainor, an independent Republican from Armagh was introduced next and she pointed out that a state was seeking the extradition of a man who had never even been in its territory and so could not have committed any crimes there. Referring as Breatnach had done to the previous treatment of Michael Campbell, Trainor outlined the lack of justice in Lithuania but also how the Irish state was facilitating this process by holding Liam Campbell in jail awaiting judgement on the European Warrant.
Trainor pointed out that this is a political persecution “because Liam Campbell is a well-known unrepentant Irish Republican” and, praising the unity shown in the diversity of political allegiances in evidence among the attendance, declared that this is not a party political issue and that the campaign is an independent one. She stated that this case was setting a terrible precedent and that all Republican activists were in danger of it being used against them in future. “It is not just a political issue,” Trainor continued, “but one of basic human rights”, adding that it should be of concern to all who care about those rights, whether they are Republicans or not.
The Chair then called Diarmuid Mac Dubhghlais from Dublin to say a few words on behalf of Republican Sinn Féin. Beginning with a few words in Irish, the speaker continued with a short speech in English, reiterating the necessity of unity and the human rights aspect of the issue beyond the political targeting.
Liam Scullion from Belfast, called by the Chair, spoke briefly on behalf of RNU along similar lines, as did Mick Finlay, a former prisoner from Dublin, speaking after him on behalf of the Saoradh organisation. Finlay also pointed to the extradition procedures to the colonial administration of the Six Counties against two of their members, Ciarán Maguire currently in Portlaoise jail and Seán Farrell, arrested in Scotland and taken straight to Maghaberry Jail.
FOUR YEARS IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT WITHOUT A TRIAL
The Chair then asked was there any other group represented there who had not been called and wished to speak. Nobody spoke up and after a pause the Chair called on Pat Campbell, a brother of Liam, to read a statement on behalf of the family. Before reading, Pat Campbell thanked all those present for their support, on his own behalf and that of the family.
The speaker reminded his audience that the Lithuanian episode of the persecution of Liam Campbell stretched asfar back as January 2009 when hehad been arrested and issued with his first extradition warrant. Four months later, whilst on bail, he was wrongfully re-arrested by the British, who processed a second extradition warrant by the Lithuanian State, in May 2009.
Liam had then been held in solitary confinement in Belfast‘s Maghaberry Prison for four years1, during which time he had never been convicted of any crime, nor even questioned! Liam won his case in the High Court in March 2013; it was appealed by the British State in the supreme Court in London, who ruled in August 2013 that there was no case to answer.
However a third extradition warrant was issued by the Lithuanian state, also in August 2013 and kept quiet for three years before being sent on to Dublin. In December 2016, Liam Campbell was arrested for a third time which began his most recent struggle against extradition.
Pointing to the state of the prison regime in Lithuania, Pat Campbell spoke of reports from the Committee for the Prevention of Torture “which detail to us the extreme prisoner-on-prisoner gang violence (foreign prisoners in particular are targeted), accounts of sexual assault, inhumane treatment and intimidation perpetrated by ‘special intervention units‘, notorious within the Lithuanian prison regime of today.”
Proceeding to speak of the standard of the legal system and human rights in Lithuania, the speaker said: “In May 2018 a European Court delivered a damning guilty verdict against the Lithuanian state, otherwise known as “Camp Violet” by CIA military, for their involvement in operating “black sites” used as torture chambers; and a litany of successive abuses which resulted in hefty convictions from the European courts and testament to their ingrained flagrant denial of fair trial rights and failure to safeguard the right of citizens”.
“Lithuania,” said Pat Campbell just before concluding, “we call you out on your state’s abuse of process that would prevent repatriation to Ireland for Liam Campbell, in your denial of rights as set out in the United nations declaration on human rights act (UDHR) in the charter of fundamental rights (1998). They are not rights for good behaviour but alienable entitlements to all people.”
The contributions of all the speakers were applauded but before conclusion of the formal part of the event, Áine Daly from Crossmaglen stepped forward “to thank the Anti-Internment group and the Anti Imperialist Action who organised this event at very short notice” and also noted the presence of John McCluskey, who had stepped down as Independent councillor for Fermanagh earlier this year.
Shortly afterwards people began to disperse without any actions from the Gardaí.
The event and the statements combined to create an impressive show of unity in a badly fractured Irish Republican movement and time will tell whether this unity can be maintained in the face of State repression, where it is badly needed. Aside from the Republican organisations represented, the organisers of the event are known as independent of any political party and there were independent individual activists there too, not just Republicans but some Anarchists as well.
1Human rights organisations have quoted psychologists’ evidence that solitary confinement should be a last resort and that in any case longer than three weeks in isolation is likely to prove injurious to the prisoner’s mental health.
Looking back along the road we’ve travelled, I can see we have come a long way to get where we are today. I’ve traveled a long way. I was very young then, when I started. We all were. In particular, I remember, Carl and Eva and I, we were in secondary school, fifteen years of age.
We discussed the situation often and pretty quickly became revolutionaries. We knew people in the Party – well, we called it the Old Party after awhile, you’ll see why soon. Yes and they wanted to recruit us. If enough of us joined them, voted for them, they would be able to change things, they told us. And they had some credibility because some of them had fought in the old days, when things were even worse. Some had lost relatives killed and some had gone to jail.
But we were not taken in, we weren’t fooled. It wasn’t just that theirs looked a really slow way to change things; we didn’t believe it would ever succeed. And we thought they knew that, deep inside and were just prepared to settle for things much as they were. Make the best of it (which for some of them meant shady deals and lining their pockets).
And we were never going to do that.
We weren’t in the armed group, the three of us but we supported them. The armed group were our heroes, the sharp end of our resistance. Over time they would weaken our oppressors and in the end we’d get the freedom we wanted. And these young men and women, they really fought. They paid for their resistance too; plenty of them were killed and if caught, they were tortured and sent to jail for really long sentences.
We delighted in their successes, marched in their funerals, supported them in their struggles in the jails and, later, honoured them when eventually they were released. We did the best we could ourselves against the oppression and general injustice but without actually taking up the gun: put up posters, painted graffiti slogans on wall, held protest marches and pickets, gave out leaflets, held public meetings. Of course, the oppressors went after us and we were out there, in plain sight, more or less.
Our oppressors had made some laws under which they could declare just about anything we did illegal. Unless we sat at home and did nothing. Or joined the Old Party. They called that group of laws the Anti-Terrorist Legislation.
ARREST AND TORTURE
One night while were out postering in memory of a couple of our martyrs, on the anniversary of their being killed by the police, we got caught. They gave us a bit of a beating and took us to the police station, telling us on the way what they were going to do to us.
Under the ATL they could keep us in a police station for five days without access to any of our friends and relatives or even a lawyer. I’m sorry to say they broke me in the first 24 hours. You might think that was a pretty short period – it didn’t seem like it at the time. Being held in a dark windowless cell, hooded, being threatened with all kinds of horrible things you know they can do, listening to the screams of other people having some of those things done to them, having a plastic bag put over your head until you can’t breathe anymore and you feel sure you’re going to die, your lungs straining ….. It’s amazing how long 24 hours can seem. And even if you lasted that 24 hours, you knew there were another 96 hours to go after that.
Yes, I signed a “confession”, what they told me to say. According to the confession, we were honouring the martyrs because they wanted to overthrow the State, which is why we were putting up posters about them. We wanted more people to join the fighters to help recruitment. Not really about honouring their memory at all. “Glorifying and Supporting Terrorism” was what I was going to be charged with which, if convicted, would get me three years in jail. And the others: my “confession” was not only about me but about Eva and Carl too.
After I signed the “confession” they left me more or less alone but somewhere I could hear shouting and screaming. I thought it might be Eva and Carl, hoped it wasn’t. And I still had to wear a hood whenever any of the guards came in the cell or their doctor examined me. Well, they told me he was a doctor. I told him I felt ok – I knew the guards were listening and I’d get repeat treatment if I said anything against them. And it wouldn’t do any good anyway.
By the third day, or what I thought might the third day, I didn’t hear what sounded like a female screaming any more but could still hear shouting. And sometimes someone crying.
I know it was the fifth day when they brought us to court, put us all in the same cell, waiting for our trial to start. Eva and Carl looked pretty rough and I suppose I did a bit too. Eva burst into tears and told us she had signed a confession against us after the second day. We put our arms around her and held her while she cried. I admitted I had signed too, assuming we all had. I didn’t say I had only held out for about 24 hours, though.
Well, women detainees, they get it especially hard. As well as the rest of it, they are kept naked or semi-naked and, if on their monthly periods, refused tampons or cloths. They are fondled in their private parts, threatened with rape, humiliated and sometimes have something pushed inside them ….. The police don’t do things like that to male detainees ….. well, occasionally, if they know one is gay ….
The shock was that Carl had not signed a confession – he hadn’t broken. So how come they had brought him to trial early on the fifth day with the rest of us? Well, they must have decided he wasn’t going to break; apparently most people break by the fourth day, which is why the limit is set at five. And anyway they had our statements implicating him.
We swore we would retract our statements during the trial, declare they had been obtained under torture. That would invalidate the statements, surely?
We were tried together in a special Anti-Terrorist Legislation court. One judge, no jury. No public. We had lawyers our family and friends had got for us but they were only given five minutes with us before the trial. The Prosecutor produced the statements against us all, those of the police who arrested us and my “confession” and Eva’s. Lied through their teeth that we had made them voluntarily. They produced a statement too for Carl but his lawyer objected it didn’t have his signature, so the police couldn’t show that they hadn’t made it all up.
When we gave our evidence, Carl denied he had made any statement whatsoever and we retracted ours, talked about the torture we had suffered. Eva was magnificent, denouncing them through her tears and shaking. The Prosecutor brought the police back to testify who of course denied not only the torture but any kind of coercion. Some of them even appeared shocked at the allegations. And the doctor – his voice sounded familiar so he probably had been the man who had “examined” me — said I had made no complaint (true) and had seemed calm and rested (not possible).
The courtroom is a funny place. Things the whole world knows are not true appear reasonable while the preposterous can seem logical. Not only had they not tortured us, the police witnesses said, but they had never heard of it being done. So why had we made such detailed statements and then retracted them, accusing them of torture. Well, they were mystified about that. Except …. some had heard that this was a propaganda tactic popular among our group, to smear the police. But why then had we given them a statement at all …. well, at least two of us? Skilled interviewing, was the reply. Trained interrogators, going over the suspect’s stories again and again, exposing every contradiction.
The only thing skilled about them was in making sure they stopped short of killing us and generally left no bruises, especially on our faces. Oh yeah, and the acting in court – that was very skilled.
The case against us, with our repudiation of the statements, should have got us at most a few months or maybe even a fine for postering agitational material on public property. Eva and I got three years each, while Carl got nearly four. I suppose the fact they hadn’t broken him pissed them off and they made out he was our leader so the judge gave him extra.
Prison was bad but it was a relief after the police station. They moved us around jails a few times over the years, we didn’t often see one another and our families and friends had to travel long distances to visit us. When they were permitted to or we hadn’t been moved the day before the visit. We learned later, though no-one told us at the time, that Carl’s aunt had a serious accident on the motorway. Long distances, tiring, unaccustomed to motorway driving, bad luck …. With a couple of operations and time, she was able to walk again but the family had to invent excuses why she couldn’t visit him, especially because they had always been close.
Most of the prison warders were hostile but some were sadists, constantly trying to provoke me, finding ways to frustrate whatever little pleasure or diversion I was permitted. Sometimes it was “too wet” to go in the exercise yard for my permitted two hours daily. Sometimes the library was “closed for stocktaking” or “due to staff shortages.” All prisoner mail is opened before being given to or sent by the prisoner but sometimes I got a letter that looked like it had been spat on. Or it smelled bad. Often, it would be two weeks later than the date stamp. Some letters were returned to the sender, I learned later, marked “UNSUITABLE”. I had one returned to me, although I was always careful what I wrote, this one marked “BREACHING PRISON SECURITY” — I had made some remarks about the prison food.
Some of the social prisoners were ok whenever I was in contact with them, some were hostile, seemed fascist. Sometimes a warder would make comments about me in the hearing of those kinds of prisoners. Anytime out of my cell I felt I had to be alert, with 180 degrees vision.
I did physical exercises in my cell to keep my body healthy and studied for the sake of my mind. Law was the subject I studied most, so I could represent activists in court and file motions and so on but I also studied politics and economics.
When I got out, I enrolled in a law studies course. I wrote to Carl – I hadn’t been allowed to previously. From his letters, he seemed ok but you never know for sure, do you? Not when you know the letters have to pass the prison censor and the prisoner has to keep up a strong front also. I met Eva too, she was released same time as I but a long distance away; she was subdued, a kind of frightened look in her eyes. Not surprising but she still kept in the movement, though we each took a step back from the more illegal street work, where we could be isolated – like postering. I qualified to practice law at a basic level.
THE POLITICAL PARTY
We began to discuss founding a political party and standing in elections. The armed struggle would go on, we thought, but over time we could push the Old Party back, take a lot of their votes. After all, what were they doing (except some of their leaders and contacts lining their pockets)? We could really expose them with our policies.
So we formed a political party, a New Party, for which we had to agree to respect the Constitution. We were doing well but, just before the elections, our party was disqualified by the State. “Connections with terrorism” was the reason given. We were furious and so were our supporters. And we formed another party. The State disqualified that one and, for good measure, banned it. Now one could go to jail for being a member.
This kind of thing went on over years, different versions of the New Party and more people going to jail and we rarely got a chance to stand in elections, much less to build up momentum.
We tried forming a coalition with some more moderate elements, even some we had called “collaborationist” in the old days but the State said we would have to denounce the armed struggle to be a legal constitutional party. We couldn’t do that because we’d be turning our back on not only our martyrs but on hundreds of activists in jail. And our own people wouldn’t stand for it. By this time I had risen to General Secretary of our underground Party.
After long discussions with the leaders of the armed wing, eventually we all agreed to announce an end to the armed struggle and to hope for the legalisation of our Party and early release of prisoners. It was a hard decision but not as hard as one might think because we were all pretty worn down and our military wing hadn’t been doing all that well for some time. The State had penetrated both sides of our movement with agents and people turned informer — hundreds were in jail or awaiting trial.
What was harder was getting our supporters to agree but by managing a few meetings, ensuring we had people with a militant reputation to speak in favour of the plan, ensuring people for the idea got more time to talk than those who didn’t and a few other things, we got it through. Besides, a lot of them believed us when we whispered that it was all a game to fool our oppressors.
Eventually, after we declared our total opposition to any armed struggle and total commitment to the electoral process, we got legalised and now we are chipping away at the Old Party, though it looks like it may take a long time to supplant them.
But some of the young people, and some older ones like Carl, are saying we have compromised too much, that the road we’ve chosen is too long and anyway is never going to get us justice. These people do things we’d rather they didn’t, that we’ve dropped, like illegal postering and spraying slogans, holding illegal commemorations for martyrs, protest marches, getting into trouble with the police ….. Making us look bad.
And what’s more, unbelievable as it might seem, they’re calling us “The Old Party”!!!