Extracts from 'Internment' by John McGuffin (1973)
[KEY_EVENTS] [Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]
INTERNMENT: [Menu] [Reading] [Summary] [Background] [Chronology] [Main_Pages] [Sources]
Material is added to this site on a regular basis - information on this page may change
IRISH POLITICAL PRISONERS 1900-1973
THE British Government imposed no fewer than 105 Coercion Acts to protect the Act of Union.
Internment in England was first introduced in the 20th century under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914. The new Stormont Government introduced it under the Special Powers Act 1922. The Free State used the Public Safety Act 1923 and later the Offences Against the State Act. But throughout the last seventy years Ireland has seen her fill of political prisoners who, although not formally interned, were sentenced under such repressive or derisory legislation that their status is that of political prisoner.
Of course, there is bound to be an area of confusion. A man arrested in possession of arms may claim to be a political prisoner, and certainly in some cases he indeed may be one. Equally possible also is the fact that he may be a ‘common criminal’. The position is complicated in Northern Ireland where the difference between a ‘legal’ and an ‘illegal’ gun is often its owner’s religion. Any ‘Loyalist’ who wishes to own a gun has little or no difficulty in obtaining a permit for it from the police. A Catholic will generally not be so fortunate. Nonetheless, there are various clear examples of political prisoners in Ireland, both north and south of the border, and an outline of their treatment and its difference from that of internees is necessary.
Before Independence and Partition, under DORA and in particular under its special ‘Irish clauses’, literally thousands of people were arrested, charged and jailed. The most common offence was the vague one called ‘sedition’. This could entail a speech, an article, possession of an ‘illegal’ newspaper, a flag, or even whistling ‘derisively’ at a policeman. More important prisoners were shipped out to England; the jails in Lewes, Usk, Lincoln, Birmingham, Manchester and Wakefield were all used, and whether the prisoners received ‘political status’ or not depended largely upon the prison governor. The vast majority of Irish prisoners insisted on this status. They refused to wear the broad-striped arrow of the convict and refused to do convict labour; they demanded their own clothes and demanded free association with their comrades. In their fight for political status they resorted to various tactics, foremost of these being hunger strikes. The most famous hunger strikers were Terence MacSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork, who died in Brixton prison, London, on 25 October 1920, after 74 days without food; and Thomas Ashe who died in the Mater Hospital, Dublin, on 25 September 1917, from forcible feeding during a hunger strike in Mountjoy prison. It should be recalled also that men like Mick Burke from Glencoole endured, and survived, a hunger strike of 90 days in Cork jail during August, September, October and November 1920. After Ashe’s death the authorities never again attempted forcible feeding, preferring to rely on the cat-and-mouse tactics of release and re-arrest.
From 1922 hunger strikes were of value only when a Government was likely to be embarrassed sufficiently by the death of a prisoner. This was true of the first de Valera government, but rarely in the North. Hunger strikes in Crumlin were frequent, but seldom successful, and then only when minor concessions were sought.
Another ploy was the ‘Lewes tactic’ of wrecking the jail. The best example of it took place during the big Belfast jail riot in December 1918. John Doran of County Down, who was a prisoner awaiting trial in D wing, was refused the political-prisoner status accorded the men in B wing. As a result the political prisoners ‘kidnapped’ him and kept him safe in B wing. The men, through their elected leader, Austin Stack, declared that they were prepared to lose lives to establish the principle that they, the prisoners, were the only judges as to who were or were not political prisoners. A siege ensued, during which the men wrecked the iron railings along the cat walks of B2 and B3, making approach to the cells very difficult and dangerous. They climbed onto the roof of the laundry and planted a tricolour, but Belfast was not Dublin and a hostile mob gathered outside the jail and stoned them. The gas, food and water were cut off, but gas was restored when the prisoners, who had by now demolished the roof, threatened to burn everything. It was over a fortnight before a truce could be arranged through the offices of Larry O’Neill, Lord Mayor of Dublin. Eleven of the men involved, including Doran, were removed to Strangeways, Manchester, on 29 April 1919. It should be noted that times were then exceptional. Many of those jailed as political prisoners were TD’s including Austin Stack, Piaras Béaslaí, James Crowley, Fionan Lynch, Harry Boland and Ernest Blythe.
After the twenties the ‘Lewes tactic’ seems to have largely died out. Hunger strikes continued but a new tactic was introduced, the ‘strip strike’. This was generally as a refusal to wear the ordinary convict clothes, but was also used in protest against the general conditions which, especially in the North, were appalling. The first strip strike in Belfast was in June l943. Twenty-two men took part, many of them Treason and Felony men. An old Republican, first jailed in 1929 for political offences, recalled to me: "In the first week we lay on a board and mattress. For food we got gruel, rotten potatoes and porridge. We got out of our cells only for one hour a day, and not at all on Saturday. We tried everything, but it wasn’t until the Treason and Felony men came in, in 1936, that things improved."
On 25 April 1936, 13 IRA men were arrested in a raid on No. 10 Crown Entry, Belfast. They were tried under the Treason Felony Act of 1848, last used in the 1880’s. It charged that they "with divers other evil disposed persons feloniously and wickedly did compass, imagine, invent, devise and intend to deprive and depose our Lord the King from the Style, Honour and Royal name of the Imperial Crown of Great Britain, Ireland and of the British Dominions beyond the seas, and the said felonious compassing, imagination, device and intention then feloniously did express utter and declare by divers overt acts . . . . . . (that they intended) to levy war against the King." With this sort of law one could be found guilty of nearly anything. Moreover, as the Crown prosecutors knew only too well, Republicans always made things easy for them by refusing to recognise the court or defend themselves. This meant that they could get six months to start with.’
Basically, the strip strike was a foolish idea. The men refused to wear prison clothes and sat naked in their cells. The authorities retaliated by taking every item from their cells, from bedding to handkerchiefs. Bedding was returned at 8.30 p.m. each night, but no books, other than the Bible, were allowed. The boredom was killing. The June 1943 strike was a failure and was called off after three months. The hunger strikes were as unsuccessful as the strip strikes.
Geordie Shannon was one of the 150 political prisoners housed in A wing of Crumlin. He had been sentenced to two years for possessing a pistol and refusing to recognize the court. At the time he was 16½. Like the others, he was bitter at not being accorded the ‘political’ treatment of the internees. The food was "army left overs that no one would eat." "A man who complained at finding part of a dead mouse in his porridge was given three days bread and water."
Shannon says of the strip strikes: "My arse was black from sitting on the pipes (for warmth), for three years after I got out." The brutality was much worse for the political prisoners. By and large internees were not too badly treated, but the politicals were "kicked up to see the Governor and kicked back down again." Under the Special Powers Acts floggings were still officially and legally carried out. Many of the senior prison officers were so hated that they became virtual prisoners themselves within the walls. One was shot dead in Durham Street when he ventured out. Another had a fortunate escape when a bullet hit his belt buckle.
Being refused political prisoner status had severe financial consequences too. Dependants received nothing from the PDF or the Green Cross. On release, most prisoners had ‘security risk’ stamped on their insurance cards and consequently found it almost impossible to get a job.
As well as the suffering and hardship caused to the sentenced men and their dependants, there was also a spiritual problem for many of the more religiously devoted among all the prisoners. They had been denounced from the pulpit for belonging to immoral, illegal secret organizations. As Geordie Shannon put it "There were only a handful of Republican-minded priests we could go to for confession." Despite this, he claims, "no one lost their faith." Such was not the case in England. There, during the war, the bulk of men caught during the ill-fated and disastrous bombing campaign languished in Dartmoor, Wormwood Scrubbs, Pentonville and Strangeways. Denounced by their Church and denied absolution by most of the English Catholic priests in the jails, many drifted away from the ‘old faith’.
Most of the men lifted in England were young — by 24 July 1938 and the Introduction of the Prevention of Violence (Temporary Provisions) Bill at Westminster 66 IRA men had been convicted, and the numbers were to rise to 89. Their sentences were long: 20 years for many, and with the campaign a disastrous failure from the start, they were left to rot in English jails. They were not accorded political treatment despite their protests. They were also, in many cases, attacked by other prisoners, egged on by the warders, especially after the Coventry explosion on 25 August 1939 when five people were killed by a bomb which went off in the Broadgate.6] Irish prisoners in Dartmoor were savagely attacked. Eleven were hospitalized. Jack Healey had his leg broken. Those in Chelmsford prison were kept in isolation from the English prisoners for some time afterwards. Most prisoners became disillusioned. Men like Gerry Dunlop, who was very young at the time, were defeatist from the start. "I knew I would be caught," he said, "but orders were orders." He got 20 years and served ten. During that time, like many, he re-thought his ideas. He says that reading broadened his mind and he became a socialist. Since his release in 1949 he has never been in trouble with the police. "Most of us were very disillusioned with the movement then, long before the end," he said. Ten years passed very slowly, and there was no ‘release the prisoners campaign’ going on outside for most of the time.
The most horrific experiences of political prisoners occurred in the Twenty-six Counties. During World War II virtually every prominent member of the IRA and allied Republican groups was arrested. Under the Emergency Powers (Amendment) Act 1940, some 800 were interned, but many others were sentenced as political prisoners for ‘refusing to answer questions’, ‘possessing illegal radios’, ‘belonging to proscribed organizations’ or ‘possession of firearms’. The most notorious cases involved George Plant, an old-style Republican and Protestant dissenter. He, together with Joe O’Connor, was accused of the murder of Michael Devereux, believed to be an informer, whose body was discovered in a cave in Tipperary in September 1941. Michael Walsh and Patrick Davern were allegedly accomplices and were savagely beaten by the police to get them to incriminate Plant and O’Connor. At the trial they announced that they had been beaten and refused to give evidence. The charges were dismissed. Plant was not let go. He was rearrested in the courtroom and taken to Arbour Hill. Gerry Boland transferred the case to a military tribunal, where the sentence was death. And there was no right of appeal. The normal rules of judicial procedure were revoked. Plant was retried and the illegally extracted ‘confessions’ of Davern and Walsh were used against him. All three were sentenced to death. On 5 March 1942 George Plant was officially dispatched by a firing squad. The other two were reprieved. O’Connor was not re-tried.
The war period was to see even more barbarity. Hardcore Republicans like Sean McCaughey, Liam Rice, Tomas MacCurtain (son of the Lord Mayor of Cork, murdered by the RIC), Jim Grafton and Michael Traynor were not accorded political treatment when incarcerated in Portlaoise jail, with MacCurtain and McCaughey with death sentences commuted. They went on strip strike. From 1941 to 1943 they were naked and in solitary confinement. They were not even permitted to go to the toilet. In 1943 they were allowed to meet each other for two hours a day and get one letter a month. They received no visitors. In the four-and-three-quarters years he was in there, McCaughey received no visits. On 19 April 1946 he went on hunger strike. After five days he went on to thirst strike also. He died on 11 May after suffering excruciating agony. Paddy McLogan, who saw the body, said that the "tongue had shrunk to the size of a three penny bit." An inquest was held in the jail, but Sean McBride, counsel for next-of-kin, was not even allowed to cross examine the governor. The prison doctor, Duanne, admitted that he would not treat his dog in the fashion McCaughey had been treated. News of what was going on in Portlaoise shocked the people; war-time censorship meant that few had any earlier idea of the conditions, which became public only through the McCaughey inquest and subsequent Dail questions. The ‘release the prisoners’ campaign raised a clamour. With a change of government in 1948 the new Minister for Justice, General Sean MacEoin, who himself had been sentenced to death by the British in 1921, released the political prisoners.
Since then, however, there has been no shortage of political prisoners to fill the cells of Belfast and Dublin. In addition to internment, each State has Emergency Powers (Northern Ireland has apparently been in a state of emergency for 50 years) which means that people can be jailed for their politics. Co-operation between the Special Branch, North and South, has been effective, one of the notorious examples being Harry White who was arrested in Deny in 1945 and handed over to the gardai on a trumped-up murder charge. White escaped the death penalty, however, on appeal.
In the Twenty-six Counties the Offences Against the State Act is still in force, and the Forcible Entries Act makes squatting a political offence. In the North the mandatory six-month sentences ordained by the Criminal Justice (Temporary Provisions) Act 1970 have proved the measure to be not only extremely repressive but even counterproductive from the Government point of view. The Sunday Times of 21 November 1971 reported that even the Attorney General, Basil Kelly, admitted that, "Harsh cases will arise as a result of this Bill, perhaps even wrong convictions on the basis of mistaken identity." Captain Robert Mitchell said, with satisfaction, "It brings in an element of ruthlessness." It brought, in fact, chaos to the courts. Moreover, between 1 July and December 1970, when it was repealed, 109 people went to court. All were convicted and given the mandatory six months.
In the totally justified indignation which internment has aroused in the minds of many, we should not forget the plight of the political prisoner in Irish history — from the horrors and rigours suffered in English jails by the old Fenians like O’Donovan Rossa (handcuffed and in chains, often naked, he had at times to lap his bread-and-skilly off the floor like a dog, while held in a perpetual dark cell in Chatham jail) to men like Jimmy Steele, the old Republican who died in 1969, having spent 17 years in jail — most of them as a prisoner without charge or trial, or when charged on the obscure Treason and Felony 1848 Coercion Act. Nor should we forget that today an increasing number of young people are being jailed for their political beliefs, whether these take the form of civil disobedience or physical attempts to defend their homes when attacked. The jail conditions accorded them have always been worse than those grudgingly allowed to internees, and the International Red Cross, on 30 November 1971, reported that these conditions are inadequate.
1972 saw a new development in the struggle for political status. Within Crumlin Road jail it is accepted by all, except the governor, that anyone convicted of some violation of the law connected with politics, from rioting to being in possession of a gun, is a political prisoner. As usual in jail "prisoners have no rights, only privileges." Political prisoners have no privileges. These are reserved for the ‘trusties’ — generally toadies, informers or good ‘Loyalists’ — all of whom are eligible for parole, extra visits, reductions of sentence. In 1972 over 50 convicted men were let out to make room for internees found guilty of no crime. The old principle of divide and rule still operates. ‘Loyalists’ get the jobs with ‘perks’ — kitchens, orderlies. They are allowed to have any papers sent in — including John McKeague’s Loyalist News with its threats and support for sectarian thuggery. Republican political papers like An Phoblacht are banned. Loyalist badges such as the Red Hand, Orange Widows and Ulster Covenant are permitted. Neither Connolly nor Red Fist badges are allowed, since they are held to be provocative. In themselves, these are mere minor irritants, but in the claustrophobic atmosphere of a jail they can have lasting effect. Catholics who in 1971 wore Easter Lilies in memory of the dead of 1916 were locked in their cells for the day. James Daly, lecturer in Scholastic Philosophy at Queen’s University, Belfast, who spent time in Crumlin Road jail for his principles (he refused to fill in his census forms or to pay the fine) wrote:
There is no sense of guilt on the part of political prisoners, only one of resistance to oppression. The level of revolutionary consciousness is high and this includes consciousness of national as well as class oppression. In Crumlin, as in Long Kesh, our own Irish warders are preferred to the insufferable English ones.
Daly may have been a shade optimistic. A more prevalent view, I believe, would be that of Niall Vallely of the People’s Democracy, who served terms for political offences. He believed in locating the "most decent, amiable screw and beating the shit out of him, in order that he wouldn’t confuse other prisoners about the intrinsic evilness of jailers."
But things were stirring in Crumlin Road. The ‘Loyalist’ prisoners had started to change their attitude to prisoner status. The Republican and Socialist prisoners have always regarded themselves as political prisoners. Many have the scars and the memories of broken limbs provided by the Special Branch torturers to convince them of it. At the beginning of May 1972, 35 of the ‘Loyalists’, including men like Gusty Spence, serving 20 years for shooting a Catholic barman in Malvern Street in 1966, announced that henceforth they were to be regarded as political prisoners, members of the banned but still very much active UVF. The ‘Loyalists’ began to produce The Orange Cross, a monthly paper printed for them by John McKeague. More surprising still, on 7 May 1972 the Sunday News reported how ‘Loyalist’ and Republican had formed an alliance to demand political status. Michael Mallon, A wing, Official IRA, claimed that they "were bound to win since the Loyalists are with us and they hold the key jobs like cooking and heating. They can stop the jail dead with a work strike." The Provisional IRA were also prepared to strike but refused to have anything to do with the UVF men.’
From Monday 8 May the groups refused to wear the official prison uniform and instead appeared in civilian clothes, hoarded over the previous few months. The Loyalist News was quick to deny that any ‘Loyalists’ were co-operating with the ‘rebel scum’, but nonetheless, unity was soon to be seen again when an integrated group of would-be political prisoners rioted in the recreation room on 12 May. Troops in full riot gear stood-by in a yard but were not called in when the men eventually agreed to go back.
Whitelaw had made a statement three days previously stating that there could be no question of political prisoner status being granted, but the governor, in a bid to cool the situation, assured the prisoners that their requests had not yet been rejected out of hand. The political prisoners, however, refused to climb down. One of the things that particularly incensed them was the ‘double standard’ under which they were treated in that if they applied for parole like other prisoners they were turned down on the grounds that they were politicals. Yet when they applied for political status, which would result in more letters and visits being allowed, they were told they were mere common criminals. The work strike continued.
The question of political prisoner status proved contagious. 18 May 1972 saw the most violent demonstrations in the history of Mountjoy prison in Dublin. Many men had been held there for months awaiting trial and were on indeterminate remands — this often meant that Republicans could be arrested, charged, remanded for six months and then acquitted on lack of evidence." Their frustration over the refusal of the authorities to accord them political status was exacerbated by these delays, as well as by the poor food, but the final spark was the refusal to allow a Republican, Joseph Canning from Ardoyne in Belfast, parole to get married. As the PO was locking up B wing, where most of the remand prisoners were held, he was overpowered and his keys were taken. Other prisoners were released by their comrades and a major six-hour riot ensued. Provisional IRA men climbed on the roof and shouted their demands, claiming they would negotiate only with the Taoiseach Jack Lynch or Provisional leader Sean MacStiophan. Over 400 men were involved and at one time Chief Officer Ralph Lee was held as hostage. Extensive damage was done to the jail. The Minister for Justice, Desmond O’Malley, claimed that "almost everything that is breakable, from furniture, doors and bars to toilets, showers and baths, is destroyed." A bizarre note was sounded when O’Malley was asked whether the prisoners had smashed up the gallows. They had.
Reporter: The one where Kevin Barry was hanged?
O'Malley: I thought Kevin Barry was shot. I may be wrong.
After the six-hour riot a truce was called and gardai entered to survey the wreckage. The authorities denied that they had made a deal with the prisoners to avert reprisals for the damage caused. "Those prison rioters who can be identified will be charged," claimed O'Malley. Chief Officer Lee, unharmed after his ordeal, was promoted "on the spot." Joseph Canning did get out to be married that Saturday. The large crowd which had gathered outside the prison and stoned the gardai were dismissed as "the usual gurrier element" by the Minister for Justice. "There was no popular feeling against the gardai," he added.
More important, however, was the aftermath to the riot. 178 prisoners were moved from the wrecked prison. Forty men, including 30 Republicans on remand, were moved to the Curragh detention barracks, 'The Glasshouse', and held there under military guard. Thirty-six were taken to the maximum security prison at Portlaoise, 35 to St. Patrick's in Dublin, and 67 transferred to another military detention centre in Cork, Collins barracks. At once there were cries from Republicans that this, in fact, constituted a form of internment — men being held without trial in camps surrounded by armed soldiers. The Minister for Justice rejected these allegations, though again his answers were perhaps not as convincing as he may have hoped. Prison warders would be going down to the Curragh, he said, but the Press would not at present be able to inspect the conditions. Rest assured, the 'Glasshouse' had not been used during the internment period in the fifties, it just happened to be in the same camp. Yes, the warders would have the assistance of the army. He did not accept, and "thought that it had never been accepted in the history of the State, that there was any such thing as a political prisoner." (But then, O'Malley knows very little about his country's history, about Kevin Barry or the IRA either). "All these people have been charged with ordinary criminal offences" (such as belonging to proscribed organizations, refusing to recognize courts, etc.). "At least one-third were there of their own volition;" they had been offered bail, very nominal bail, and refused to take it. In fact, as O'Malley must have been only too well aware, all this was standard ploy. He knows well that, stemming from their historical traditions, members of the Provisional wing of the IRA are dismissed from their organization if they recognize a court by applying for bail (a foolish tactic which makes it all too easy for the police or gardai, and one which has caused dissension in the ranks). The Minister admitted that 40 prisoners "who were not ordinary prisoners" would be divided around different prisons. As to what constitutes the difference between an 'ordinary' prisoner and the 'extraordinary' prisoner the Minister was at a loss to say.
Within three days of the riot in Mountjoy special legislation was rushed through the Dail to ratify the situation. The 'emergency' Prisons Bill became law on 25 May and empowered the Minister for Justice to transfer Republican prisoners to military custody in 'exceptional' circumstances, the Minister being the one to determine the circumstances. The Bill was passed in a day by 114 votes to eight. The Irish Times described it as "internment with trial". Republicans were more critical. Moreover, O'Malley announced that the Government was preparing mechanics for the reactivation of Section V of the Offences Against the State Act of 1939-40, so as to introduce Special Criminal Courts. There had been no evidence of intimidation of jurors or witnesses, but Fianna Fail, heartened by what they felt to be a mandate from the overwhelming success with the EEC referendum, pushed ahead. By Government proclamation — and consequently no discussion on the subject could take place in the Dail — Part V of the Offences Against the State Act was reactivated. Special Courts with three judges and no juries. Five days later Joe Cahill, former O/C of the Provisionals in Belfast, and Rory and Sean O'Bradaigh of Kevin Street Sinn Fein, were arrested under the Act and remanded in custody. They immediately went on hunger strike. Two weeks later the Special Courts began to jail people.
Meanwhile in the North, hunger strikes were entering their third week. On 15 May four Provisionals in A wing in Crumlin went on hunger strike for political status. They were led by veteran Republican Billy McKee, Belfast O/C until he was framed by English SB officers on an arms charge in 1971. A week later another five men joined them. Outside, the campaign of support built up. Six Republicans in Armagh jail went on hunger strike in support of the demands of their comrades in Crumlin. Forty internees in Long Kesh joined in. Vigils, fasts and pickets were held in major Catholic areas. But the authorities refused to budge. Then, on 6 June, after 21 days, Robert Campbell, from the New Lodge Road, Belfast, had to be moved to hospital, so weak had he become. Campbell, a 30-year-old married man, serving 11 years for armed robbery, had lost four stone in weight and his condition was giving cause for alarm. Accordingly, he was transferred to the adjoining Mater Hospital. Anxiously, people waited. Campbell proved resilient, however. In spite of his weakened condition he managed to escape through a ground-floor window at 8.00 a.m. the next day while the RUC and the Paras strolled about the corridors. He fell six feet and was carried to a waiting car by comrades. As usual, the Ministry for Home Affairs was the last to know of the escape — after the BBC informed them that it had occurred.
On 13 June, the 28th day of the strike, a rumour spread around Belfast that Billy McKee had died. Reaction was almost instantaneous: eight buses were hijacked and burnt before the death rumour was officially denied. The prison authorities still said, however, that they were unconcerned about the hunger strikers. But publicity was becoming too widespread for their liking. Despite the indifference of Lord Windlesham, Minister of State for Northern Ireland, it became obvious that it would be impolitic to let McKee and his comrades die.
On 19 June, the 35th day of the strike, McKee was moved in a very weak condition to the Royal Victoria Hospital. That day, following talks with ex-internee Councillor O'Kane, and the two SDLP MP's, Hume and Devlin, Whitelaw announced that changes would be made in the prison. Henceforth 80 Republicans and 40 'Loyalists' would be housed in a separate wing, away from the 'common criminals'. They would be allowed to wear their own clothes, receive more visits and parcels and have greater opportunity for education. Of course, the Government "refused to be blackmailed" etc. or to concede that any such thing as political prisoner status even existed, but the feebleness of the protestations served only to convince everyone that at long last the category of 'political prisoner had been officially recognized. The courage of the hunger strikers had paid off. On Tuesday 20 June the men began the slow process of being weaned back onto food again. They had their first glass of milk."
By September 1972 there were 184 men in A wing in Crumlin with definite political prisoner status. They were left to their own devices by the warders, had no prison work to do, could receive one visit a week and unlimited letters, as well as one food parcel a week. Old-timers described it as 'heaven' compared to the 'bad old clays'.
On 8 January 1973 the last 220 political prisoners were transferred from Crumlin Road jail to Long Kesh and the damp squalor of its cages. The reason given was 'security' following the discovery, during the previous week, of a 40-yard tunnel from outside the jail towards A wing. Despite this, Daniel Keenan (17) from Derry walked out of the jail on 11 January and escaped, masquerading as another prisoner who was due to be released that day.
[Although not legal even under the Special Powers Acts, Joseph Conlon (22) from Ardoyne, Belfast, was released from custody and deported to England. Special Branch men brought him from Long Kesh and put him on the Liverpool boat on 10 January 1973.]
THE ROLE OF THE MEDIA DURING INTERNMENT
To many people in Ireland one of the most disturbing features of the internment period was the consistent distortions, omissions and, in all too many cases, the downright lies of the media as to what was happening in the Six Counties.
From the beginning the vast majority of the daily newspapers, in addition to both the BBC and ITV, slavishly accepted as gospel statements by the Unionist government and the British army. It became definite policy for most newspapers that 'our army' could do no wrong. Thus, for example, the Daily Mail on 19 August 1971 had the headline "Army Shoots Deaf-mute Carrying Gun". The inquest subsequently showed that Eamonn McDivitt of Strabane at no time had a gun and that the soldiers who gave evidence anonymously, contradicted one another. The Mail made no apology. Similarly, everyone shot dead by the soldiers must, of necessity, have been a gunman or mad bomber — even the unarmed 13 killed by the Paras on 'Bloody Sunday'. And if that fails to convince, obviously he or she must have been shot by the IRA, or 'in crossfire'. John Chartres of the Times even invented a new category: thus Danny O'Hagan of the New Lodge Road, shot by the army on 31 July 1970, was an 'assistant petrol bomber'. As Eamonn McCann pointedly asked "What do 'assistant petrol bombers' do? Hold coats?" In The British Press and Northern Ireland Eamonn McCann details literally dozens of cases of flagrant distortions. Number 1 of Inside Story provides several more. One of the most bizarre was the front page of the Daily Mirror of 23 October 1971. The screaming headlines proclaimed "Red Assassin shot dead in Ulster". The authors (rather than reporters) of this 'Mirror Exclusive' were 'Joe Gorrod and Denzil Sullivan' and they told how "soldiers in a patrol which stalked and killed a terrorist sniper identified him as a Czechoslovakian. He carried a Russian-made Kalashnikov AK 47 rifle, one of the most deadly ever produced and the one most favoured by assassins." The shooting was mysterious — the Mirror men could not say when or where it occurred. They also introduced another romantic element: "a man dressed all in black who was a Lithuanian firing with a Czech rifle."
In fact, as the army were to admit in the Sunday News, the entire story was "a bit of fantasy" which had "been going round for the past year." But then, if you're short of copy and too frightened to venture out of the bar of the Europa Hotel, any piece of rubbish will do for the readers of the Mirror.
But rather than totally fictitious — and poorly constructed — stories, the more serious aspect of the media was that of censorship. On 31 October two MP's, Bernadette Devlin and Frank McManus, devoted most of their speeches to instancing omissions and distortions of the press. Not one paper carried the story.
Take the issue of torture allegations. On 15 October The Sunday Times published a 'sensational scoop' story on the third degree torture of internees. This was the first the British public had heard of torture. Yet what The Sunday Times published on 15 October had been common knowledge in Ireland for nearly two months.
Most of The Sunday Times statements had been taken by the Association for Legal Justice in Belfast and distributed to the Press by 20 August. By the end of August all these accounts had appeared in the reputable Irish papers. In the first week of September all British papers, including The Sunday Times, were circulated with a ten-page dossier produced by the Anti-Internment League. Some of the cases eventually cited by The Sunday Times on 15 October were contained in that dossier.
In fact, many British journalists adopted a policy of self censorship. What they did not want to believe, they did not write about. In addition, many editors brutally silenced those members of their staff who began to find the truth.
More serious still was the clear evidence that came to light in November that both the BBC and ITV adopted a clear policy of censorship in their handling of affairs in Northern Ireland. Private Eye No. 258 contained extracts from internal memoranda circulated within the BBC. These documents were drawn up at the weekly meetings of the News and Current Affairs Group at the BBC. The chairman at these meetings was Ulsterman and Unionist sympathiser, Desmond Taylor.
The minutes reveal that '24 Hours' was prevented from doing an in-depth programme on the IRA. John Crawley, Chief Assistant to the Director-General, said "Such a programme setting out the roots of the IRA would be unacceptable."
An interview with Michael Farrell, prominent in the People's Democracy, was to have gone out on 1 September 1971. Farrell had just been released from detention. The interview was banned. Roland Fox, assistant to Taylor, explained: "It had not been possible to make the item's treatment defensible as a whole on the grounds of fairness;" it was "a description by an admitted extremist of conditions in the Crumlin Road prison."
Waldo Maguire, BBC Controller for Northern Ireland, was particularly strenuous in his attempts to get censorship adopted, in particular a virtual ban on Radio Telefis Eireann material. Maguire is known for his fortright views. At an Irish Times reception in Belfast in January 1971 he was introduced to a member of the People's Democracy. Maguire reacted with a string of words which are of a kind undoubtedly censored on all BBC channels and he then threatened some of that violence for which television today is so renowned. In fairness to Maguire, The Irish Times had provided 'ample refreshments'.
Such was the resentment generated within the BBC over this censorship that the Director-General had to admit that he could "see that the editorial staff did not relish being interfered with."
Interference on ITV was, if anything, more ham-fisted and blatant. A 'World in Action' programme on the IRA in the Twenty-six Counties was banned from all networks on Monday 1 November. The programme had been approved by Dr. Rex Cathcart, an Irish Protestant who reviews ITV's Irish coverage. Who watched the programme again and then banned it? The answer is nobody; however, the Independent Television Authority, the ruling body of ITV, banned it without seeing it. It was enough for Lord Aylestone, Chairman of the Authority, to describe it as "aiding and abetting the enemy". So much for impartiality.
The London Post Office Tower was damaged by a bomb on the night of 30 October. The only suggestion that any Irish group was responsible came in one anonymous telephone call. As 20,000 people marched in peaceful protest on Sunday 31st the papers and the news were full of accounts of an IRA terror campaign in Britain. On Monday 1 November The Telegraph led with the headlines "IRA Blast Post Office Tower". The Telegraph was just one of many.
Both sections of the Republican movement denied any responsibility for the tower bombing on the Monday, through spokesmen both in Dublin and London; the police denied that they were looking for Irishmen. The Angry Brigade claimed responsibility, but, because the anonymous telephone call fitted the prejudices of Tory newspaper editors, the IRA threat held the headlines. Even on Thursday the Evening News reminded readers of the horrors of the war-time bombing campaign. They also included a piece of deduction: "It was significant that the bomb planted at the Post Office Tower was left in the women's toilet. There are more women IRA officers now than there were six months ago"!
It was not long before Tory spokesmen jumped on this bandwagon. On Wednesday 4th Lord Carrington, Tory Defence Secretary, did his best to whip up anti-Irish feeling when speaking in the House of Lords. Talking of the Irish crisis he said: "It will almost certainly be that we shall see much more bloodshed and even an extension of it to this country." This piece of bloodthirsty wishful thinking was quickly snatched upon by the Daily Mail with the headline: "I.R.A. War Threat in England".
Thus, in a week in which no IRA spokesman had advocated 'a terror campaign' and no Irish group had started one; a week in which by contrast Republicans had joined in a massive and peaceful political protest march, what were the British public told? The Tory leaders and their newspapers 'informed' them that the Irish in England had begun a bombing campaign. If such allegations had been made against coloured immigrants it would, quite rightly, have been described as incitement to race hatred.
Eventually, official pressures became so repressive that some 200 leading journalists and broadcasters decided to meet at the ICA in London to consider what steps they might take to assert their right to tell the truth. Godfrey Boyle of The Irish Times reported on the meeting:
"It's got to the stage where we're being repressed," was how Jonathan Dimbleby of the BBC's 'World at One' programme put it. Editors, he said, were now so worried about pressures from above that they tended to approach a story not with the aim of discovering the truth, but in a manner that would ensure that they didn't get into trouble. Shooting incidents, for instance, were covered merely as events, and little attempt was made to uncover the reasons, if any, that lay behind them.
Following The Sunday Times disclosures about 'ill-treatment' of detainees, BBC men, Dimbleby said, had been given permission to interview internees, but they were not allowed to interview witnesses such as doctors or priests who might have had evidence which would have corroborated internees' allegations. He also pointed out that the BBC's editor of current affairs had to listen to every item on Northern Ireland before it was broadcast, on the specific instructions of the DirectorGeneral.
ITV communicators had their problems too. The Granada TV men, who had had their programme on the IRA banned without its even having been seen, pointed out the significance of the recent attempts of Ulster Television to influence the ITA. UTV's managing director, 'Brum' Henderson, was, they pointed out, the brother of Bill Henderson, a public relations officer to the Unionist party and managing director of the Newsletter and had, therefore, a 'natural anxiety' about allowing certain programines to be shown on UTV. UTV had indeed 'opted out' of several programmes on Northern Ireland which had been networked throughout the rest of Britain.
In a passionate speech Keith Kyle of the BBC's '24 Hours' was scathing about current BBC policy on Northern Ireland, which, he said, could be paraphrased as 'Programmes as a whole must vindicate the BBC's detestation of terrorism'. And to those who claimed that a policy of censorship should be imposed in "the national interest", Kyle retorted that "there is no higher national interest than avoiding self-deception on Northern Ireland."
Another important point about censorship, according to John O'Callaghan of the Guardian, was that if, as seemed quite possible, the Republican movement was defeated, then censorship would be seen by the Government as an important instrument in that defeat and, therefore, a powerful argument for an increase in its use in Britain.
The mood of the meeting was summed up in the 'declaration of intent' suggested by Roy Bull of the Scotsman which read: "We deplore the intensification of censorship on TV, radio and the press coverage of events in Northern Ireland and pledge ourselves to oppose it."
Despite 'passionate speeches', the new 'Free Communications Group' got nowhere and the call for a work ban by BBC staff sent to Northern Ireland to take effect from 10 January was a flop. The system ground on inexorably. Alternative papers such as Ink and 7 Days folded for lack of capital. The 'impartial' Daily Telegraph in a goodwill gesture gave £70,000 for colour TV sets for "our gallant boys in khaki" [sic]. In perhaps one of the most macabre scenes recorded on film, Granada TV's 'What the Papers Say' awarded a prize for "the best piece of investigative journalism" to The Sunday Times 'Insight' team for its inquiry into torture on internees, the prize being presented by Reggie Maudling whose Ministry must be held accountable for the self-same tortures.7 Eighteen days later that paper was to tone down its 'radical crusader' image when it suppressed its own reporters' investigation into the shooting of 13 unarmed civilians in Derry by the Paras on Bloody Sunday. This was done on the grounds that the matter was sub judice because of the Widgery Inquiry — legally incorrect as The Sunday Times knew. When their toned-down report was eventually published it suggested that the army had lied and that some soldiers had acted with a reckless disregard for life.
In Northern Ireland the position was that of The Irish News printing what the Catholic people wanted to read, while the Newsletter, far more bigoted and bitter in its coverage, daily gave the story of the latest atrocity committed against its long-suffering and tolerant readers. It was left to the supposedly moderate Belfast Telegraph, the only evening paper available in the North, to give the game away. When the Compton Report was published it included a long list of papers which, Compton claimed, had been of assistance to the inquiry, The Belfast Telegraph was not amongst them. Furious, the editor summoned his reporters and demanded of them why this was so. Finally, one reporter dared to suggest that the reason that no use had been made of Telegraph files was that they hadn't published a single allegation against the security forces, of brutality, torture or even possible ill-treatment, despite the fact that every other newspaper in Ireland (with the exception of the Newsletter) had been headlining them for over a month. "How strange," said the editor.
As an instructive tailpiece to the Northern Irish press, it should be mentioned that at a special meeting of the Northern Ireland chapel of the National Union of Journalists called on 30 October 1972 a vote was taken to 'black' all press releases from the Civil Rights Association and Sinn Fein. Through an unfortunate oversight most journalists on 'Catholic' newspapers did not receive notification of the special meeting in time to be present, although five members of the British army who have 'press credentials' were notified. In effect it made little change since journalists on the Newsletter and Belfast Telegraph had been operating just such a ban for months.
In the Republic of Ireland the press initially had a field day during the early days of internment castigating 'the old enemy', but that was not to last too long. Following pressure from Ted Heath, Jack Lynch in turn rounded upon RTE. Required by law to "maintain a balance of views," RTE was doing just that until Minister Collins issued a directive restraining them from putting out matter "which could be calculated to promote. . . . the IRA or the attaining of any particular objective by violent means.' Regrettably, RTE caved in without much of a fight and paved the way for right-wing eccentrics such as Gerry L'Estrange, to get away with hysterical utterances about (unnamed) anarchists and subversives in RTE." RTE's news coverage of the North dwindled rapidly from being the most comprehensive to having virtually no coverage at all.
With the main daily papers in the South, with the honour-able exception of The Irish Times, shackled to the coat-tails of either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael, it is important that at least the radio and TV be free, but this has never been Government intention. For example, the then Taoiseach, Sean Lemass, stated:
RTE was set up by legislation as an instrument of public policy and as such is responsible to the Government . . . . the Government reject the view that RTE should be, either generally or in regard to its current affairs and news programmes, completely independent of Government supervision. . . . the Government will take such action as may be necessary to ensure that RTE does not deviate from the due performance of (its) duty.
At length Fianna Fail went too far for even RTE. 'This Week', on 19 November, broadcast an interview with Sean MacStiofain, on the very day he was arrested, breaking, the Government said, the ban on allowing air-time to men of violence (Lynch was apparently in no way disturbed to hear 'Shoot to kill' Craig and his colleague John Taylor being interviewed almost weekly and issuing threats to all and sundry). Since the Government used this very interview to convict MacStiofain of membership of an illegal organization, it seemed, to many people, hypocritical for them to sack the nine members of the RTE authority and replace them with more docile functionaries. Kevin O'Kelly, the reporter who conducted the interview, was given six months for 'contempt' by the very special court which had used his evidence to convict MacStiofain. The personnel of RTE were sufficiently indignant to stage a 24-hour strike and they were joined the next day by the staff of the Dublin and Cork newspapers. Only one reporter, Kevin Myers of RTE, was disgusted enough to actually resign, and after their token protest and march the 'media men' returned quietly to work. Lynch went on to weather yet another crisis and successfully passed the Amendment to the Offences Against the State Act.
So much for a "free media in a free state."
If the crisis brought on by internment and the death days of Stormont has shown anything, it has exposed totally the polite fiction of "freedom of speech in a democratic country such as ours." Such a freedom is not merely a demand made by liberals, it is the sine qua non of a truly democratic society, such as does not exist in Ireland, North or South, nor in the rest of the 'British Isles'. Unless we are to be satisfied with the system today, so accurately described by Marcuse as 'repressive tolerance', we must fight strenuously to wrest control of the information centres from the hands of the personally-motivated few and place them firmly at the disposal of all.
INTERNMENT OUT — DETENTION IN
THE truce called by the Provisional IRA for 27 June 1972 was, for them, a masterstroke. When the Officials had earlier called their truce they had done so from a position of weakness, following the Derry public's revulsion at the shooting of Ranger Best. Whitelaw and the middle-class ladies of 'Women Together', with the active co-operation of the media who played up any peace move for all that it was worth — and then some — took the initiative. All the Officials' truce had got them was the release of the vast majority of their members in Long Kesh (by 16 August there were only two Officials still in the camp), but for the Provos it was a different story. Their highly successful (militarily) bombing campaign had demonstrated that their strength was undiminished despite numerous arrests. The more perceptive amongst their leaders, in particular Daithi O'Connell, now recognised that there was a need for a cessation of hostilities in order not to provoke a sectarian civil war which the well-armed and increasingly militant Ulster Defence Association was threatening. The Provos' bombing campaign had been a dangerous piece of brinkmanship, but, on 28 June, it almost looked as if they had got away with it. Despite all the oft-repeated ministerial pledges about "no question of talks with killers" (just as they had said about Makarios, Kenyatta and even Nehru) the Provo command was well aware that Whitelaw was prepared to meet them personally — talks through intermediaries, of course, had been going on for some time. This was a considerable coup for a primarily military organization, whose lack of a really viable political wing was their biggest weakness. Up to now the SDLP had been the nominal representatives of the Catholic minority, despite the fact that in many areas the people had completely rejected them (in Andersonstown they had been burned in effigy outside Casement Park), the more so after the betrayal of their repeated pledge of no talks until the last internee was released.
But the truce was to be shortlived. Too many people had a vested interest in seeing that it failed. Various die-hard Provos, such as Seamus Twomey of the Belfast Command, wanted to fight on — "one big push to finish it once and for all" being their raison d'être, regardless of the risk, or certainty, of civil war. (Sectarian murders were already a nightly occurrence with gunmen cruising in cars and gunning down total strangers merely because they were in a Catholic area — thus did 'Loyalists' demonstrate their fealty to Her Majesty). Twomey obeyed orders in Belfast and the truce was declared, but it was obvious that it would not take too much to provoke him.
Others, too, had a vested interest in the failure of the truce. The UDA leaders, fearful of a sellout at the peace talks and a diminution of their own power and patronage, became increasingly provocative and menacing. From the minority point of view the open collusion in some areas between the British army, RUC and the UDA was an ominous sign. In Belfast fraternisation was blatant in the Ligoniel, Woodstock, Crumlin, Donegall and Old Park roads, as well as the Tiger Bay and Ballygomartin areas. The arrest of several Protestant members of the 'impartial' UDR on murder charges did nothing to further confidence in the regiment, most of whose officers are ex-B Specials. One particular example, in Belfast, was the attack upon the home of Frank Gogarty, the veteran and tireless civil rights worker. This was not the first time that a 'Loyalist' mob had attacked Gogarty's home on the Antrim Road but on 28 July the attack was fiercer than usual and Gogarty called the police and the army. They arrived, but stood by for several hours and allowed the attack to continue unabated. Finally, a senior police officer approached Gogarty and demanded that the local masked commandant of the UDA be permitted to enter the house to search for arms. Gogarty, a respectable dentist, was incensed at this open collusion between the supposed guardians of law and order and a mob of masked attackers, but was powerless to prevent the search being carried out, with the police seemingly taking orders from the UDA officer. In the event, nothing was discovered and the attack was called off.
Nor were the examples of collusion restricted to Belfast. Not at all. A fairly typical incident occurred in the first week of August on the main Armagh-Portadown road. Three members of the Armagh People's Democracy were returning from a meeting in Belfast when their car was ambushed on the main road. Masked men used stones and clubs to break the windows and six shots were fired into the car, wounding John Rocks in the right arm and pock-marking the car with bullet holes; despite this the PD members were able to drive on but were pursued by another car at high speed. On arrival at Armagh they went straight to the police station to report the murderous attack and were themselves arrested. This was at midnight. For three hours the police intimidated them, waved guns under their noses and claimed that they were under arrest "for not stopping at a (completely illegal) UDA roadblock." Their jackets were taken "for forensic tests" and police continually refused to take statements or get medical assistance. At 3.30 a.m. they were bundled into landrovers and driven to Portadown where the same process was repeated. Requests to make statements or consult a lawyer were constantly refused until 7 a.m. when the police grudgingly acceded to them. They were released at 8 a.m., their faith in Whitelaw's "new policy of police-civilian relations" scarcely enhanced.
Nor were the UDA and Vanguard the only Protestants with an interest on seeing violence continue. Ex-PM Brian Faulkner, having momentarily recovered from his pique at his summary dismissal, began to openly attempt to discredit Whitelaw, for any success for the English Minister was yet another nail in Faulkner's political coffin. His speeches became increasingly bitter and aggressive; he attempted to resurrect a working alliance with William Craig, to the latter's discomfort since the majority of 'Loyalists' wouldn't trust Faulkner as far as they could throw him and in September he was physically stoned off the Shankill Road. There was another split in the Unionist ranks when rank-and-file members of LAW broke away alleging that the leaders were only intent on personal aggrandizement. More and more Faulkner bemoaned "the lack of democracy in Ulster under Whitelaw" — somewhat incongruous coming from the man who had introduced internment without trial. In fact, as Andrew Boyd' has pointed out, when traditional Unionists complain about this they really mean that;
Their power and privileges, upheld for so many generations against the wishes of the majority of the people of Ireland, were being effectually challenged and abolished.
Whitelaw had promised that internment would be speedily ended if there was a truce. The Provos claim that he broke his word since he said that the camp would be empty within a fortnight. Both sides could not completely agree on what was said at the secret meeting. The Provos were represented by Twomey, O'Connell, Martin McGuinness of Derry, Joe Cahill, Ivor Bell and Gerry Adams, all of whom were offered safe conduct to London and were transported by army helicopter and RAF plane on 7 July. By 'coincidence' two British officers in plain clothes strayed into the Bogside at the same time and were promptly captured by the Provos. They were released unharmed as soon as the spokesmen returned from London. Der Spiegel, the German paper, claimed that the talks went so well that an actual document was signed by both parties. Whitelaw was angrily to reject such an allegation when it was put to him by Enoch Powell in the Commons on 7 August, but English readers of Der Spiegel found that their favourite paper was not available that week.
People in the North breathed a sigh of relief when the truce was announced, but internment was still there and the men in Long Kesh were still held as hostages. More experienced political commentators, moreover, took a less optimistic view of peace continuing. Intimidation and victimization of Catholic families were still rife. For example, 300 families forced out of Rathcoole in July, and increasing numbers of Protestants were harassed and bullied into moving home by 'patriotic' Catholics. Nor did the killings stop. In the four months from 30 March to 30 July, 182 people died. Of these, 47 were soldiers, seven members of the UDR, two RUC men, and 126 civilians, of whom 88 were Catholic and 38 Protestant. The Catholic Ex-Servicemen s Association broke down the civilian casualties as follows:
In addition, there were four Catholics killed in uncertain circumstances. Given that the CESA may not be the most impartial body, it is nonetheless clear that increasingly large numbers of Catholics were being murdered by assassination squads of 'Loyalist' persuasion. The Sunday Times of 13 August alleged that the RUC had captured one such squad which had been responsible for no fewer than 16 deaths. In 1973, however, 12 'Loyalists' were charged with different sectarian murders.
But the British army, despite the truce, had not ceased their fraternisation with the paramilitary UDA and it was to be this which sparked of the 'Lenadoon Affair' of 9 July which resulted in the breakdown of the truce. Twomey may have been spoiling for a fight, but the behaviour of the troops involved, the 20th Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, seems to have been so crass: first encouraging the families to occupy the vacant houses in Horn Drive and next minute preventing them, that it was no surprise when the shooting started, each side blaming the other. The Provos had thrown away their negotiating advantage. They were further to jeopardize their position with the murderous bombing of 'bloody Friday' 21 July. Two days previously, in an effort to patch up the truce, they had talked to Harold Wilson, who had agreed to act as an agent for Heath; nothing was achieved. And then, on the 21st, 22 bombs exploded in Belfast, killing nine people (two of them soldiers), wounding 130 and destroying thousands of pounds worth of property. In all cases warnings had been given and the Provos accepted responsibility, blaming the police and army for failing to act quickly enough to warn people, but it just would not wash. Many who had been prepared to give at least tacit support to the Provos were totally sickened. Even though in many cases an hour's notice had been given, with that number of bombs exploding in the city centre it was inevitable that innocent civilians would be maimed or killed, but this did not deter the Provisional IRA who, by their actions, played into the hands of Whitelaw and the SDLP.
Public revulsion was such that Whitelaw was able to get another 4,000 troops, making 21,000 in all (and necessitating permission from NATO allies, including Richard Nixon — Jack Lynch was informed out of 'courtesy') and to mount the long-delayed operation 'Motorman' (or 'Murderman', as the hitherto 'no-go' areas referred to it). And so, in the early hours of 31 July 1972 the armoured columns of the British army poured into Creggan, Bogside and Andersonstown. Resistance was virtually non-existent. The IRA wisely melted away, choosing to fight again another day. All that the soldiers encountered was sullen hostility, exacerbated when the army occupied the local Catholic schools and used them as billets. In Belfast, the army's seizure of the GAA pitch and clubhouse at Casement Park was to provide the focal point for the next week's riots.
Meanwhile, despite the release of 47 more internees as a 'goodwill gesture' on the part of Whitelaw, there were still 283 men held hostage in Long Kesh. That their status was precisely that of hostage was by now in no doubt whatever. Both Whitelaw and Faulkner were prepared to release men upon the 'defenceless public' who only the day before they had been castigating as vicious killers and mad bombers, if it were politically advantageous. Whitelaw no longer formally interned men; merely 'detained them', a polite euphemism for the same thing. A Government spokesman said:7 "About 30 detention orders have been signed under direct rule" (in fact, the figure was 42). Some detainees, such as Billy Kelly of Unity Flats, spent four months in Long Kesh, were released on 8 June only to be re-detained on 13 August. From 'Bloody Friday' 21 July 1972 to 12 August the army arrested some 258 men, of whom 159 were released and 94 charged. Five were still 'helping police with their inquiries'. Nor had the brutality ceased with the introduction of direct rule, as the European Commission on Human Rights was to hear. (See chapter on brutality, page 115).
Talks had, however, commenced between Whitelaw and the SDLP. For months secret meetings had been held but publicly the SDLP had clung to their 'no talks until the last internee is out' formula, which public opinion had forced upon them. Using the excuse of the horror bombing of 'Bloody Friday' and the terror bombing in Gaudy on 31 July in which nine people died (the Provisional IRA denied responsibility for the Claudy explosion, but their credibility was strained this time), the SDLP publicly announced that they were having "talks about talks" and then "talks". Whitelaw announced an all-party conference to be held in England, between 25 September and 27 September, and broadly hinted that all internees would be released by then. Most political commentators felt that this was hardly likely to provide any solutions and was merely designed to give the Tories a chance to impose the political 'solution' they had already decided upon following the 'breakdown' of talks. But in Long Kesh the mood of despondency finally lifted and men really began to believe that their release was imminent. 18 August saw the release of the last two Officials — at the height of the internment period there had been 297 Officials behind the wire — although some 22 were still held as 'detainees'.
But the internees' optimism was to be shortlived. The continuing bombing campaign, albeit on a lower key than before 'Operation Motorman', was still enough to harden governmental resistance to ending internment. As the UDA, UVF, LAW and Vanguard movements came closer together, following the shooting of two unarmed men on the Shankill Road by the now infamous Parachute regiment, so their cries for the retention of internment became more strident. Gone were the days when the Loyalist News could denounce internment as an 'evil weapon' which was about to be used on true blue loyalists — they had claimed that a special camp was being set up near Lisanelly in Fermanagh. Now they demanded the continuation of this "evil weapon" and threatened to "paralyse the province" if it were ended. As they made these threats, 'Loyalist' power workers were doing just that with political strikes over the refusal of Whitelaw to hold an inquiry into the actions of the Paras on the Shankill Road.
Army brutality and harassment continued unabated, too, despite Whitelaw's bland assurances to the contrary. It was not enough to transfer the Government interrogation centre from the by-now-notorious Palace barracks to Castlereagh police station. In order to stop the ill-treatment Whitelaw would have needed to make sweeping changes in the personnel of the RUC and the army and this he was unable or unwilling to do. And so the persecution of young boys like Gerard Bradley continued; because Branch men did not want him to give evidence about the terrible beatings he and his friends received from them, his young brothers and sisters were harassed and terrified nightly, and forced to leave their home. More publicised cases concerned remand prisoners at the Maze prison, as Long Kesh was being called. Complaints that they were being regularly beaten and degraded by the police on their visits, in an old water cannon, to the remand courts led on 11 September to a sitdown protest at the prison, but to little or no avail. Soldiers were sent in to baton the peaceful demonstrators, who included a 14-year-old boy on remand on an arms charge. It is noticeable that this protest occurred at a time when in other parts of the 'British Isles' prisoners were climbing onto roofs and staging much more violent demonstrations. In no case did the authorities deem it necessary to send in armed soldiers to beat up the demonstrators and then destroy their few pitiful personal possessions.
In the Catholic ghettoes resentment grew at the continued occupation of local schools and recreation centres and the erection, at great expense, of armed encampments. For example, 'Fort Silver City' and 'Fort Apache' at Slieve' gallion Drive and Lenadoon Gardens cost over £120,000. In the West Belfast area alone eight fortresses ringed Andersonstown. Clearly, the army's 'hearts and minds' campaign, despite all their posters, leaflets and stickers, was a dismal failure. Reluctantly the SDLP had to accept this. In order to keep up the polite fiction of 'No talks until the last internee was released' the SDLP met with Heath at Chequers and then with Wilson — at which, they claimed, the former PM denounced internment yet again. They then announced that because of their high principles they were going to boycott the talks. In fact, as Ben Carragher, a senior member of the party admitted, there was no need to go to the talks. They had already had a private meeting with Heath, had explained their position and published their proposals, and lost nothing by avoiding sterile argument with the rump of Faulkner's Unionist party and the Alliance and Labour parties which were the only other groups bothering to attend. In any case, it was widely accepted that the talks were only for show and that the Government intended to present its own 'solution' when the talks inevitably produced nothing.
The army continued to have their successes, although their own casualty rate went up. Well-publicised escapers like Martin Meehan, Terence Clarke, Jim Bryson and Thomas Toland were recaptured, as was Eddie Campbell, claimed by the army to be a batallion OC. But still the army had to have recourse to the Special Powers Act. Embarrassing inquests, for example, were banned or indefinitely postponed. As it became clear that the synonym 'detention' was being used for 'internment' even Brian Faulkner began to revise his opinion about internment which he had always regarded as essential. Now he claimed that all along he had favoured special courts, adding, hypocritically, that the power to intern without trial was perhaps too much for one man to have. Many observers felt that it didn't really matter what Brian Faulkner thought anymore since, with the defection of three of his lieutenants and his ignominious flight from the 'loyal' Shankill Road in front of a stone-throwing mob, he counted for little in local politics despite his desperate effort to woo Bill Craig.
22 September saw the long-expected announcement of Special Courts, although none of the details were spelt out. Clearly, they were internment by another name and, at that, hardly necessary since men were being remanded without trial for up to a year already: witness the case of Sean McGuigan. The announcement, however, was not designed, as some speculated, to tempt the SDLP to the conference table, but to provide some ammunition for Sir Peter Rawlinson in his efforts to get Britain off the hook at the European Court at Strasbourg where allegations of British torture were due to be heard. Unfortunately for Sir Peter, the court was to find, on 30 October, that many of the charges were admissible and that consequently Britain would have to answer them at a future court.
(When internment was introduced in 1971 Britain had to derogate from Article 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights. She did not, however, derogate from Article 6 of the European Declaration of Human Rights and the Special Courts and Detention of Terrorists Act are a flagrant violation of her international obligations).
As the security situation showed little sign of improvement, despite the arrest of more and more Provos — indeed the Guardian pointed out that the army had arrested more men claimed to be Provo officers than they had claimed to be in the entire IRA — the UDA flexed its muscles and declared a 24-hour war on the British army — which lasted 24 hours. William Craig gave his 'shoot to kill' speech to the Monday Club — and 'gravel in the kidneys' became a new journalistic euphemism for 'drunk'. Many people were interned for saying less than Craig or John Taylor. The UDA claimed several bombing raids into the Twenty-six Counties, and denied any responsibility, despite army finds of explosives on their premises, for bomb attacks in the North. Meanwhile in the South seven Provos escaped by tunnelling out of the Curragh camp on 29 October and Desmond O'Malley, Minister for Justice, announced that he would be drawing up a Bill to outlaw Sinn Fein. The Bill, which O'Malley described as "rather controversial," was designed to force suspects to prove their innocence rather than requiring the courts to prove a suspect's guilt. The new Act, known as the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1972, completely transgressed normal legal practice and stated that henceforth "any statement made orally, in writing, or otherwise (semaphore signalling IRA members?) or any conduct by an accused person implying or leading to a reasonable inference that he was at a material time a member of an illegal organisation shall, in proceedings under section 21 of the Act of 1939, be evidence that he was then such a member." Moreover, failure to deny a report that stated that one was a member of an illegal organisation was, under the new Amendment, to be taken as admission of the report's accuracy — even though the person might not have seen the report. Worse still, one of the 25 chief superintendents of the Garda Siochana had, in future, only to state that he believed a man to be in the IRA for that to be accepted as 'evidence' by the courts. Meetings, peaceful pickets or demonstrations outside courthouses or judges' homes were also banned.
It looked as if the Bill would be defeated when Fine Gael, albeit reluctantly, agreed with Labour and four Independent TDs to oppose the Bill. Debate was repeatedly extended but it still looked as if the Government were going to be defeated until the news reached the Dail that two carbombs had exploded in Dublin that evening, killing two and injuring 114 people. No warning was given in Dublin although the Belfast Newsletter was informed 15 minutes prior to the explosions. As yet, the identity of those responsible is unknown, but clearly it was not the IRA since this deus ex machina enabled Fine Gael to abstain and so allow O'Malley's Bill to be passed. Had the Bill been defeated Lynch had announced his intention of holding a general election, and with the prospect of losing possibly as many as 12 seats Fine Gael had probably as vested an interest as Fianna Fail in seeing the Bill passed. Next day it went to the Senate. Fine Gael were soon to win the general election — but only when in coalition with Labour.
5 February saw the first 'Loyalists' 'detained' — Sammy McCreary and William Halsall. A general strike in protest over this on 7 February brought Belfast to a standstill and led to widespread arson and the murder of a fireman. Within two months 22 'Loyalists', including John McKeague, were behind the wire of Long Kesh. It was ironic to see men who, 20 months previously, had marched on the Belfast City Hall demanding the introduction of internment now themselves behind bars without charge or trial.
Conditions in the camp didn't improve either and Under-Secretary Peter Mills revealed in February that more money was spent on food for the guard dogs in Leicester jail than on the internees in Long Kesh — £2.50 per week as opposed to £2.20. Perhaps it was the poor food that spurred William James Kelly into escaping. At any rate on 11 March, in a dense fog, he cut his way through the wire to become only the second man to escape from the camp.
By April £l½ million had been spent on the 65 acres of Long Kesh/Maze. A further 15 acres were about to be utilised, and while the anguished British press, public and parliament worried about the unfortunate Peter Niesewand being badly treated by the evil Smith régime, 338 people, including four women, were being detained without charge or trial, 234 of them had been lifted since November 1972 and 46 per cent of them were under 22. 23 of them were only 17 years old. Plus ça change....
Brigadier Kitson, Britain's up-and-coming 'strategist' has said that "the law should be used as just another weapon in the Government's arsenal". He went on to admit that in this case it became "little more than a propaganda cover for the disposal of unwanted members of the public". This is now the case in Ireland, both North and South. Internment has not ended. All that has happened is that "the names have been changed in order to protect the guilty".
CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.
Last modified :