Article on Internment by Hugh Radcliffe (1972) taken from 'The Twelfth'
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The following extract has been contributed by permission of the author Hugh Radcliffe. The views expressed in this book do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.
Originally published by the County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast, 1972
This article is copyright Hugh Radcliffe and is included
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by Hugh Radcliffe
Within the context of Northern Ireland affairs, this term has been removed from the accepted meaning of the word itself. The dictionary defines it as meaning — oblige to live within restricted limits — and however one feels about the meaning, there is, certainly, no doubt in the minds of most people that it is — justified — outrageous — unlawful — perfectly legal — depending, one must suppose, not upon the moral scruples of the individual, but rather, upon which side of the political fence one walks.
The word itself and its meaningful operation is not, uniquely Northern Ireland in application, rather, it is within the instrument of statute in most of the world’s countries and fairly used, has been the means of averting the downfall of lawful and just government in many forward looking countries. At the same time, it can be an instrument of oppression, if unfairly used to prevent the expression of a political philosophy, with which the government of the nation is not in agreement.
Internment, as used by the Government of NI., has never been imposed as an instrument of oppression, but always, in extreme circumstances, to protect the just from the unjust, the outraged from the outrageous and the honest man from the lawbreaker. Despite contentions to the contrary, it has always been used with conscience and due regard to the bodily comfort of those persons, whose continued liberty was a menace to the legal and democratically elected government and the safety of the citizens. The only thing that is taken from any internee here is his liberty and that happens, only when it is apprehended by the authorities responsible for law and order, that such liberty was being misused and threatened damage to life and property. There cannot be any doubt, that all the conditions for internment, were present in full and overflowing measure on August 9th, 1971 and that they have continued to be present until the present time.
Even the British Government. with its much-vaunted lip service to the liberty of the subject’ has imposed internment when the occasion demanded. During the periods the two World Wars, they interned many people on the grounds, that by being at liberty, they were helping the enemy or hindering the war effort. Let no one say; ‘Oh, but that was in war-time.’ British Cabinet Ministers are on record, as saying this, in reference to the NI. present position; 'The situation is — we are at war with the I.R.A.’
Twice in the history of the NI. Government, Irish Republicans were interned at the behest or order of the British Government. One of these was in the Twenties, when the effects of the 1916 Easter Rising were still being felt by the British. The other was in the years of the second World War, when the same Irish republicans were regarded as enemies. So much for 'the liberty of the subject!’
In the turmoils that followed the partition of Ireland, both of the Regional Governments were forced to seek special powers, in order to protect the people from the warring I.R.A. In NI., the legislation was known as the Special Powers Act (NI.) and in the Irish Free State as the Offences against the State Act and both are still in force, because although the Irish Free State has long since disappeared in limbo, the Republic of Ireland, which superseded it, still holds fast to its own special powers.
In the North, the application of internment has blunted the efforts of the rebels and driven them to defeat after defeat, although he would be a foolish man who would pretend, that this defeat has been total and permanent. Not so; the forces of sedition and treason have again and again emerged, to slay and maim the loyal people of Ulster. They have always failed and they shall fail again.
In the South, it required an all-out civil war to end the violence of the warring factions and this time, they are united on the common ground of murder and destruction and even though they may now be able to claim a temporary advantage, they cannot win the ultimate battle.
There is one comparison between the operation of the special powers in the two regions that is well worth making. Although both states held the power of exacting the ultimate penalty of a death sentence, not one person has been so dealt with in Northern Ireland. The same cannot be said of the Republic, where no less than 67 persons have been hanged or shot for crimes against the state.
On at least one occasion, the executions amounted to revengeful murder by the governing authorities. That was, when Rory O’Connor and two others were executed, following the assassination of a Cabinet Minister, on a day and at a time, when the three men were already in prison on charges unrelated to the murder. This was not justice in any shape or form but as much a murder as was the assassination of the Minister.
In Ulster, the operation of internment has never been punitive or cruel, except where the internees have been punished by their own grim and bloody reflections of the innocent people they have killed in the name of Ireland, the country they have debased and defiled.
The use of internment in the circumstances now prevailing in NI. is a weapon against terrorism, that the British Government will discard, at its peril.
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