the current focus on the continued activities of paramilitaries
in Northern Ireland, I recently had a very personal
experience of the extent to which the British police
remain unaffected by the peace process when dealing
with Irish people travelling to the UK.
days after discovering that my father, who is 75,
had been diagnosed as suffering from cancer, I boarded
a flight from Dublin to Manchester in order to visit
I arrived at Manchester Airport I was stopped by two
special branch officers at the police control desk
reserved for visitors from the Republic of Ireland
and asked for identification. I handed over my passport
and explained the reason for my visit. The police
then asked me to fill in a landing card, while one
officer walked off with my passport.
have never had a criminal record and have never previously
been arrested. Nor do I belong to any political organisation.
minutes later the officer returned. When I asked the
reason why I had been stopped he became aggressive
and confrontational and refused to show any identification
or provide his warrant number, as he is legally obliged
to do, informing me You are not entitled to
hour after being stopped I was allowed to go.
following day, having spoken to the Police Complaints
Authority, I went to the nearest police station in
Manchester as instructed and lodged an official complaint,
focussing on the officers refusal to provide
identification. I was told that this would be forwarded
to the senior police officer at the airport in accordance
with standard procedures.
days later I arrived back at the airport for my return
journey to Dublin, after spending the intervening
period with my family. Having cleared all the security
checks I was browsing in a bookshop in the departures
lounge, when I was approached by the same officer
who had detained me on my inward journey.
was then frogmarched by four plainclothes police out
of the terminal, placed in a van and taken to the
police compound, before being shown into an interview
room in the presence of two special branch officers,
including the one against whom I had lodged a complaint.
first thing they did was to show me their warrant
numbers before I had even asked for them. This had
been the focus of my complaint. It was clear to me
that my complaint had indeed been forwarded to the
airport police and my arrest was their response.
police informed me that I was being held under the
Terrorism Act. I was then thoroughly body-searched,
as was my luggage. My mobile phone was taken away
and had been tampered with when it was returned. Various
documents were placed in front of me, which I was
asked to sign. I refused to do so. The police then
took away my credit cards, the only items in my possession
containing my signature.
the next two hours I was interrogated about my life
since the age of eleven. This covered schools and
universities attended, jobs, names of employers, accommodation
addresses, as well as details of my family, friends
and associates, in what was clearly a profile-building
exercise. When I declined to discuss my family and
friends my address book was taken away.
was asked where I drank, did I belong to a church,
what hobbies I had, what I wrote about as a journalist.
I was even asked at which hospital my father was being
enquired if the police had intended to detain me when
I arrived at the airport four days previously and
was told they had not. It was therefore clear that
I was not under any suspicion of involvement in terrorism,
since it would have been logical to detain me at the
point of entry to the UK, rather than when I was leaving
the country. The nature of the questions put to me
also indicated that they didnt really know anything
about me; hardly what one would expect in relation
to an alleged terrorist suspect.
to my fathers illness I had spent the entire
time in Manchester in the company of my family, apart
from visiting the police station to register a complaint
against the officer who was now left silently alone
with me in the interview room on numerous occasions
for several minutes each time.
being released without charge I was escorted back
to the terminal and put on a flight to Dublin.
have now referred this matter to the Irish Government
and have lodged a further complaint with the Chief
Constable of the Greater Manchester Police. I have
also sought legal advice from Gareth Peirce, the solicitor
who represented the Birmingham Six.
political debate about the future of Northern Ireland
remains firmly focussed on the need to end paramilitarism
once and for all, as a necessary part of the process
of creating an entirely peaceful and normalised society.
Yet six years after the signing of the Good Friday
Agreement, my experience suggests that the peace process
has made little difference to the way in which Irish
people travelling to the United Kingdom are viewed
and treated by the British police.
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