I would like to say what an honor it is to have been
asked by Colm Mitchell to speak at todays event.
I know that Colm has received a certain amount of
flak for his choice of speaker, but in the brief time
I have known Colm he has distinguished himself as
an outstandingly principled young man who is prepared
to suffer hardship for his beliefs; a very admirable
quality in any man, but particularly in one so young.
we are all aware, Colm is now nearing his 24th hour
without food, in a gesture of solidarity with Irish
Republican POWs being held in Britain and Ireland.
His fast today is also being staged by a group of
young republican scouts outside the GPO in Dublin,
and also by a supporter in Boston.
Colms flier here indicates, there are currently
over 100 Irish Republican Political Prisoners being
held in British and Irish jails. Colms efforts
today will go toward directly assisting approximately
one dozen of these prisoners, who are being supported
by an organization in Ireland called Cabhair. There
are many, many other republican prisoners also needing
support for their families as well, and I ask you
to please see the fliers on the table for more information
on how you can assist these families through the Irish
Freedom Committees Direct Support Program.
has asked me to say a few words about the conditions
for the POWs. However before we can address those,
we must address the very fact of their imprisonment,
and current status.
years ago, in April 1998, a treaty was signed by the
Irish and British governments under the auspices of
Peace. This British-engineered document,
disingenuously entitled the Good Friday Agreement,
had little to do with the word peace as
we know it, but more to do with pieces
of Ireland stolen under the Union Jack.
like another British Treaty, the one of 1922 that
illegally divided the country, this one was presented
to the people of Ireland under threat of immediate
and terrible war. Under Lloyd Georges
threat, blood would indeed be spilt as the might of
the British Army stood by primed to implement its
threat. However in 1998, the threat was even more
insidious, as it was clearly implied and reinforced
that if you were for the Treaty you were for Peace,
and if you opposed it, surely you must be for war.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Irish republicans want peace but peace at what
many, many censored republican voices at the time
correctly pointed out, this Treaty was a tissue of
lies built on lies; a British document designed only
to re-enforce British rule in Ireland and to co-opt
resistance. Its result has been a strengthened illegal
border, re-stabilized British military rule, a renewed
Loyalist veto against any forward motion, and a reinforced
British economic, military and political foothold
in all of Ireland. Ireland has never been further
away from being a sovereign, united nation.
those who have continued to resist British rule, and
who have continued to expose the failure of the 1998
Treaty, the price has been high.
the lowest deed perpetrated under the terms of the
1998 Treaty was the revoking of Political Status to
Republican prisoners. Nothing so duplicitous could
be imagined, coming under the endorsement of former
republican prisoners themselves, Gerry Adams and Martin
McGuinness. These new British ministers had no right
to revoke these terms, which were won by a blood sacrifice
of ten men at Long Kesh Gaol in 1981. These terms
of Political Status were won by ten mens deaths
on hunger strike, for all republican prisoners, and
were not negotiable for British sterling of any amount.
Former republicans who signed this Stormont Treaty
and agreed to these terms have no right to commemorate
the deaths of these ten men, to see them do so is
a hypocrisy of the highest order.
April 1998, with the signing of the Treaty, no republican
prisoner has been granted Political Status. While
these men and women are arrested and detained under
Special Laws, charged under Special Legislation, and
sentenced in Special, juryless courts; they are now
denied their rightfully entitled Special Category
Political Status, and are being classed by the state
and the newly co-opted Treaty lackeys as criminals.
The clock has been wound back thirty years, and it
is former republican comrades who have turned back
Status has been revoked many times before, in failed
attempts by the State to destroy morale inside the
prisons, and outside in the wider republican movement.
In each instance the challenge was met with resistance
from the republican POWs. In the late 1970s
Special Category Status was revoked by the British,
and Republican prisoners embarked on a series of massive
protests that began with refusal to wear a uniform,
and ended with the tragedy of the hunger strikes.
Earlier in the 1970s there were countless jail
protests for human rights and for political status,
including the six-month force-feedings of Marian and
Dolours Price during their long hunger strike for
their right to be repatriated to Ireland, and the
tragic deaths of Michael Gaughan by force-feeding,
and Frank Stagg after repeated hunger strike, in British
prisons. There were hunger strikes in response to
the Dublin prison regime in the early 1970s
at Portlaoise Prison by Sean and Ruairi O Bradaigh.
There were a long series of hunger strikes for political
status in the 1940sseveral of which Frank
O Neill participated in. Throughout every phase of
the current struggle, there has been resistance by
the republican prisoners whenever basic human rights
and Political Status have been revoked to them.
ever, the British government has never learned nor
comprehended the profound sense of justice of the
Irish people nor their deep resolves of strength to
rectify a grave wrong.
brings us back to today.
the right to Political Status was signed away by British
ministers at Stormont, things have grown progressively
worse for the growing numbers of Irish republican
POWs and their families.
particular, republican prisoners at Maghaberry Gaol
in County Antrim have suffered greatly at the expense
of this new Stormont regime.
July of last year, a prolonged dirty protest was begun
at Maghaberry prison in response to gravely inhumane
and life-threatening conditions. Republican prisoners
at Maghaberry were being held scattered alone in the
prison on the same landings-- and in one instance
in the same cell-- as loyalist death squad members.
Several republican prisoners had been brutally attacked
in this atmosphere; several times with scalding water,
and in two brutal incidents with electric irons. In
one occurrence a republican prisoner was beaten within
an inch of his life by loyalist prisoners who invaded
his cell and left him near death with massive head
injuries and broken bones. He later received 17 metal
staples to his head and 14 stitches to his face. Prison
guards, overtly sympathetic to the loyalist agenda,
merely looked the other way as these attacks were
staged. Loyalist paramilitaries like Johnny Adair
and Andre Shoukri came into the jail bearing death
sentences for any taig they encountered
in the jail. Handguns and live bullets were found
on a number of occasions in loyalist quarters. In
one instance cell doors were left unlocked at night
in a severe breech of security, with loyalist prisoners
roaming the landings outside a republican prisoners
cell, taunting and threatening him until daylight.
attempts were made to negotiate with the prison governor
and members of the Northern Ireland Office, for the
safety of the republican prisoners. In every case,
appeals for action fell on deaf ears. It seemed the
prison was intent on securing the violent death of
any of the republican prisoners. The men inside were
pushed to the brink. Tireless prisoners welfare
workers and family members on the outside held vigils
and white-line protests, all the while being virtually
ignored by the mainstream press and the new ministers
at Stormont. The prisoners then took matters into
their own hands.
of us can imagine the incalculable suffering that
forces a man or woman to dirty protest. For several
months last summer, republican prisoners at Maghaberry
endured unimaginable conditions under dirty protest,
as much of the world turned a blind eye. Separated
from one another and held alongside loyalist gangs,
the republican prisoners resisted the prison regime
alone in their cells, and met with the full wrath
of the prisons service. Several prisoners were brutally
attacked in their bunks by guards. High power fire
hoses with freezing water were pointed into their
cells, with all of the prisoners belongings
becoming soaked in water and excrement. Phone calls,
mail and all family contact was denied for weeks on
outright censorship by most of the mainstream press
to both the conditions and protests inside the jails,
the support networks on the outside worked tirelessly
to expose the horrific events unfolding inside Maghaberry.
For their efforts, republican activists and spokespersons
in Ireland were threatened and continuously harassed
by security forces, military intelligence, and most
sickening of all, former republicans attached to the
three months on dirty protest, the republican prisoners
at Maghaberry finally had their grievances addressed
by an outside safety review, which met with dozens
of prisoners and their welfare representatives on
the outside in their investigations. The Steele Review
recommended the immediate separation of the republican
prisoners from loyalist death gangs, to the satisfaction
of all. Within weeks the prisoners were moved to temporary
separated housing, and in February were moved en masse
into one house at Maghaberry.
that is where the good news ends.
winning separation, an endless and bitter campaign
of retribution has been waged by angered prison guards
against the republican prisoners and their family.
The republican prisoners have won their right to separation
from loyalist death squads at the prison, under duress
by outside pressure, but they have lost every single
other basic right in the process.
being separated, the republican prisoners at Maghaberry
are held under almost total lockdown for 22 and 23
hours a day. They are allowed out of cells only two
men at a time, and are restricted to cell leave based
on the whim of prison staff. Their right to free association,
a vital right, has been totally and utterly stripped
are denied Education and Workshop provisions, in contravention
to their basic rights. In fact they are denied facilities
of any sort; even tables or chairs.
are forced to take exercise alongside loyalists, separated
by short wire mesh barrier and are made to endure
severe sectarian abuse at exercise.
are frequently denied hot showers. One prisoners
wife told us recently that after her husband returned
from his one hour release from his cell, which he
had spent exercising, he was refused a hot shower
on the grounds that there was not enough security
to permit it. He was told to go back to his cell,
cold and covered in sweat. Instead he filled the large
common area cold-water steel sink, used to clean pots
in, and bathed himself there. As a result he was faced
with disciplinary measures of up to a week on the
punishment boards, where he would have only a mattress
in a solitary cell.
are offered filthy, unsanitary washroom facilities.
Recently the republican prisoners were threatened
with the denial of their right to housekeeping their
own landings when it was proposed that criminal prisoners
possibly loyalists from another house would
be sent in to clean their living areas.
are subjected to frequent, unnecessary, and wholly
degrading strip searches. Their cells are subject
to ransacking at any time, and were recently wrecked
by search teams with dogs purely to harass and intimidate
and destroy their few personal possessions.
are under 24-hour surveillance with CAMP X-RAY
style microphones and cameras in all parts of
for the families on visits, things are no better.
The prison administration is actively practicing a
two-pronged campaign of harassment and demoralization
against both the prisoners and their visiting family
members. By criminalizing the families as well as
the republican prisoners, the prison regime has hoped
to lessen morale for both. It has not worked, on either
must travel great distances to all of the prisons,
but families traveling to Maghaberry must also travel
directly through hostile loyalist neighborhoods. Local
shops fly union jacks and carry loyalist memorabilia.
Once at the prison the families, including small children,
are forced to pass a dogs gauntlet, with large sniffer
dogs passing close to the family members allegedly
to sniff for drugs. These animals are quite large
and the experience can be very intimidating. The dogs
are held on short leads and when tugged, the dogs
sit down. If this happens to a visitor, it is alleged
that she or he is carrying drugs and is forced to
lose the visit, along with anyone they came with.
This practice of refusing visits based on allegations
of drugs has been consistently used against republican
families, who are notoriously anti-drugs; as the prison
guards would know full well. However a visit was recently
refused on these grounds to an elderly and infirm
woman who traveled over 200 miles to visit her son,
and cannot walk without a cane. This life-long republican
woman was refused her visit and expelled from the
prison visiting area in full view of her son, who
was extremely upset to see his elderly mother being
manhandled by prison guards with dogs. Another group
of male republican visitors from Derry have not once
been allowed in on a visit to their brother, as every
time they go in the dogs sit down at heir feet and
their visit is refused.
the republican prisoners and their families are being
pushed to the brink of endurance by the prison staff
at Maghaberry goal. Knowing the caliber and strength
of the men inside, we fear the worst, should things
continue at this rate. Several of the young men have
already made it clear they will not hesitate to undertake
hunger strike should conditions not improve soon.
The prospect does not bear contemplating.
Portlaoise Prison in the Free State, just 45 minutes
from Dublin, things are also abysmally bad for republican
Portlaoise there is no in-cell sanitation, and republican
prisoners are forced to use a small plastic bucket
for sanitation which they must slop out
every morning. This is a disgrace in a land dubbed
the Celtic Tiger , where no major news
media have covered this medieval situation.
prisoners at Portlaoise, like republican prisoners
at all of the other Irish and British jails where
they are interned, have been routinely and cruelly
denied emergency family leave to visit sick and dying
loved ones-- often until the death certificate is
in the hands of the prison administration. This was
the case with one republican prisoner at Portlaoise
Danny McAlister on 2 separate occasions
involving 2 immediate family members. Recently another
prisoner, Michael McKevitt, was denied normal terms
of compassionate leave to attend his mothers
funeral, and was forced on principle to boycott the
are numerous instances of severe medical neglect at
Portlaoise Prison. Less than 3 years ago, a republican
prisoner Kevin Murray suffered a painful and lingering
death due to blatant medical neglect at Portlaoise.
As a brain tumor in his head steadily grew to enormous
size, first fatiguing him and then eventually blinding
him, prison doctors prescribed him anti-depressants.
After prolonged campaigns on the outside by family
and supporters, he was finally released to die. His
family have still not been compensated in any way
for their enormous loss at the hands of outright State
years ago it emerged that secret asbestos removals
were ongoing under cover of darkness at Portlaoise
Prison. For many months prior, many of the republican
prisoners, housed in the older buildings where the
asbestos was being removed, were complaining of headaches,
fatigue, and a variety of other health complaints.
It is still not known the health of the men has been
affected by this secret asbestos removal.
at Portlaoise, a republican prisoner Mick Hegarty
is forced to feed himself in appallingly unsanitary
conditions using a tube in his cell for eighteen hours
per day. He must attach a bag to a tube implanted
in his stomach and administer his feed this way, cleaning
his equipment and tubes in a bucket in his cell. He
has lost an enormous amount of weight over the past
year and should be immediately released to recover
at home. This man, now 51 years old, is extremely
ill and does not belong in prison at all.
in Britain, where seven men are being held on political
charges under outrageous sentences averaging 25 years
apiece, things are no better. Three of the prisoners,
Noel Maguire and brothers Robert and Aidan Hulme,
are appealing sentence on the grounds that they are
totally innocent men. They are each serving over twenty
years, and all are under 25 years of age. Three others,
Michael McDonald, Fintan O Farrell, and Declan Rafferty
serving 30 years apiece- are seeking appeals
in their draconian sentences based on flimsy evidence
and an MI5 sting operation. Until their appeals are
heard, none of these men are eligible for repatriation
or transfer to an Irish jail. So until that time their
families are forced to make very long, and very expensive,
journeys to visit them.
Irish republican prisoner at Full Sutton jail in England,
James McCormack, applied two years ago for Repatriation
back to Ireland to be with his wife and their large
family of six children who are all under the age of
15. His youngest child was born while he was in prison,
and he has only seen her once. The Dublin Freak
State Government has stalled on every turn on
his Repatriation, and even the British government
has acted faster in the recent transfer of his co-accused
John Paul Hannan to Maghaberry in the Occupied North.
neglect has reached new heights of barbarity in the
case of Aidan Hulme, who is currently appealing sentence.
Since being imprisoned at Belmarsh in Britain, he
has been threatened with the amputation of his leg
by prison doctors, after they had prolonged medical
care to a motorcycle injury sustained shortly before
he was imprisoned. After an extensive human rights
campaign by prisoners welfare spokespersons
in Ireland and by the Irish Freedom Committee in the
US, Aidan was finally promised medical care. However,
not without strings attached. In a grotesque act of
contempt, the British government forced the Hulme
Family to provide 4 thousand pounds sterling as security
for his transfer to and from the hospital. Emergency
support to the family poured in from the US and from
supporters in Ireland and Britain to guarantee his
place on the surgery table would not be lost. However
in the process this act of blatant State extortion
was widely publicized, and in the resultant embarrassment,
the British government was shamed into returning the
monies to the family.
summary, there is no low to which the British, and
Irish, governments will not go when it comes to Irish
Republican political prisoners.
gesture of 24-hour fast made today by young Colm Mitchell
is a reminder to is all of Bobby Sands words:
Republican or otherwise has their own particular part
to play. No part is too great or too small, no one
is too old or too young to do something."
here today in this room must be the vanguard of truth
in our communities regarding the ongoing crisis for
Irish Republican POWs. Please make sure that the daily
struggles for these men and their families, are not
you, and especially I want to thank Colm Mitchell
for the opportunity to speak here today.
Colm on your noble gesture on behalf of Irish republican
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