up early on a Sunday morning is nothing new. Nor is
there anything particularly daunting about it. In
jail I could never lie on late, and as most of my
time from the age of 16 to 35 was under lock and key
in one prison or another for IRA activity, early rising
became something of a lifetime habit. But having spent
the previous evening - which stretched into the early
hours - at a birthday bash for a member of the Socialist
Worker's Party, getting out of the pit, not remotely
refreshed by only a few hours kip, was something I
did not particularly relish. Had it not been for republican
prisoners in Maghaberry I would have slept on.
had previously promised Liam O Ruairc, the editor
of The Blanket's magazine but who also works
in the Republican Prisoners Action Group, that I would
take part in a demonstration at the prison. Leaving
it behind me on a cold December morning ten years
ago, wishing it was the last I would ever see of the
place - or others like it - I knew I would return;
not as a guest but as a visitor. And on many occasions
I have made the tiresome journey back there either
in buses or cars along with relatives, have undergone
the tedious security checks, and shared the same dingy
waiting rooms with other visitors in return for half
an hours time in the company of a friend while
the administration gazed down on us from its panoptical
chair. It was always the same, whether I visited Flash
McVeigh in Crumlin Road, Mick Hegarty in Portlaoise,
Scotchy Kearney in Long Kesh or Carol Cullen in Maghaberry.
Leaving them, I knew what they were going back into
- I was just glad to be going home.
a decade later to Maghaberry to protest on behalf
of those republicans held within its walls I mused
forlornly that here was another gain the
peace process had brought us - the right
of jailed republicans not to be political prisoners.
Ten republican volunteers dead, the time spent by
others on protest aggregating into thousands of years
- to achieve political status and all of it now gone.
And didnt Mr Blair, the top British securocrat,
rub it into us yesterday, spelling it out in terms
which were anything but ambivalent that all resistance
is criminal? And still not a criminal from the RUC
has served a day in any of those institutions for
torture. Their political status takes the form of
immunity from prosecution. How the state never loses
purpose when legitimising its own.
was a prison in which I served only three months,
the bulk of it 'working out' as part of the hoop of
officialdom that we had to jump through in order to
complete our sentences. I suppose in part it was the
administration's way of getting its own back on us
for all the disruptive activity we had engaged in
while under their keep. And as they contented themselves
with doing just that I and my comrades were busily
ensuring that each day we were on the 'work out' we
would break the law in some way or another, even if
it amounted to nothing other than continuing with
our well established H-Block practice of smoking a
the prison gates last Sunday, a group - estimated
by the Irish News to have comprised 70 people - had
gathered with flags and a car from which rebel music
blared. Marian Price and Roger Dillon from the Republican
Prisoners Action Group spoke, as did myself and John
Kelly the Sinn Fein MLA. Neither he nor I are at present
part of the group. Between the four of us there was
little that we disagreed on.
expressed the opinion that while I, as a former IRA
volunteer and one time political prisoner, was honoured
to be there, I also felt a sense of disappointment.
This was borne out of our failure to have satisfactorily
resolved the prison issue for all time and that forced
integration remained the policy of the British state.
Other prisoners were now compelled to pick up the
baton that somewhere along the way had been dropped.
I also stressed that I was not prepared to differentiate
between republican prisoners. What organisations or
parties they belonged to was irrelevant to me. I was
there as much for Denis Donaldson as I was for Ciaran
McLaughlin, both men whom I happen to know.
there as the drizzle started to assail us, as it had
so many others over the decades, it was hard to avoid
concluding that republicanism has been bled dry by
the peace process. The British state has surgically
inserted a strategic scalpel into its midst and scraped
away any vestige of radicalism. And with equal dexterity
it has reshaped republicanism so that it now appears
indistinguishable from the constitutional nationalism
republicans so long reviled. It has fashioned our
leaders in its own image and has reduced them to pleading
to be allowed to administer British rule rather than
it being administered directly from London.
of us appalled both at the manner in which our anti-partitionist
struggle collapsed and the glee with which our leaders
jumped into the bosom of the establishment may not
be able to do a lot about it. But we can ensure that
republican prisoners are not, like republicanism,
consigned to the scrap heap and dismissed by the British
as mere criminals. Volunteers died to smash the logic
expressed by Tony Blair yesterday. Those of us who
were in prison alongside them would truly deserve
the tag criminal if we remained mute while
he dances on their graves.
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