Not many years back, much ado was
made of the strip searches women prisoners were forced
to undergo in Maghaberry prison. For long enough such
searches while the norm in men's jails were not a
feature of life in womens prisons. But when
'contraband' made its way back from court in the 1980s
supposedly in the possession of young women facing
non-political charges a policy of strip searching
quickly ensued. Any woman leaving the prison for whatever
reason, most likely hospital appointments or court
appearances, was forced to undergo the practice. It
came then as a surprise to me when a mother of five
claimed she had been told she would need to submit
to a strip search in a bar in Strabane. A worse shock
was to follow those who allegedly told her
were former Provisional prisoners.
seemed in such bad taste. I knew there had been summersaults
galore but at least they could be rationalised by
those making them in terms of politics. What justification
could be put forward for abusing women in the manner
of Maghaberry screws?
Black has lived in the same Strabane house for twenty
years. She is not just some 'blow in' new to the area
who might easily arouse the suspicion of her neighbours
for some perceived misdemeanour or other. When I met
her in the company of her nephew Aaron McGarrigle
in her hometown earlier this week, she struck me as
an outgoing and confident woman, easy to confabulate
with, and was certainly someone who was not about
to be pushed around. There was little need for niceties
and I immediately opened our conversation with the
question so what did they do to you?
detailed how her experience began when she was accosted
by former Provisional prisoners who serve as doormen
in one of the towns bars. They are a family
and like to push their weight around a bit.
She claimed they told her she was in possession of
drugs and would need to undergo a strip search. She
denied having any drugs but refused to be searched
on the grounds that no man had any right to put his
hands on her person. At this point two women were
sent for and she was left in a room with them while
the males left. Daphne then acceded to their request
that she undergo a partial strip search whereby only
some items of her clothing would be removed. After
being searched thoroughly no drugs were
found. She was then handed a form and told it was
documentation that she was required to sign showing
that she had consented to be searched. But I
had already been searched by the time they gave me
it. I wasnt asked for my consent. So I didn't
sign it and took it with me. According to her
account the former Provisional prisoners told her
that they were required by the PSNI to search so many
customers and then pass the forms on to them. Daphne
later showed her form to the PSNI, who said they knew
nothing about it and had no such arrangement with
bouncers in the town.
asked her if she 'did drugs' but she rejected this.
As is so often the case in these situations the dispute
was not without a history. Her nephew Aaron had previously
been friendly with a family that had once put manners
on the same bouncers. The latter harboured resentment
as a result. Aaron stated that on the night in question
he and one of his friends sat in a car parked outside
the pub. Quite often they - sometimes he would be
accompanied by his partner - would get a takeaway
from a local hot food outlet and sit watching the
fights outside the bar. A strange way to get
entertainment, I suggested, but an IRSP member
later told me that it was not out of character for
the town as the bar being talked about was the scene
of frequent brawls. It did draw a 'ringside audience'
of sorts. While Aaron sat in the car the former Provisional
prisoners who were working as bouncers approached him
and told him to move off. It was after this that the
search was made on Daphne. The bouncers tried to link
her presence in the bar with the car outside and alleged
that Aaron was holding drugs for her to sell on the
premises. Aaron, however, claimed that that he sat
outside the bar regularly with his takeaway but had
never been bothered until that one incident with men
who had a prior reason to dislike him because of his
links to the family they had ran up against. They
saw a chance to hassle somebody they felt had challenged
them and they went for it.
days later while Daphne was out her house was attacked
and ransacked. Her television set was hurled through
her living room window and onto the street. When she
returned home it was clear that all her rooms had
been searched. One eyewitness that I spoke to claimed
to have seen masked men with combat jackets leave
the house. One was carrying a shotgun. Neighbours
also gave Daphne a similar version. Daphne subsequently
went to both the Provisional IRA and the INLA to inquire
about the attack. Neither organisation admitted to
involvement. She then went to the Community Restorative
Justice in Derry and spoke with one of its leading
lights who told her he would do his best to establish
the details. Three days later he contacted her to
say he had made no progress.
she had hit a brick wall and had drawn only a blank
she asked the IRSP to make representations on her
behalf. The party approached the Provisionals and
was told that they had indeed attacked Daphnes
home because she sold 1000 Ecstasy tablets a week.
The IRSP insisted this was nonsense arguing that it
was impossible for that type of activity to go on in
the town without it being noticed before now. The
IRSP itself had been in conflict with Daphne's family
in the past over some minor issue and would have been
aware of the slightest hint of any drug related activity.
'People would need to call to the house to collect.
There is simply no way to sell drugs on that scale
and cover your tracks in a town like Strabane.' Daphne
herself claims that, 'neither Sinn Fein nor the IRA
have ever confronted me and told me that I was a drug
person I spoke to who has a good working knowledge
of Strabane subculture and its characters said that
the bouncers involved have a history of falling
out with people and then labelling them as drug dealers.
the PSNI hassled Daphne and alleged that her son was
responsible for the attacks on her home. Eventually
the force conceded to her that it was in fact the
work of a masked gang. As a result she feels let down
by the police in Strabane and intends to pursue the
matter with Nuala OLoan the police ombudsman.
Known IRA members were outside the front door
days after the attack and were pointing at it aggressively.
Yet the police treated us as if we were responsible.'
asked Daphne and Aaron if they had any fears.
Both responded that they wanted the matter cleared
up and wanted to live without threats hanging over
them. Aaron has five children and fears for their
safety if his house is attacked. They claim that the
people involved are thugs and bullies using the cover
of the IRA for their own ends.
the account of events as provided by Daphne Black
and Aaron McGarrigle is correct, it points to a growing
trend in poorer nationalist communities of the Provisional
movement being used by some of its members to solve,
in their own favour, disputes that they have become
embroiled in. The sole politics are those of imposing
power through the flexing of muscle in local communities.
The result is that those most powerless find themselves
squeezed between a repressive local militia and an
indifferent police force. For now Sinn Fein allows
the militia its head rather than permit it to realise
just yet that it is ultimately destined for the scrapheap.
The victims in this case feel that rather than pretend
that such activities do not go on the Sinn Fein leadership
should be confronting those within its ranks who engage
this fails to happen then the verdict of the writer
Davy Adams is going to prove conclusive when final
submissions are being taken on how the conflict concluded.
it any wonder, 10 years after they declared ceasefires,
that impressionable young men are still lining up
to join their ranks? Where else would so many no-hopers
get the chance to exercise such enormous, untrammelled
power over neighbours? And where else could they
hope to find such totally defenceless targets? For
it is almost exclusively within host communities
that paramilitaries now seek out their enemies.
Long gone are the days when they attacked one another.
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