Irish Republican P.O.W. Campaign Britain (n.d; 1983?)
[Key_Events] Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]
The views expressed in this publication 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.
The CAIN Project has been unable to contact the copyright holder of this item. If anyone has any information on who currently holds the copyright, please contact the CAIN Director (firstname.lastname@example.org)
There are at present 41 Republicans incarcerated in British gaols as a result of their activities in support of the Irish struggle for freedom and justice. In addition, there are a further 13 innocent people serving very long sentences after a series of frame-up trials designed to placate public opinion and give the impression that the British state is winning it’s war against the Irish people. Neither category of prisoner has received a fair or independant trial but is in fact being held as political hostages for the good behaviour of the Irish people in Britain.
Every one of these prisoners, whether captured soldiers of the I.R.A. or innocent victims of a revenge hungry state, is in gaol as a result of the war which exists between Britain and Ireland and there isn’t one of them who would have seen the inside of a prison cell but for this war. They are in reality, despite what the pro-British propagandists claim, political prisoners of war.
Of course, the British government denies that there are political prisoners in their gaols because this is a vital part of their strategy to criminalise their opponents and legitimise their role in the Irish war. However, these men and women were arrested under special political rules, tried under special security conditions, given exceptionally long sentences served under special category A classification and have been refused by the Home Office the right, afforded to criminals, to serve their sentences in prisons near their families. All these factors infer that these men and women are not ordinary prisoners but special cases and this committee has set itself the task to campaign to gain these prisoners this recognition.
In the following chapters we will be explaining more fully the special repression suffered by Irish political prisoners and the way that the British state, using the Prevention of Terrorism Act, sets out to discourage and intimidate those people, both Irish and English, who oppose the war in Ireland, from actively campaigning against that war. We also highlight the plight of Patrick Hackett who, due to his deteriorating physical condition we believe qualifies for immediate release from prison on medical grounds. Chapter 2 deals with the blatant miscarriage of justice experienced by 13 Irish and English men and women falsely imprisoned in the name of political expediency. This campaign will concern itself with 5 explicit demands, each individual demand being a reflection of Britain’s military occupation of the six North-Eastern counties of Ireland and the British state’s attempt to repress all opposition, both military and political, to that occupation.
As long as there is a British political and military presence in any part of Ireland, there will be Irish resistance and inevitably Irish political prisoners. The British have always sought to weaken the nationalist cause by attempting to criminalise it’s political prisoners. Republicans, on the other hand, have always resisted this criminalisation policy, suffering extreme hardships whilst in prison as a consequence. Naturally, while denying the status of prisoner of war to Irish political prisoners, England has always demanded such status for her captured forces.
Tom Clarke, the Fenian and 1916 signatory, who served 15½ years in various English prisons, testified to British byprocrisy when he wrote: "Here in England they go into hysterics over the horrors and brutalities of Siberia and ring the changes of humanity of the English prison system. The truth is that as far as a refined system of cruelty is concerned there is nothing on God’s earth to compare with the treatment which we Irish political prisoners have been receiving at the hands of the English government." From that time, more than one hundred years ago, until the present, Irish political prisoners have continued to suffer the fate of the Fenians, with added refinements. In an attempt to crush their resistance, and that of the Irish people, the British state has used this particular weapon of intimidation, the holding of Irish political prisoners as hostages, suffering the special treatment reserved for them in top security prisons in England.
Their position as hostages is demonstrated by the continuing refusal of the British government to allow them to serve their sentences near their families in N. Irish gaols. Despite the fact that Irish political prisoners in English gaols have consistently requested such transfers in accordance with prison rules, successive Home Secretaries have rejected these applications in a way which clearly shows that these prisoners are being discriminated against. The Home Office has stated that prisoners convicted for terrorism (defined in English law as the use of violence for political ends) would not be allowed to transfer to gaols in N. Ireland because such moves would "provoke public anxiety", that Irish political prisoners would be welcomed back to Ireland as heroes and this would diminish the deterrent value of the punishment. They also alleged that the return of these prisoners, now numbering less than fifty, to a prison system containing 2,500 political prisoners would substantially increase the proportion of such prisoners and exacerbate control problems. They claimed that a move to the H-Blocks would reduce the chances of a prisoner severing his links with paramilitary organisations and that they would also benefit from the higher remission allowed in N. Ireland.
They went on to state "If a prisoner has not been convicted of a terrorist offence, his family live in N. Ireland and he was domiciled there before the offence, it should be generally possible to arrange a transfer." However, . . . "where a prisoner has been convicted of a terrorist offence the balance is heavily weighted against a transfer." There it is spelt out! Criminals are entitled to such transfers but political prisoners are not. The best example of this discrimination is the treatment of members of the British armed forces when they are convicted of offences (many being offences of the gravest type, for which life sentences are imposed) in the North of Ireland. In these cases, they all have the option of returning to serve their sentences in Britain and it is their option, not the government’s. Of the 80 or so such prisoners involved, all but 5 have opted for such transfers and the five who stayed were all originally from the six counties in the first place and had families living there. The government was eventually forced to admit the political nature of this discrimination, necessary for the ‘safety’ of members of the British armed forces, whilst insisting that those who take part in the Freedom Struggle in England could not expect to be transferred but would be kept in England as hostages.
We feel that public anxiety would be relieved by the transfers which Irish prisoners have a right to under prison rules. If they were regarded as heroes they would be moving into a system in N. Ireland which is full of political prisoners, while in England they are a small and conspicuous minority. Britain has consistently argued abroad that the prison system in the north of Ireland is uniquely tailored to the custody of long term prisoners convicted of ‘terrorist’ offences and that there are ample prison places for them. The ‘special’ prison regime in England is much more likely to harden attitudes than the H-blocks. As for higher remission — this is of no conseqence as the vast majority of Irish political prisoners are serving life sentences and are not eligible for any remission in England or N. Ireland, but only a conditional release at the discretion of the Secretary of State.
It was also the case that until the discrimination was exposed Loyalist prisoners in England were frequently allowed temporary transfers to the North for accumulated family visits and some had been granted full transfers to gaols in the North of Ireland from Scotland.
As has previously been argued, the government’s attitude is contrary to it’s own prison rules which insist that special attention should be paid to the maintenance of a prisoner’s relationship with his family, who, after all, have not been convicted of any offence. The rules uphold a prisoner’s right to serve a sentence in a prison as near to his or her family as possible and that the prisoner be encouraged and assisted to promote this in the interests of his family, friends and rehabilitation.
Of course, with Irish prisoners even the visiting conditions are designed to reduce such contacts by means of humiliating and disgusting procedures such as the strip searching of prisoners and their visitors which add further barriers to these family relationships. This is on top of the long distances involved in travelling from Ireland to Britain at great expense for relatives who in some cases are aged, infirm or in the case of wives, accompanied by children. For all of these reasons, Irish political prisoners must have the right to demand transfers to prisons in Ireland where they can be near their families and we urge readers to support their demands.
RELEASE OF PRISONERS WRONGLY CONVICTED
Since 1972, the year that the I.R.A. brought the war in Ireland onto the streets of Britain, many Irishmen and Irishwomen have been tried and convicted for a variety of offences. While this committee does not claim that all Irish Prisoners of War are innocent of the charges against them, in fact the majority of P.O.W.'s have made no attempt to conceal their involvement in various acts of war against the British state, it is concerned that in a number of instances there is ample evidence to suggest that at least thirteen innocent people are still detained serving sentences ranging from 12 years to life. This Committee firmly believes that these unfortunate people are not de facto prisoners of war but hostages held by the British State as an example to the rest of the Irish population in Britain as to the consequences that befall anyone whether or not they are involved in the struggle against the military occupation of their homeland.
Most of the thirteen were arrested, charged and imprisoned during the mid-Seventies when public hysteria at I.R.A. activity was at it’s greatest. We contend that these people were framed to placate public outrage and are imprisoned as a result of political expediency.
It is not the intention to prove here the innocence of each and every one of the thirteen but to briefly outline the weakness of the evidence against them which becomes more discredited as time distances us from the highly charged atmosphere of that period. The media played it’s part in creating the kind of atmosphere in which it was possible to convict Irishmen and women on evidence that even at the time seemed suspect, evidence which included statements beaten from defendants, various circumstantial evidence which at best was of dubious quality, the use of witnesses whose testimony was unreliable and in the case on one expert witness, for the prosecution, has since been discredited.
The Irish Republican POW Campaign believes that the fate of the POW’s in England and Ireland must be included in any just settlement of the Irish question. On what terms is not part of the brief of this Committee. However, it is part of our brief to campaign for the release of those wrongly convicted of acts that they manifestly did not commit. The thirteen prisoners that are in this particular category were convicted at four separate trials and a brief summary of each group follows.
The Guildford Four
The Maguire Trial.
CONTROL UNITS AND SOLITARY CONFINEMENT
There are Irish political prisoners in English gaols as a result of England’s long history of suppressing the Irish. The attitude of the authorities towards these prisoners is a reflection of England’s 800 year old attempt to conquer and pacify Ireland. Irish political prisoners have always been singled out for special treatment because of what they represent, the struggle for freedom and justice.
In the past, the mental and physical destruction of the Fenian prisoners was a deliberate policy, many of them died in prison or were driven insane. Even the conservative periodical the Spectator condemned this policy as "barbaric". Public outcry over the treatment of the Fenians culminated in 200,000 people protesting in Hyde Park in 1869. The government responded by setting up the Devon Commission (1871) which allowed the state to explore ways of dealing with Irish political protest and legitimising oppression as a "lawful custom". One of the Fenian prisoners, Thomas Clarke, confined in Chatham gaol in the 1880’s, recorded that the Irish prisoners were known as "the Special men" and treated accordingly (Glimpses of an Irish Felon’s Life). Present day Irish political prisoners are also Special men and their treatment is well documented in the chapter on Repatriation.
While recognising there is a general apathy among the British people about the plight of the prisoners, the systematic denial of natural justice in prisons continues because the Home Office insists that all decisions are administrative and cannot be challenged in a court of law. Furthermore, many decisions are covered by the Official Secrets Act.
In the recent past there have been expressions of public concern about certain conditions in English gaols. For example, the infamous Control units caused a furore among penal reformers. On their release, the "guinea pigs" described the effects, which included hallucinations and loss of speech, of these special units. Following the subsequent publicity, the units were "officially" closed. However, they continue to be used for the sensory deprivation purpose for which they were built. The unit in Wakefield simply had it’s name changed to F wing and in Gartree the prison authorities claim the unit is simply a segregation unit. Irish political prisoners have been held in these units for up to three months at a time, becoming completely disorientated, suffering periods of dizziness and an inability to speak properly.
These sensory deprivation units and special units should not be confused with the segregation units which exist in every prison. Normally separate from the rest of the prison, prisoners suffer long terms of solitary confinement. Within the segregation units are cells known as strong boxes which are sound proof and featureless, and if the authorities consider solitary confinement insufficient to gratify their vengeance against political prisoners then sensory deprivation will be added to the torture of the prisoner.
Political prisoners suffer further vindictiveness by being placed on the E list, which means the prisoner is not allowed evening association and is locked up from 4.30 p.m. until morning, seven days a week.
Wherever he goes the E list prisoner is accompanied by at least two prison officers. Once on the list it is extremely difficult for Irish prisoners to get off it.
The main official weapon against Irish prisoners is the notorious Rule 43, known as GOD because it regers to ‘good order and discipline’. Under this rule the prisoner can be put in solitary confinement and never charged with any offence. The 28 day period of solitary is renewable indefinitely. Prison Rule 43 is a catch all regulation and because it is not considered a punishment there can be no appeal. If an Irish political prisoner in solitary is allowed exercise, he is either deliberately kept apart from other inmates or exercised with hostile prisoners. During this period of solitary the prisoner is sometimes transferred to increase his sense of isolation and to prevent his plight from becoming a focal point of resistance within the prison.
Irish political prisoners have been held under these conditions for up to, and in a few cases over two years at a time. It must be noted that officially there is no such thing as solitary. The Home Office is engaging in semantics when it denies the existence of extended solitary confinement and sensory deprivation. The Home Office calls this official barbarism ‘cellular confinement’ which they believe is enough to obscure the reality within the prison walls.
Despite the many ways in which the authorities attempt to isolate, demoralise and depoliticise Irish political prisoners in English gaols, the Irish prisoners will continue to resist and to assert their right to be treated with dignity. It is to be hoped that all those concerned amongst the public and the media will no longer allow themselves to be duped by the Home Office, for as in the past a victory for the Irish prisoners will benefit all prisoners.
RELEASE OF PATRICK HACKETT
In demanding the release of Patrick Hackett, on medical grounds, it is not the intention of this Committee to elevate Patrick above the rest of the Republican prisoners. In fact, Patrick is an unashamed Republican who has continued the Irish struggle for freedom and justice since his conviction in May 1976, even to the extent of spending two years on the blanket protesting at the prison authorities’ refusal to recognise him as a political prisoner.
What makes Patrick’s particular situation unique is that he was severely injured in a premature explosion whilst on active service in England, resulting in him losing an arm and a leg. Since his imprisonment, his physical condition has deteriorated due to the authorities’ refusal to allow him to receive proper medical attention. It would be fair to say that Patrick has suffered singular harassment at the hands of prison officials who have exploited his injuries in a vindictive attempt to try and undermine his determination and morale. That they have failed to do so is a testament to Patrick’s courage. The callousness of the prison regime in trying to exploit a prisoner’s disabilities in this manner will come as no surprise to those with a knowledge of the British penal system when applied to Irish POW’s. The sufferings of a previous generation of Irish political prisoners at the hands of their tormentors is mentioned in Chapter three. The special treatment meted out to the Irish political prisoners is brutal enough when applied to relatively healthy prisoners; isolation, control units, the constant moving between prisons and the assaults and insults of prison officers and some inmates are especially degrading in Patrick’s case. There are precedents for the release of Irish political prisoners on the grounds of ill health. Both Dolores and Marian Price, gaoled for their part in bombings carried out in England, were released on grounds of ill health as was Pauline McLaughlin, who was released from Armagh prison on similar grounds. There is no doubt among his friends and relatives that the special conditions under which Patrick is held, and the constant assaults and degradations which he has to face combined with the complete lack of any medical treatment is causing a serious deterioration in his physical condition which could prove permanent. If he is ever to overcome his severe disability then he must be given the full benefit of constant and caring medical help. This can only be achieved if and when he is released from prison and after 8 years in these conditions, the Committee feels that the time has come to allow this treatment to begin.
We demand that he be released immediately before the deterioration in his condition becomes irreversible.
THE PREVENTION OF TERRORISM ACT
In November 1974, the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Temporary-Provisions) was rushed through Parliament, a week after the Birmingham pub bombings. The Bill was debated in a single night by both Houses, and had clearly been well prepared in advance, the government only waiting for an event which would create the public climate to allow such a repressive piece of legislation to through without opposition. Since then the Act has been renewed annually with scarcely any discussion, even though of the 5683 people so far detained, only 1.74% have been found guilty of an offence under the PTA.
These figures bear out what civil liberties and republican critics have argued since the Act was first introduced: that the main aim and effect of the Act is not the prevention of the IRA from carrying out acts of war in Britain, for which legislation already exists, and upon which the PTA has had little impact. The main aims of the Act are the gathering of information by the security forces about the Irish community, and secondly, discouraging Irish people in Britain from engaging in legal political activity in opposition to Britain’s role in Ireland. The PTA has also continuously reinforced anti-Irish racism in Britain, and has proved to be not so much a device to stop criminal acts, so much as a many faceted propaganda weapon of the government in the Irish war.
The Prevention of Terrorism Bill
The differences between the old and new laws are minor amendments. The Bill extends the ban on organisations to those suspected of ‘international’ terrorism. Since the police did not ask for this extension, this change is merely a superficial attempt to counter the criticism from the civil liberties lobby that the PTA is essentially racist legislation whose target is the Irish community.
Under the new Bill, exclusion orders will not be served on people resident in Britain for over 3 years, instead of 20 years, and will no longer be indefinite, but will have a fixed limit of 3 years (renewable by the Home Secretary). As well as a few other minor changes, the title ‘Temporary Provisions’ has been dropped, and the new law will not have to be renewed annually, but will last for 5 years. This last change reveals the long road that has been travelled since 1974: repressive apparatus, called ‘draconian’ and ‘unprecedented’ when it first appeared, is now entering the statute book as a permanent part of British law. The combined impact of the PTA and the Police Bill currently on it’s way to becoming law, will have enormously increased the power of the State in Britain.
The Operation of the Prevention of Terrorism Act
Police Intimidation of the Irish Community
Democracy, Justice and the War in the Six Counties
The PTA is essentially a politically motivated law enacted to deal with a political situation. It’s provisions are broad and generalised enough to be used against anyone Irish who objects to the British occupation and division of Ireland. The PTA is a political law which maintains the British consensus in support of the army in the 6 Counties and the police in Britain. It intimidates and isolates protest.
A critique from the standpoint of civil liberties is not enough. The PTA is part and parcel of the British war machine, and has to be opposed at its roots, in opposing the whole military, legal and political apparatus occupying the 6 Counties of Ireland.
In the introduction it was stated that each of the five demands reflected the British military and political presence in Ireland. From what you have just read it should be clear that the need to raise each demand is a result of certain steps taken by the state in order to try and suppress resistance to their rule. The Irish political prisoners in English gaols are in the vanguard of that resistance and the British state recognises that fact, hence the high level of repression against them. If that resistance is defeated, it would be a terrible blow against the struggle for freedom and justice in Ireland. Conversely, any victory of the prisoners will be a step forward towards the day when Britain is forced once and for all to withdraw, politically, militarily and economically, from Ireland.
We make no apologies for raising the five demands. We appeal to everyone who has read this pamphlet to support the demands and to sponsor our campaign. A sponsorship form is enclosed. Sign it!! Get your friends to sign it. Take it with the model resolution, also enclosed, to your trade union branch and argue for them to endorse the demands and to affiliate to the campaign to end this abuse of Irish political prisoners at the hands of the British state.
CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.
Last modified :