Contrasting scenes as POWs leave Long Kesh
BY PEADAR WHELAN
In scenes reminiscent of the last days of interment in 1975, when the last internees were released, republican POWs last weekend stood in the car park of Long Kesh surrounded by family and friends and by comrades who had been released before them.
On this occasion, Friday 28 July, 46 republican POWs were released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and as they emerged they were greeted by the media as well as many well wishers.
Among those to greet them was Martin Meehan, the last internee to be released in December 1975, and as he took photos of some of those released as they posed with their families, he smiled a smile of satisfaction.
For this was a day of rejoicing for republican POWs and their families; it was a day that marked a milestone in this struggle. Long Kesh, although it still houses a number of republican prisoners, now stands as the white elephant of British policy in Ireland.
The H Blocks and the Cages are, in the political currency of today, bankrupt, and given their role in British policy, where Long Kesh was to be the breakers yard for republicans, it was easy for those same republicans in the year 2000 to smile with satisfaction.
That which was to be the breakers yard is now a broken image and as Jim `Flash' McVeigh, the last OC of republican prisoners in Long Kesh, read his statement to the world's media, he was dwarfed by Long Kesh's walls and watch towers.
In full view of the world's media, McVeigh flanked by Brendan `Bik' McFarlane and Gerry Kelly, both past pupils of the University of Revolution, restated the commitment of republicans to the, ``goals for which so many gave their lives, that is, the establishment of a united, democratic, socialist republic''.
McVeigh also said: ``We walk free from this prison camp, as have our comrades before us, proud republicans, unbowed and unbroken''.
In sharp contrast to the dignity of the republicans who were in that car park last Friday, the loyalists there brought with them images that smacked of terror, intimidation and a sinister mien associated with death squad ideology.
The UDA carried their banners and flags. `Simply the Best', they read. The best at what? Killing people for no reason other than they were Catholic?
Other loyalist prisoners left Long Kesh with their gfaces covered, hurried into cars and away.
At the heart of this contrast is the fact that republicans are clear about the political objectives they want to achieve and moreso, they are clear about the nature of the state they have faced over the years.
For loyalists, imprisonment was a contradiction. They were `loyal' to the very state that imprisoned them and could never understand that they were only cannon fodder. For those loyalists who skulked away from Long Kesh, hidden from the media and the world, the question remains: why is it that the ``fight for God and Ulster'' didn't bring with it the courage to face the world and explain their actions?