Release ALL political prisoners
This week is a milestone in the long history of imprisonment of Irish republicans. The H-Blocks of Long Kesh are closing and all but a small number of republican prisoners held in jails in both the Six and 26 Counties are being released as agreed by both governments in the course of the peace process. It is an unprecedented event. Never before have Irish political prisoners been released in such circumstances.
This final phase of releases represents a vindication first of all of the prisoners themselves and of their families. Their sacrifice has been immeasurable. It has been estimated that political prisoners have served 150,000 years in the past three decades. In this paper (page 20) we recall also the many republicans who died in prison in the past 30 years. In this phase of the struggle, as in previous phases, republicans turned British and Dublin government dungeons into universities of revolution. Whatever the conditions the spirit of resistance rose to thwart those who would seek to defeat Irish republicanism by victimising our imprisoned comrades and their families.
The near completion of the release programme also represents vindication for the long campaigns waged by prisoner relase organisations, most recently that of Saoirse. It was Sinn Féin through its negotiators which put the issue of prisoners at the centre of the peace process. But for their insistance on the centrality of this issue no progress could have been made. Equally without the determined campaigning of people on the streets in demonstrations large and small, in lobbying and letter-writing, leafletting and postering, the release of political prisoners would not have been achieved. There has seldom been a better example of the need for campaigning in tandem with negotiations.
That said, it must be noted that all republican prisoners will not have been released by the end of this week. In Castlerea, County Roscommon, those convicted in relation to the death of Garda Gerry McCabe will remain in custody. They, no less than all other political prisoners, should be released. It is simply untrue to state, as the Irish Times did in its editorial on 25 July, that these men are ``specifically excluded from the terms of the Belfast Agreement''. Republicans will not accept exclusion of prisoners in this way, at the behest of powerful vested interests. There can be no hierarchy of victims, just as there can be no hierarchy of prisoners.
In that context it is important to point out also this week that while republicans have suffered thousands of years of imprisonment, the British Army and the RUC have been able to carry out their activities, including hundreds of murders, with absolute impunity. There has been no reference in the establishment media to the feelings of relatives of victims of the RUC and British Army who have seen these killers on the streets every day for the past 30 years.