British police brand all Irish as suspects
BY FERN LANE
In a echo of the 1970s, British police have been told to regard all Irish people living in their areas as potential `terrorist' suspects.
The order, from Humberside police, contained in a memo dated 20 October and leaked to the Observer last week, outlines Operation Pre-Empt, which requests regional divisions to notify Special Branch as soon as ``anyone of Irish origin, descent or background'' is brought into custody ``for any reason'' or is reported to them by a member of the public, particularly ``when seeking accommodation''. The chief constable, David Westwood, defended Operation Pre-Empt, saying: ``The use of Humberside as a route into the UK mainland to import terrorist devices cannot and will not be ignored. We must take steps to prevent the horror of terrorist action.''
This latest campaign against the Irish community in Britain comes as the new Terrorism Act, which also allows for unprecedented levels of harassment by the security forces, is due to become law and as the British government is considering granting even more powers to the police to intercept telephone calls and e-mails. The Humberside police `initiative' has been condemned as racist by politicians and human rights activists both in Ireland and Britain and lawyers have warned that it could contravene human rights legislation.
Sinn Féin has requested that the matter be raised in the British Parliament, and Labour MP Kevin McNamara is preparing to table a series of questions in the House of Commons. Sinn Féin has also called for all Irish organisations in Britain to ``voice their opinion on this very very strongly and very very openly'', saying that ``this sort of activity certainly does not contribute to the search for a reconciliation between our two nations''.
Jane Winter of British-Irish Rights Watch warned that further miscarriages of justice could result from such measures. ``We had hoped the days of `any Irishman will do' were over,'' she said.
The human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce is seeking information on how many other British forces are using a similar policy. ``This provides an open-ended licence for arbitrary arrest and makes everyone an informer,'' she said. ``The police are making an entire community suspect on the basis of national origin. It violates every possible guarantee under the new Human Rights Act.''
The Home Office has denied that this policy is in operation throughout Britain, although such denials should be considered in light of the fact that, as long ago as 1996, the then head of the anti-terrorist branch in London, John Grieve, publicly urged British people to inform on anyone of apparently Irish origin seeking accommodation or buying a vehicle.