Irish Republican News · March 26, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Irish, in the wrong place, at the wrong time

By Breandán Morley (for the Blanket)

Amidst the current focus on the continued activities of paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, I recently had a very personal experience of the extent to which the British police remain unaffected by the peace process when dealing with Irish people travelling to the UK.

Three days after discovering that my father, who is 75, had been diagnosed as suffering from cancer, I boarded a flight from Dublin to Manchester in order to visit him.

When I arrived at Manchester Airport I was stopped by two special branch officers at the police control desk reserved for visitors from the Republic of Ireland and asked for identification. I handed over my passport and explained the reason for my visit. The police then asked me to fill in a landing card, while one officer walked off with my passport.

I have never had a criminal record and have never previously been arrested. Nor do I belong to any political organisation.

Forty minutes later the officer returned. When I asked the reason why I had been stopped he became aggressive and confrontational and refused to show any identification or provide his warrant number, as he is legally obliged to do, informing me ``You are not entitled to anything.''

An hour after being stopped I was allowed to go.

The following day, having spoken to the Police Complaints Authority, I went to the nearest police station in Manchester as instructed and lodged an official complaint, focussing on the officer's refusal to provide identification. I was told that this would be forwarded to the senior police officer at the airport in accordance with standard procedures.

Three days later I arrived back at the airport for my return journey to Dublin, after spending the intervening period with my family. Having cleared all the security checks I was browsing in a bookshop in the departures lounge, when I was approached by the same officer who had detained me on my inward journey.

I was then frogmarched by four plainclothes police out of the terminal, placed in a van and taken to the police compound, before being shown into an interview room in the presence of two special branch officers, including the one against whom I had lodged a complaint.

The first thing they did was to show me their warrant numbers before I had even asked for them. This had been the focus of my complaint. It was clear to me that my complaint had indeed been forwarded to the airport police and my arrest was their response.

The police informed me that I was being held under the Terrorism Act. I was then thoroughly body-searched, as was my luggage. My mobile phone was taken away and had been tampered with when it was returned. Various documents were placed in front of me, which I was asked to sign. I refused to do so. The police then took away my credit cards, the only items in my possession containing my signature.

For the next two hours I was interrogated about my life since the age of eleven. This covered schools and universities attended, jobs, names of employers, accommodation addresses, as well as details of my family, friends and associates, in what was clearly a profile-building exercise. When I declined to discuss my family and friends my address book was taken away.

I was asked where I drank, did I belong to a church, what hobbies I had, what I wrote about as a journalist. I was even asked at which hospital my father was being treated.

I enquired if the police had intended to detain me when I arrived at the airport four days previously and was told they had not. It was therefore clear that I was not under any suspicion of involvement in terrorism, since it would have been logical to detain me at the point of entry to the UK, rather than when I was leaving the country. The nature of the questions put to me also indicated that they didn't really know anything about me; hardly what one would expect in relation to an alleged terrorist suspect.

Due to my father's illness I had spent the entire time in Manchester in the company of my family, apart from visiting the police station to register a complaint against the officer who was now left silently alone with me in the interview room on numerous occasions for several minutes each time.

After being released without charge I was escorted back to the terminal and put on a flight to Dublin.

I have now referred this matter to the Irish Government and have lodged a further complaint with the Chief Constable of the Greater Manchester Police. I have also sought legal advice from Gareth Peirce, the solicitor who represented the Birmingham Six.

The political debate about the future of Northern Ireland remains firmly focussed on the need to end paramilitarism once and for all, as a necessary part of the process of creating an entirely peaceful and normalised society. Yet six years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, my experience suggests that the peace process has made little difference to the way in which Irish people travelling to the United Kingdom are viewed and treated by the British police.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News