Irish Republican News · December 22, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
United front needed
The Third International Conference Against Isolation took place in Berlin last week. This speech was delivered by Liam O Ruairc and Gerard McGarrigle of the Irish Republican Socialist Party.


We would like to thank the organisers of the fourth international symposium against isolation for inviting the Irish Republican Socialist Party to contribute its analysis at this conference.

What is the political function of isolation? Isolation is a weapon used by the prison system and the repressive apparatus of the state to weaken political militants psychologically and physically, thus politically. It is used to prevent the emergence of any collective organisation attempts by the prisoners, to destroy in advance the struggle for the collective power of those in prison; as well as their struggle for political and human rights. For the prison system, it is imperative to isolate those who are not afraid to speak out, the incarcerated political cadres, those who politically and organisationally are prepared to work for the revolutionary movement inside the prisons. The state’s policy of isolation is not simply to destroy the prisoners, but more importantly to destroy the politics of their struggle. It is part of a strategy to portray any resistance against the state as criminal. The state believes that if it can break the resistance of the prisoners, it will demoralise and weaken the revolutionary forces on the outside.

In 1976 the British government removed the right to political status for Irish prisoners. This was an attempt to criminalize the struggle for national liberation and socialism, both inside and outside the prisons. The prisoners resisted this criminalization through a series of protests, starting with their refusal to wear prison uniforms, the no wash protest; and culminated in the hunger strikes of 1980/1981 which resulted in ten prisoners -three of whom were affiliated to our movement- giving their lives. Far from breaking the prisoners, the 1981 hunger strikes showed that they remained resolute and eventually met most of their demand at the price of their own lives. Paradoxically, if in 1976 the British government attempted to criminalize the Republican struggle, by 1981 the Republicans succeeded in criminalizing the British government. However, the gains of the 1980/1981 hunger strikes were lost with the signing of the 1998 Belfast Agreement. The 1998 treaty effectively criminalizes political resistance, as political prisoners will not be segregated from either ordinary criminals or reactionary loyalists. The struggle of the prisoners is thus back to square one. The Provisional movement (loyal to the leadership of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness) supports the 1998 treaty and states that there are no more political prisoners in jail. The truth is that there are currently dozens of political prisoners in Ireland, including four affiliated to our movement. One of them is Dessie O Hare, who has been in jail for more than twenty years and who should have been released years ago. The Provisional movement celebrates the struggle of the 1980/1981 hunger strikers, and yet is silent about the present struggle of Irish political prisoners. It is thus complicit with the media black out regarding the prison issue. Our movement is totally committed to the struggle of all those prisoners, irrespective of their affiliation. You have to remember that our prisoners have suffered from a double isolation attempt: first that of the British state, and secondly that of the Provisional movement inside the prisons, which in the past attempted to destroy any collective organisation of our prisoners by denying them their own wing and official recognition as a group.

We regret and reject the narrow and sectarian approach of some people and organisations and call for a united front on the prison issue. The Irish Republican Socialist Movement argues not simply for better prison conditions, but for the collective self-organisation of the prisoners, for the recognition of their political and human rights, for the construction of an effective counter power within the prisons. What is fundamentally at stake is a political, not a humanitarian issue. This is not just a matter of more humane conditions of detention but of developing a revolutionary movement inside the jails that questions the prison system. The function of politically advanced prisoners is similar to that of advanced workers. Advanced workers do not simply fight for higher wages or better working conditions, but for the abolition of capitalism, similarly politically conscious prisoners do not fight just for better prison conditions, but for the collective self-organisation of imprisoned working class militants and the creation of a counter-power within the prisons.

British imperialism, either in the prisons or on our streets will not succeed in breaking us, instead it will have an adverse effect, strengthening our resolve to resist domination is all its forms. In the words of Terence MacSwiney, the Republican Mayor of Cork who died on hunger strike in 1920: “We have not survived the centuries to be conquered now.”

Thank you.

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