Internment 1971 - 2009: A case of injustice

The following address was given by Tony Catney of the Republican Network for Unity at Derry’s Gasyard Centre as part of this year’s annual Bloody Sunday commemoration.

Internment without trial, as Fergal F. Davis of the school of law has pointed out, “is neither novel nor normal” and we, as Irish Republicans, can testify that internment without trial is neither moral nor just.

The use of such an obviously unjust and draconian form of imprisonment has been rightly criticised by human rights activists and libertarians’ world wide. Yet, despite such universal condemnation, the use of internment without trial persists and continues to be a fundamental piece of the legislation of the modern day state. How can this be the case?

For the state’s part, it will claim that, (acting in our best interests) it is necessary to take extreme measures to deal with an emergency and to do so it must suspend the ‘normal’ rule of law. Such a suspension, because it offends one of the founding principles of democratic societies, should be temporary, used only as a last resort and end as soon as the emergency is contained. In other words, the use of internment without trial is a clear indication that there is something fundamentally wrong with the operation of the state and as a consequence we must all give up some of our civil rights and liberties to allow the state to put that wrong to rights.

Now, in some quarters the rationale, outlined above, would provide some justification for the tolerance of the use of one injustice, to attempt to address what is seen as another injustice, that is the state feeling threatened. However, if the state feels so threatened that there is the need to use the injustice of internment in every decade of its existence over nine decades, it is not logical that citizens should ask the questions, “why is the emergency that the state sees a permanent feature of the state? Why should we, as citizens, be expected to tolerate a permanent suspension of our civil rights and liberties? How can a state of emergency last for almost a century, almost four generations, and the state still be seen as legitimate?

If the yardstick of all of the above, was applied to a third world military dictatorship, the western world would ‘tut tut’ and the British would refuse to play cricket with them. Yet all of the above is the reality for Republicans living in the occupied six north eastern counties of Ireland and not only do the British continue to play cricket, but they also legislate in its favour. So why is such an obvious injustice tolerated?

Well, allow me to point out immediately that not everyone tolerates the injustice of internment, indeed the state goes to great lengths to convince us that the injustice does not exist. Internment, according to the state, while it is still on the statute book, is seldom, if ever used and even then only in extreme circumstances. In some perverse way, those in positions of power believe that, by stint of them declaring some members of our society as ‘enemies of the state’ that they have the right to carry out with impunity acts of brutality. In other words, far from being answerable to us as citizens, those in power decide who will have the rights of citizenship (depending on whether or not they agree with the foundations of state) and who will be deemed as ‘enemies of the state’.

Who falls into which category is entirely at the discretion of those in positions of power, and while the principle remains the same the only thing that changes are the faces. In short, the very existence of a piece of legislation, such as internment without trial, is an indication of the failure of the state, and rather than turning a blind eye to such injustice, in the interests of ‘getting by’, we all, as free thinking liberated people, should be shinning a light of truth and justice on it.

In a discussion such as this, in a City that has seen the worst excesses of the states’ response to a people’s demand for civil rights, runs the danger of becoming relative on the basis that, ‘things are not as bad as they were’. Allow me to give a contemporary example to demonstrate the dangers involved in slipping into that mindset.

Six weeks ago an Irish Republican, who had just been released from a British prison some three weeks before hand, while returning from a family holiday abroad was detained at a Belfast airport. While detained he was informed, that by stint of an order signed by the British secretary of state, he would be re-imprisoned without any recourse to legal process or legal representation. No charge was levelled against him, no opportunity was given to him to conduct a defence and no court procedure was applied. In short, Terry Mc Cafferty was arbitrarily detained and imprisoned at the whim of a British minister, sound familiar? Yes, Terry Mc Cafferty was and continues to be interned without trial.

Terry’s internment demonstrates one of two things to us, either the emergency created by the British war against Irish Republicanism goes on, or the ‘ending of the Nationalist nightmare’ promised by the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ and the ‘peace process’ is a myth.

If it is the former, then all Irish Republicans should demand an end to that war and demand that the international community sanction the British government until they do so. If it is the latter then Irish Republicans should expose the myth and collectively work to establish an agreement that protects the civil rights and liberties of all citizens.

Regrettably, neither of these two options appears to on the horizon in the near future. And the deafening silence of the media and our local politicians since the internment of Terry Mc Cafferty does not auger well for the future protection of our civil rights and liberties. However, this should not prevent us as risen people demanding that our political representatives stand up and be counted on this issue, or from us by taking to the streets or by letters to the media demanding an end to this and all practices of injustice. As Martin Luther King pointed out, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and by any criteria the use of internment without trial is an injustice. No one in this City need be reminded of the fact that injustice does not disappear by ignoring or excusing it, no it only leads to further injustice, let us here tonight, informed by the lessons of our own history demand the immediate release of Terry Mc Cafferty. The appalling vista faced by Terry and his family today could be visited upon you or I tomorrow, and on that sombre note allow me to finish with a short poem;

The Knock on the Door

In many a time, in many a land,
With many a gun, in many a hand.
They came by the night, they came by the day,
They came with their guns to take us away,
With their knock on the door, knock on the door,
Here they come to take one more.

Look over the oceans, look over the lands,
Look over the leaders with blood on their hands,
And open your eyes and see what they do,
When they knock over there friend, they’re knocking for you,
With their knock on the door, knock on the door,
Here they come to take one more.

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© 2009 Irish Republican News