Widescale PSNI raids and detentions have taken place in the Craigavon and Lurgan areas of County Armagh over the course of the past two weeks. Some homes were raided on up to three different occasions, particularly in the Drumbeg, Ardowen and Meadowbrook areas.
Sniffer dogs were present during many of the raids which involved large numbers of heavily armed units of the PSNI (formerly RUC) travelling in armoured landrovers.
Many householders were confined to a single room at the point of a gun during the raids, despite legal requirements that they be able to witness the searches.
A press conference was held in Belfast on Thursday afternoon by Republican Sinn Féin to highlight the recent PSNI activity. A number of people affected by the raids attended the press conference, held at the party’s offices in West Belfast, and described the aggressive nature of the PSNI raiding parties.
One of these described how many of the possessions in his household -- including all of his and his brother’s clothes -- were seized:
“I had to go out in a pair of slippers and socks, and to get a lend of clothes. When I approached the Department of Health and Social Security, they refused assistance claiming that I still ‘had clothes on my back’.”
Another victim of the recent raids said that the whole of Craigavon and Lurgan had been kept under siege over the course of the past fortnight. The actions and demeanour of the PSNI was “clearly designed to intimidate”, he added.
They were “revving the engines” of their landrovers and “screaming at people”.
He said children’s schoolbags and mother’s prams were searched. Mobile telephones were seized and examined. Children and youths were stopped and searched and had guns trained on them.
A spokesperson for Republican Sinn Féin in North Armagh told the press conference: “Once again the RUC have shown their brutal heavy-handedness in operations against the people of Craigavon. They have proven that they will stop at nothing to disrupt the lives of local hard-working people.”
Questioned about the “murders” of the two British soldiers at Massereene, Mr Walsh described them instead as “acts of war”. He said that the loss of life had been “regrettable but inevitable”.
“We have always upheld the right of the Irish people to use any level of controlled and disciplined force to drive the British out of Ireland. We make no apology for that,” he said.
“Ireland’s no different from any other country in the world - it has a right to defend itself and its sovereignty. It’s regrettable that loss of life occurs but, sadly, an inevitable fact.”
Geraldine Hayden, General Secretary of Republican Sinn Féin added: “Once you have an occupation force in a country you would have resistance to it. It was inevitable and it was resistance, as far as I would be concerned. It wasn’t murder, no.”
Regarding description of the killers as “traitors to the island of Ireland”, by Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, Mr Walsh was caustic.
“Martin McGuinness should look at where he’s come from over the course of the past number of years,” he said. “Republican Sinn Féin aren’t sitting in Stormont, we are not administering British rule in Ireland, nor are we supporting the armed forces of occupation in our country.
“He is the man who has been guilty of the most severe treachery to this country for many years - Martin McGuinness, Gerry Adams and their fellow travellers.”
Ms Hayden said: “I think that’ll be Martin McGuinness’s epitaph - it’ll be written on his tombstone. It’ll be one of the things he’ll be remembered for. Go back 30 years. Martin McGuinness was out fighting the occupation. He’s part and parcel of the occupation now. He’s an awful nerve to say such a thing. Most certainly the Irish people are not traitors, he’d want to look a bit closer to his own heart and his own home.”
Mr Walsh described the PSNI as “an armed adjunct of the British Army” and the killings had always been inevitable.
“A lot of people have realised that the Provisionals (Sinn Féin) are leading them nowhere. They have simply sought to strengthen the status quo.
“The Provisionals indeed have become unionists in that they seek to uphold the Union. They can no longer be described as nationalists and they certainly cannot be described as republicans. It’s been coming for many years.
“It was inevitable that people would become disillusioned with their failed strategy. They told us that there was to be a united Ireland by 2016 and even they themselves have admitted that there’s absolutely no prospect of that.”
Asked if Republican Sinn Féin would encourage people to engage in armed struggle, he replied: “Irish history shows us that the only way that these tragedies can be ended is with the ending of British rule in Ireland. Ultimately people will take their own decisions on what they want to do.”