The prepared text of the address by Paul Duffy, a former republican prisoner and brother of Colin Duffy, to the ‘Families, friends and ex-PoWs march’ for republican prisoners in Lurgan on Sunday.
We have come together here in Lurgan today to stand in solidarity and in support of those Republican prisoners currently held in Maghaberry. In doing so, we are demonstrating to them that, while they may be imprisoned in a British gaol, they are not isolated, they are not alone and that we will campaign tirelessly on their behalf on the outside until they have been granted the full rights and conditions to which they are entitled.
Irish history is littered with attempts by the British state in Ireland to break the will and resolve of those Irish republicans who found themselves in British gaols. The most epic of all those prison struggles commenced in March 1976 and culminated in the hunger-strike of 1981 during which ten Republican prisoners died in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh.
That prison struggle in the H-Blocks and Armagh Prison came about as a direct result of Britain’s three phase strategy of “Ulsterisation”, “normalisation” and “criminalisation”. Ultimately, that strategy lay in tatters in 1981, but at a very high price, and in the aftermath of the hunger-strike, Britain quietly conceded to all five of the prisoners’ demands.
For the last decade and more, Britain has again revived and revamped its three phase strategy of “Ulsterisation”, “normalisation” and “criminalisation”.
Britain believes it has successfully concluded the “Ulsterisation” phase having secured the establishment of a partitionist administration at Stormont. It believes that it is well on the way to achieving its policy of “normalisation” – as if the forceful partition of this country could ever be described as normal.
That leaves one element of Britain’s strategy still to be achieved – that of “criminalisation”. Of criminalising any Republican who refuses to accept that Britain has any right to interfere in Ireland.
Britain’s key to achieving that element of criminalising Irish republicans still remains today, just as it was thirty four years ago in 1976, to break the spirit and resolve of republican prisoners in Britain’s gaols.
Today, Republican prisoners are again subjected to an unjust, oppressive and violent regime. Republican prisoners are again locked up around the clock in their cells, surrounded by their own bodily wastes. That situation has not arisen by accident. It has came about as a direct result of a deliberate policy embarked upon by the British state and the prison authorities with one simple outcome in mind – to treat those men in Maghaberry as common criminals rather than acknowledge that they are in prison because of their political beliefs.
Those who uphold the British state in Ireland and those who administer British rule in the Six Counties would do well to look back to the consequences of previous prison struggles. They may say the prisoners have no support – but that’s exactly what was continuously said about the prisoners in the H-Blocks and Armagh in 76, 77, 78, 79, and 1980.
Those of you who are old enough to remember those years will also realise the demands of the prisoners in the H-Blocks and Armagh were about basic rights – demands which Britain eventually conceded. So, too, the demands of the prisoners in Maghaberry are about basic rights and justice
* The granting of the right to Free association to the prisoners with an end to controlled movement whereby each prisoner is accompanied by up to five screws each time he leaves his cell
* An end to strip searches which is nothing more than a practice aimed at humiliating and degrading the prisoners and their families
Those are not unreasonable demands. In what is supposedly one of the most modern and most expensive prisons in Europe, bristling with the latest technology, these demands could be quite easily granted – if the political will was there on the part of the authorities. The prisoners have already indicated to all the various delegations that have visited the gaol that they are prepared to explore ways and means which will result in a just settlement. In contrast, the authorities prefer to prevaricate and to permit conditions to deteriorate even further.
Therein lies the challenge that each and every one of us must take up. We must get the message out amongst our families, friends, neighbours and communities that the demands of the prisoners are reasonable, that all they are asking for is fair and just treatment.
Endorsing the prisoners’ demands does not mean endorsing any particular or political point of view.
Endorsing the prisoners’ demands is about taking a stand for justice and for basic rights. That is something that many people can agree upon.
So let’s start to enlist that support from today onwards. That way, the Republican prisoners can, and will be, victorious.