Hundreds of nationalists interned without trial almost 40 years ago are to launch a multi-million pound legal action against the British government. The civil action will be based on the physical and mental treatment of internees and the fact that the policy was used overwhelmingly against nationalists .
Nearly 2,000 nationalists were held without trial in the early 1970s.
The policy was supposed to defeat the IRA but instead it led to an escalation of the conflict and direct rule from London.
The joint action is understood to be based on a similar legal challenge being taken by US president Barack Obama’s grandfather, who was interned by the British in Kenya in the 1950s.
In 1973 Liz Maskey, then a 19-year-old trainee nurse, became the first woman to be interned in the North.
“I was interned without trial for 18 months but when I was freed I couldn’t go back to nursing because I had been demonised in the media,” she said.
“My mother was a widow and spent practically every day visiting myself and two brothers, who’d also been interned.
“If there’d been evidence against any internee it should have been put before a proper court.
“Instead we were arrested, beaten, imprisoned for years without trial, without hope of release.
“In many cases internment led to the break-up of families, people developing serious illnesses and in some cases taking their own lives.
“Many internees and their families are still living with the legacy.
“The British government needs to acknowledge the wrong that was done.”
A key part of the internees’ case will be to prove that senior government ministers ap proved of the physical and mental abuse of internees.
The legal challenge will include top-secret British government documents that highlight how the attorney general Peter Rawlinson had “given up hope” of defending the RUC’s actions during internment as a “lost cause”.
The papers also reveal that the British were prepared to offer the Dublin government talks about a “friendly withdrawal” from the Six Counties if it abandoned a European court case against internment.
In a telling insight into the London government’s extraordinary attempts to pressurise its Dublin counterpart to drop its legal challenge, it states: “If they still seem to want to see the matter through to the end, we could as a third stage, i.e. in about a year’s time or later, approach them again about a possible withdrawal.
Other strategies to derail the ECHR case were to threaten to remove the right to vote from Irish citizens in Britain, threaten a counter challenge in regard to the prohibition of divorce and birth control in the 26 Counties, and, most ironically of all, censorship and/or religious discrimination.