Irish Republican News · August 13, 2011
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Internment trauma recalled

Forty years after the introduction of internment, a group of ex-internees have said they will take legal action against the British government over the policy of internment.

On Tuesday, the 40th anniversary of the morning of the internment raids six former internees handed over writs to British Direct Ruler Owen Paterson at Stormont and indicted the British for their disastrous strategy.

The six -- including a mother whose two children were taken away from her while she was interned -- have high hopes that the civil action will prove successful. The group are being assisted by republican ex-prisoners group Coiste na nIarchimi and have been working with a legal team, led by Padraig O Muirigh, as they prepare to mount what could become a historic case.

During the dawn raids of that first morning of internment, hundreds of homes were invaded by the British Army who swept in and arrested, under the ‘Special Powers’ Act, people suspected of being involved in the republican movement. Over 2,000 people were interned without trial during the four years the policy was active, and many of these were tortured and beaten.

Official documents uncovered recently under the 30-year rule show that the searches and arrests were entirely indiscriminate. The British Army was instructed to seize any adult they came across in the house in the event that they could not apprehend their original target.

The once-confidential British documents also list the “advantages” of internment including “the removal of the IRA and associated leadership freely resident in Northern Ireland” and the “reassurance of the majority community”. They describe August 9, 1971 as “D Day” and show that as early as 1973, questions were being asked as to why only the Catholic community was being targeted.

The legal challenge being taken is inspired by a case involving Kenyan ex-prisoners that is currently going through the British courts. Four Kenyan men, representing a wider community, have argued that they were victims of torture meted out by the British government during the Kenya Emergency in the 1950s and 1960s. In an historic judgment last month, the High Court in London rejected the British government’s attempt to strike out the claims with the judge labelling the efforts to avoid responsibility as “dishonourable”.

“There is no doubt that this case taken by the Kenyans has inspired the former internees,” said Coiste’s Jim McVeigh. “These people were incarcerated without trial or due process for months and in some cases years and, like the Kenyans, they have every right to seek some redress for that injustice.”


This week, former internees have also been recounting their experiences when the British Army internmment squads invaded.

An Ardoyne man who was shot in the head by British soldiers on the first night of internment 40 years ago this week said he will never forgive those who shot him.

Thomas ‘Tucker’ McAuley was only 23-years-old when he was shot at his Fairfield Street home when British soldiers moved in and arrested men and women on August 8, 1971.

People were imprisoned without charge or trial. But for Tucker the injuries sustained on that fateful night were like a life sentence.

He had to learn to walk again and in recent years he suffered a stroke and has been confined to a wheelchair.

Tucker said he hasn’t been able to lead a normal life.

“It ruined my life. I will never forgive them, they took my whole life away. Sometimes I wish I could have died that night, but I am glad it was me and not one of my brothers or sisters,” he said.

Now Tucker, who was a plasterer before he was shot, says he takes one day at a time.

His younger sister Rosemary McRoberts was with him on the night he was shot.

She recalls how their parents had just left for a holiday in England on that awful day.

“It was a terrible night. I remember Tucker went to see my parents off at the airport and came back to look after us. He went out to close the front door and that’s when the shooting started. I just remember seeing him lying in the hall and half his brain was lying in the hall too.”

Their parents returned home the next day and the family were preparing themselves for the worst.

“We were preparing ourselves to be told that he had died. But he somehow survived, he was in a coma for a while and spent many months in the Mater recovering.

“That night changed all our lives. It never should have happened. He was a victim of the troubles and he has been a victim ever since. But he has also been a fighter and he has fought all the way.”


Internment undoubtedly propelled the conflict forward and brought many recruits to the IRA but, said Jim McVeigh, its effects on those who were incarcerated cannot be underestimated or ignored.

“Internment was a seminal event that fanned the flames of the conflict just like Bloody Sunday and the hunger strikes,” he said.

“Internment was particularly horrific because of the uncertainly and the anxiety that accompanied the terms in prison. These people didn’t know from one day to the next if they’d be getting out and that takes its toll.

“The ex-internees deserve this chance to seek redress for this massive injustice.”

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© 2011 Irish Republican News