Irish republican groups are being forced to fight for the right to free speech this week after scores of social media accounts were shut down and removed by Facebook in a one-sided act of repression.
No details were offered by the social media network for the decision to close down pages and accounts linked to a number of political parties and lobby groups, other than to claim those targeted are ‘dangerous organisations’.
That claim was not backed up, and all of the groups targeted operate within the law. Archived copies of their recent Facebook posts also revealed nothing unusual had been published on their pages.
The 32 County Sovereignty Movement (CSM), the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association, the Cabhair prisoners support group, Republican Sinn Féin (RSF) and Saoradh were all targeted in the censorship blitz.
Other small activist groups who are heavily dependent on the network to communicate with their supporters were also affected, including campaigns against extraditions and miscarriages of justice.
Meanwhile, loyalists and their organisations were ignored, including some who were orchestrating street violence on the platform earlier this year. That prompted accusations that the US-based multinational is operating a sectarian and anti-Irish agenda.
There were fears that the move was motivated by an aggressive British strategy to curb republican activism and the growing pressure across the north of Ireland for reunification.
Sinn Fein declined to comment, but the nationalist SDLP expressed delight at the marginalisation of long-standing political opponents, claiming their pages were “hate-filled”.
The 32 County Sovereignty Movement accused British intelligence of directing ‘black propaganda’ behind the scenes.
The organisation does not advocate armed struggle and has no link to any armed group, but Facebook reportedly said the decision to shut down its pages was because it ‘proclaimed a violent mission’.
A spokesperson for the 32CSM said there had been a coordinated attack against them based on lies.
“We would like to state on record now that we are not a dangerous organisation, we are in no way whatsoever engaged in violence of any kind and we are not proclaiming any violent mission,” they said.
“The spurious accusations are defamatory and designed to fit the narrative being pushed by Britain and their collaborators here in Ireland.
“What this essentially boils down to is black propaganda and political censorship, directed by British intelligence in their efforts to thwart anyone still upholding traditional republican values.”
The 32CSM urged activists to defeat the political censorship which they said was ‘pandering to the demands of British intelligence services’.
“We are not the enemy”, they added. “For now we will try to get the pages back however in the most likely case that we don’t, new pages will be opened.”
A Republican Sinn Féin spokesperson said it believed British military intelligence and other state agencies were involved.
“It’s our belief the hand of the state and its agenda are at play here,” they said. “It’s utter and complete censorship of individuals opposed to the state.”
Saoradh spokesperson Stephen Murney said the move was an attack on legal political parties, and said he also believes the British establishment, including MI5 and PSNI, were behind the actions.
He said it was another case in a long history of governments “utilising political censorship and propaganda in order to manipulate the public”.
“The Facebook pages of Saoradh and the IRPWA provided members of working class communities and Irish Republicans across Ireland and further afield with a truthful unbiased insight to life under British occupation and the treatment Republican Prisoners face.
“In the coming days as our new pages attempt to re-establish itself as one of the leading distributors of Socialist Republican and Republican Prisoner information we ask that you invite your friends to like the page.
“We will not be silenced by anyone or by anybody.”