An opinion piece by Belfast republican Seán Ó Murchú and his take on the current situation facing republican prisoners this December.
For as long as the will of Irish Republicanism has existed, it has been tested through the abuse of political prisoners, whether it be by the partitionist so-called Free State government or the Sasanach occupiers.
By April 1920, 120 Republican Prisoners were on hunger strike in Mountjoy, demanding release or political status. A further 78 joined them in August that year in Cork County Gaol, including Terence MacSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork, and IRA commandant Liam Lynch. In 1923, due to the slow release of thousands of Republican Prisoners after the Irish Civil War, further mass hunger strikes took place.
Unfortunately, yet unsurprisingly, the abuse of Republican Prisoners spilled over into post-partition Ireland. We are all too familiar with the farcical implementation of internment in 1971, the blanket protest of 1976 led by Kieran Nugent’s brave refusal to wear prison uniform, the menstrual blood-stained walls of Armagh Gaol in demand of feminist and human rights in 1980, the 53 day hunger strike in 1980, and of course the famous 1981 Hunger Strike in demand of political status.
In the 20th century alone, 22 Irish Republican Prisoners died while on hunger strike. This is not to mention the savage beatings and brutal killings suffered by the Irish people while in custody of both the British and Partitionist States, whether those people were Republican or not.
Despite what the likes of Sinn Féin would have you believe, a party who claim to be Republican yet simultaneously administer British rule in Ireland, true Irish Republicans are still being abused through the British and ‘Free State’ Governments’ courts and gaol systems. It is through this abuse, as it always has been, that both establishments seek to weaken Republicanism.
At the time of writing there are 53 Irish Republican Prisoners in British and ‘Free State’ gaols, as well as one Palestinian Prisoner; dozens of which are currently interned on remand. This allows the state to incarcerate Irish men and women for years before going to trial, many of whom find their eventual trial concludes with a lack of evidence.
Republicans in Maghaberry and Hydebank have been denied both legal and family visits for over 20 months. Visits were ceased as Covid restrictions were enforced. However, as time has passed restrictions have been eased seemingly everywhere in society, except for Irish Republican Prisoners. As well as this, the British screws that work in the gaols and have contact with prisoners have been able to pass freely in and out.
The Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association (IRPWA) believe that the denial of visits, which is a human right, is a purely punitive measure implemented by the MI5 regime that controls Maghaberry and Hydebank. Although some measures were eventually introduced to implement severely limited visitation, Republican Prisoners have concluded that these conditions were not suitable for a loving family visit. The IRPWA continue to demand that open legal and family visits are restored immediately.
Human rights are being further impeded upon in the form of bail conditions. Former prisoners who have served the entirety of their sentence are being forced by the British State to wear tags on their ankles and are forbidden from attending legitimate meetings of legitimate Republican political parties. This is a blatant disregard of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and the right to freedom of expression, among others.
As the IRPWA have previously stated, “To be silent and turn the other cheek is to be complicit in the denial of human rights for Republican Political Prisoners.” Ireland’s history of Republican Prisoners is long and crowded with the names of brave men and women we know all too well. It is important to remember that just like those famous names, MacSwiney, Lynch, Nugent, Farrell, Price, Sands, the Republican Political Prisoners of today are sons and daughters of Ireland and should be treated and supported as such.
December is the month Republicans dedicate to the support and spreading of awareness of Republican Prisoners. Throughout the month there will be several events occurring across the island including but not limited to, a vigil in Belfast on the 1st of December at the old Andersonstown Barracks site outside Milltown Cemetery at 7.30pm, a vigil in Dublin on December 10th at 6pm outside the GPO on O’Connell Street and a fundraising function in The Crumlin Star in Belfast December 3rd. There is also a campaign in which Republicans are encouraged to wear a green ribbon to show their support for their incarcerated comrades. Donations are also greatly appreciated by the IRPWA alongside their shops containing Republican memorabilia, both which can be accessed on social media pages.
Christmas is a time for family and our Republican Political Prisoners have not had physical contact with their families in more than 20 months. Their human rights are the very least they expect and the very least we should accept, please show your support for them this December.