Friday, June 26, 2020

No to Israeli annexation

The Monstrous Separation Wall that stretches for hundreds of kilometres across stolen Palestinian land, cutting Palestinians off from their farms and water sources

Five times in recent years I have visited Palestine and Israel. I have spoken to leaders and to citizens and human rights advocates on both sides. I have been in Gaza City and the West Bank. I have been in the refugee camps. I have walked along the monstrous separation wall which cuts Palestinian families off from their land and created the biggest ghettoes in the world. All of this is in breach of international law. It is illegal. 

Hospital bombed by Israel in Gaza

The plan by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to begin annexing up to 30% of the West Bank beginning next week is also illegal. But the Irish Government refuses to challenge this criminal act in any meaningful way. 

If we, the Irish, who have experienced the trauma of colonisation and who understand its consequences don’t stand by the Palestinians who will? It is time for the international community to uphold international law. It is time for the Irish Government do likewise. Muted and meaningless words of condemnation are no longer sufficient. 

The Government, and in particular the civil servants who worked on this initiative, are to be commended for winning a seat on the UN Security Council. 

Of course, there are many people, including this writer, who are openly sceptical and critical at the lack of reform of the United Nations, and in particular the ability of any of the so-called ‘big five’ - the USA, China, Britain, France and Russia - to veto a resolution going to the Security Council. However, Simon Coveney – if he remains Minister for Foreign Affairs in any FG/FF/GP government – described the extent of his ambition for the Security Council as akin to being a “pebble in the shoe” of the large states.

At a time when Covid-19 is a major pandemic with unparalleled economic consequences for the world; when human rights abuses and the rights of citizens enshrined in UN charters are everywhere under attack; when the numbers of migrants and refugees across the world is spiralling out of all control; and when a US President is attacking the funding for the World Health Organisation and for UNWRA - the UN agency that looks after Palestinian refugees – we need the independent members of the UN Security Council and the Irish government which will now sit there, to be more than a ‘pebble’ in a shoe.

But, lest we forget, this is the same Minister for Foreign Affairs who ensured that the Occupied Territories Bill – which seeks to prevent the Irish state from trading in “the import and sales of goods, services and natural resources originating in illegal settlements in occupied territories” - from being referenced in the putative Programme for Government 2020 agreed between the leaders of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Greens. 

Israel isn’t even mentioned in the Bill. It is aimed at all states with illegal settlements and is about preventing them from profiting from their occupation through trade. Including Israel of course.  But Simon said no. Micheál Martin and Eamonn Ryan agreed. 

Minister Coveney and his two putative coalition partners in government are prepared to ignore international law and allow Israeli goods and services originating in the occupied territories to be traded in the 26 counties.

In these circumstances what hope is there that an Irish Government of this kind, will vigorously oppose inside and outside of the Security Council the plan by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to annex up to 30% of the West Bank?

Annexation of occupied territory is prohibited under international law since 1945. Emerging out of a world war whose roots where in part to be found in the annexation of land at the end of the First World War and then in the 1930s by the Nazis, the founders of the United Nations had the foresight to outlaw annexation because it inevitably leads to conflict, discrimination and human rights abuses. The UN has on many occasions since the 1967 six day war, which saw Israel occupy the West Bank, Golan Heights and Gaza, affirmed the principle of the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory” by force.

Regrettably, the refusal by this and previous Irish governments to oppose the illegal actions of Israel and of its occupation forces, has encouraged and emboldened Netanyahu to believe that now is the time to annex substantial parts of the West Bank. Last April Netanyahu said that he intended annexing Jewish settlements and outposts in the West Bank. These settlements, which are illegal under international law, number over 240 and house almost three quarters of a million Israeli settlers. On the occasions I have visited the region I have seen for myself the extent to which these settlements steal Palestinian land and water rights and mineral resources and are strategically used to separate and control the Palestinian population of the West Bank. As part of this process Palestinians have been killed, their homes demolished, olive groves uprooted and farms destroyed. 

Last September the Israeli Prime Minister – encouraged by the support of US President Trump - said that he also planned to annex the Jordan Valley. This makes up almost 30% of the West Bank. Palestinian families living in the Jordan Valley will find it increasingly difficult to stay there. Much of the Valley is already under the control of Israel which bars Palestinians from digging wells or building home extensions, including tents, or irrigation works. From 2009 to 2016 ninety eight per cent of almost three and a half thousand applications for permits for new infrastructure were rejected by the Israeli authorities.

Nor will Palestinians living in the annexed territories be allowed to hold Israeli citizenship. They will be barred from having any say in the state in which they are being forced to live.

The United Nations, the EU and individual states including the  Irish state, have failed to defend international law. This failure and Israeli expansionism will usher in an Israeli apartheid state similar in design and intent to the Bantustan scheme created by the White apartheid government in South Africa. Bantu territories were pieces of land – essentially ethnic ghettoes - into which black South Africans were pushed. It was the apartheid regime’s means of control and exploitation in which poverty was widespread and human rights abuses a constant reality.

To its shame the international community has turned a blind eye to Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people. The separation wall, the theft of land and water, the murder of civilians, the use of torture, the victimisation of children, the illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip, the denial of human rights are all products of this. Israel’s strategy and Netanyahu’s plans for annexation have grievously undermined the little remaining hope in the peace process, which for decades now has staggered from crisis to crisis.

But it’s not too late to stop the slide into even greater chaos and conflict. The international community can still make a difference. The Irish government can give a lead. If Minister Coveney wants the Irish government’s two year term on the Security Council to be more meaningful than simply keep a seat warm, and to be more than an occasional irritant to the big states, then he has to stop making excuses for doing nothing. Firstly, the Irish government should commit to passing the Occupied Territories Bill. Secondly, it should officially recognise the Palestinian state as the Oireachtas agreed in December 2014 thereby providing some measure of solidarity and legal protection to the Palestinian people at this dangerous time. And thirdly, the government should introduce a motion to the Security Council rejecting Netanyahu’s annexation plans.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Bodenstown and the realignment of Irish Politics

Wolfe Tone

Like the Easter commemorations earlier this year this Sunday’s Bodenstown ceremony will take place online. Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD, who has previously spoken at Bodenstown on three occasions, the last in 2018, will give this year’s keynote address. The Coronavirus restrictions make it impossible to hold the normal event with its march and graveside oration.

My first trip to Bodenstown was as a teenager in the mid 1960s. Apart from periods of imprisonment I think I have been at Bodenstown almost every year since then. In the 1960s and 70’s, apart from Easter, Bodenstown and Edentubber were the two big commemorations for republicans. Both events were political excursions with a big social content.  Busloads of republicans descended on County Kildare. At a time when republicans got little media coverage the Bodenstown speech was regarded as especially important when the republican leadership of the day set out its position on issues of the day. This was before social media and other modern means of communication. Public events and pamphlets were the main means of political discourse.

In the last few decades attendance at Bodenstown has decreased despite admirable efforts by Kildare republicans especially with support from Dublin and South Leinster comrades. This is a consequence of our busyness and of the sheer increase in other commemorative events from Hunger strike Commemorations, the 1916 Centenary and many local or regional public events. So Bodenstown has to compete with all that. It does so very well. It remains a national event when republicans get to meet up usually, but not always on a sunny summery day. It is also a nice walk from the picturesque village of Sallins to Bodenstown Graveyard.

Wolfe Tone

This is the burial place of Wolfe Tone, one of the leaders of the 1798 rebellion. Tone, and the other leaders of that time were responsible for establishing republicanism in Ireland. He linked Protestant and Dissenter with Catholic under the United Irish banner. He sought to create a real democracy on the island of Ireland based on  liberty, equality and fraternity. Ideals which are as relevant today as they were two centuries ago.

The defeat at Vinegar Hill 1798

Tone’s central thesis has remained a cornerstone of Irish Republican philosophy to this day. He wrote:

“To subvert the tyranny of our execrable Government, to break the connection with England, the never, failing source of all our political evils, and to assert the independence of my country – these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissensions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter––these were my means.”

Bodenstown 1912

The earliest image I have seen of a republican ceremony at Bodenstown is a very grainy black and white photograph taken in 1912. It shows a large number of people, led by Na Fianna Éireann, walking in sunshine along the country lanes from Sallins to Tone’s grave. Tom Clarke, later executed by the British for his leadership role in the 1916 Rising, gave the oration. On the left of the image you can see Countess Markievicz and among those walking beside her is Liam Mellows.

Like all such gatherings it was banned by the Brits under martial law 1920-1921. In 1921 the ban was broken by a group of Cumann na mBan women who at the request of Michael Collins travelled by car from Dublin to Bodenstown and laid a wreath.

The following year, on 20 June 1922 Liam Mellows gave the annual Bodenstown speech in which he denounced the Treaty which had been reached with the British six months earlier. Mellows then travelled back to the Four Courts which had been occupied in April by IRA volunteers opposed to the Treaty. He was captured there several days later by Free State forces and in December Mellows, Rory O'ConnorJoe McKelvey and Richard Barrett were executed by firing squad.

The Cosgrave government banned Bodenstown in 1931 but republicans successfully broke the ban. Three years later 36 workers from Belfast’s Shankill Road participated in the event. It was a time of political turmoil in republican politics as some republican activists, led by Peadar O’Donnell were advocating the development of class politics under the Republican Congress. At Bodenstown that year the organisers ordered that only official banners could be carried. The Shankill Workers, who had their own banner and others who were marching behind a Dublin banner, were attacked by other marchers.

Shankill Workers take paert in 1934

A Bodenstown speech which attracted a lot of attention was that given by Jimmy Drumm, husband of murdered Sinn Féin Vice President Máire Drumm, in 1977. In the early 1970’s some republicans believed that the war would end in a matter of a few short years. By 1977 it was obvious that this was wrong. There was a need  to put down a marker regarding republican strategy, and Bodenstown provided the opportunity to do that. The involvement of Jimmy Drumm was important because he had a long track record in the movement. It was a speech which clarified republican attitudes to some issues, including the prospect of a long struggle, and set down a marker for changing political strategies in the time ahead.

For my part speaking in 1979 I addressed the need for republicans to build a political alternative to so called constitutional politics. In 1981 the Bodenstown ceremony took on a different complexion when Dingus Magee, who less than two weeks earlier had shot his way out of Crumlin Road prison along with seven other political prisoners, turned up to wave to the crowd. He received a huge welcome and when An Garda Síochána tried to move in to arrest him marchers lay down on the roads and blocked them.

The execution of Henry Joy McCracken

1998 was the 200th anniversary of the 1798 Rebellion. Bodenstown that year was one of the biggest I can remember. All our leaders have spoken at Bodenstown. The development of the republican struggle can be measured in part by Bodenstown speeches.  Some day some budding historian will analyse and weigh up the import of what was said particularly in our time - the endgame of our struggle from 1970 onwards.

This is a period -a Decade of Opportunity- for progressive politics especially the politics of Tone and his vision of breaking the connection with England.

The commitment within the Good Friday Agreement to a referendum on Unity is the means by which we can achieve this. No other generation of Irish people whether in the most recent phase of conflict or in 1916 or in 1867 or 1798 had the opportunity to achieve unity peacefully and democratically. We have that opportunity and that ability. I believe we can do it. I am convinced that more and more people – of all political persuasions – are coming to the realisation that Irish Unity is the way forward for all the people of this island.  Irish Unity is now a  doable project.

Mary Lou’s speech this Sunday comes at another decisive moment. The ongoing realignment of Irish politics with Fine Gael and Fianna Fail being forced by the strength of Sinn Féin to coalesce in a desperate but vain effort stop change and to shore up the status quo and the re-establishment of the power sharing government in the north and the other Good Friday Agreement structure along with Brexit are all issues she may address.  So join us online for Mary Lou’s Bodenstown speech on Sunday.

It will be broadcast on Sinn Féin’s Facebook, Twitter and Youtube pages.

These are:


Friday, June 12, 2020

You don’t get to be Racist and Irish

The George Floyd mural on the Falls Road


You don’t get to be racist and Irish

You don’t get to be proud of your heritage,

plights and fights for freedom

while kneeling on the neck of another!

These are the first four lines of a new poem by the singer Imelda May. It is a powerful and moving poem which vividly sums up my feeling on this divisive issue.

A sad fact of life is that racism exists in most societies. That reality struck home in recent weeks following the killing of George Floyd in the USA by Minneapolis police officers; in the response of President Trump, and the brutality of elements of the police service who have attacked peaceful protesters.

In my visits to the USA over a quarter of a century I have met many good people and many good leaders. Leaders in business and commerce, in communities, the Arts, the Labour and Women’s movements and in politics.

But I have long believed that race is the big unresolved issue at the heart of US society. It and sectarianism in our own place are two sides of the same coin. Both can be found in societies across the world where those in power or those who seek power, use racism and sectarianism as a means to divide, control and exploit people.

That’s why Imelda Mays poem is so pertinent.  And so important. We Irish who were/are subjected to racism cannot treat others as we were/are treated. When the English ruling class first invaded Ireland they said it was ‘to civilise the barbarians’. The native Irish were variously described as lazy, stupid, violent, backward, barbarous and inferior. Over the centuries that followed English writers constantly justified English actions by claiming that Irish people are culturally inferior and that the English would civilise us. An English writer Edmund Spenser in the late 16th century wrote of the Irish: “...they steal, they are cruel and bloody, full of revenge, and delighting in deadly execution, licentious, swearers and blasphemers, common ravishers of women and murderers of children.”

English writers and historians frequently presented the Irish as rogues, drunkards and brutal.. David Hume in his influential “History of England” first published in the 1750s wrote: “The Irish from the beginning of time had been buried in the most profound barbarism and ignorance.”

It was this sense of superiority, allied to the development of plantations in the Caribbean and in America, which saw England become the main European slaving nation. The language used to describe Africans was essentially the same used in relation to the Irish. The Irish were ‘inferior’; the Africans were ‘heathens’. Hume, who accused the Irish of barbarism and ignorance, described Africans as “naturally inferior to the whites.” He wrote: “There never was a civilised nation of any other complexion than white ...”

This belief in their racial superiority by the English elites over the Irish and over African peoples, and of the white race over all others, has been a constant theme of British Imperial history. A history which English people are not taught. It can be found in the stage Irish and the jokes of the 19th century which labelled the Irish as idiots and drunks. Irish people and black people were often compared to apes. In 1862 the magazine Punch, which frequently published cartoons in which the Irish had ape like features, wrote; “A creature manifestly between the Gorilla and the Negro is to be met with in some of the lowest districts of London and Liverpool by adventurous explorers. It comes from Ireland, whence it has contrived to migrate; it belongs to a tribe of Irish savages ... it talks a sort of gibberish. It is moreover a climbing animal, and many sometimes be seen ascending a ladder laden with a hod of bricks.”

Irish emigrants seeking a new life in the USA and other places following An Gorta Mór also experienced racism in their new countries. I have a small notice that was in the window of a house in Boston advertising rooms for rent which says ‘No Irish need apply’.

As Ireland grappled with Home Rule at the end of the 19th century British racism was given expression in a virulent anti-Catholic rhetoric. Unionist political leaders who opposed home rule merged racism with sectarianism. It became part and parcel of the northern state established by partition. Catholics were presented as inferior, lazy and living off the dole, and with too many children. In May 1969, just months before the August pogroms ignited decades of conflict the then Unionist Prime Minister of the North Terence O’Neill - a liberal unionist - echoed this. He said: “It is frightfully hard to explain to Protestants that if you give Roman Catholics a good job and a good house they will live like Protestants because they will see neighbours with cars and television sets; they will refuse to have eighteen children. But if a Roman Catholic is jobless, and lives in the most ghastly hovel he will rear eighteen children on National Assistance. If you treat Roman Catholics with due consideration and kindness they will live like Protestants in spite of the authoritative nature of their Church".

Racism also plays a dangerous and unacceptable role in society in the Southern state. In 2004 the Fianna Fáil government introduced the Twenty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution. It stripped a child born in Ireland of immigrants of its right to Irish citizenship.

Last week An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described racism as a virus and urged that citizens show solidarity in seeking to defeat it. Almost in the same breath he defended Direct Provision – a shameful inhumane system which holds immigrants in the most difficult and dangerous of conditions – isolated and segregated from the rest of Irish society. The Irish Refugee Council has described Direct Provision as “state sanctioned poverty”.

In 2017 the decision to recognise Traveller ethnicity finally brought the Irish State into line with recognition already in place in the North, as well as in England, Scotland and Wales. Sadly little has changed since then. Last year the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) produced a comprehensive report on the treatment of Travellers, refugees, the Direct Provision system, anti-racism laws and hate crime. The report was a scathing indictment of the failure of successive Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil led governments. It identified major legislative and policy failings in relation to hate speech, hate crime, the response of An Garda Síochána to these and the use of ethnic profiling by the Garda.

So, we cannot decry racism in the USA and not recognise its odious presence in our own place. We cannot rail against racism in the USA or elsewhere without fighting racism in our own place. Racism is especially toxic when it infects the agencies and institutions of the state. And it is obvious to all of us who lived through the baton charges, the rubber and plastic bullets and the gas that were used by the RUC and British Army that they don’t work. They are not the answer. What works is treating people as you would want to be treated yourself.

So, be alert to racism. Understand that racists will resist change. Some will even seek to use periods of resistance to racism as an opportunity to dig in deeper. To demand greater repression, more laws to deny rights to citizens, to oppose and frustrate accountability and transparency within the justice system. They must not succeed. In the USA. Or in Ireland.

By Imelda May

You don’t get to be racist and Irish 

You don’t get to be proud of your heritage, 

plights and fights for freedom 

while kneeling on the neck of another! 

You’re not entitled to sing songs 

of heroes and martyrs 

mothers and fathers who cried 

as they starved in a famine 

Or of brave hearted 

soft spoken 

poets and artists 

lined up in a yard 

blindfolded and bound 

Waiting for Godot 

and point blank to sound 

We emigrated 

We immigrated 

We took refuge 

So cannot refuse 

When it’s our time 

To return the favour 

Land stolen 

Spirits broken 

Bodies crushed and swollen 

unholy tokens of Christ, Nailed to a tree 

(That) You hang around your neck 

Like a noose of the free 

Our colour pasty 

Our accents thick 

Hands like shovels 

from mortar and bricklaying 

foundation of cities 

you now stand upon 

Our suffering seeps from every stone 

your opportunities arise from 

Outstanding on the shoulders 

of our forefathers and foremother’s 

who bore your mother’s mother 

Our music is for the righteous 

Our joys have been earned 

Well deserved and serve 

to remind us to remember 

More Blacks 

More Dogs 

More Irish. 

Still labelled leprechauns, Micks, Paddy’s, louts 

we’re shouting to tell you 

our land, our laws 

are progressively out there 

We’re in a chrysalis 

state of emerging into a new 

and more beautiful Eire/era 

40 Shades Better 

Unanimous in our rainbow vote 

we’ve found our stereotypical pot of gold 

and my God it’s good. 

So join us.. 'cause 

You Don’t Get To Be Racist And Irish. 


Saturday, May 30, 2020

You only die once. You live everyday.

Mise agus Martin on a tiny plane
heading to another round of negotiations in 2003
I remember Martin McGuinness, in response to a question, telling a journalist that he expected to be dead before he was twenty five. I told the same journalist the same thing. That’s the way it was in the 1970s when Martin and I first met the British Government in an effort with others to negotiate a way to end the conflict. I was twenty three. Martin was about eighteen months younger than me. As it turned out we both lived well beyond the quarter of a century that both of us thought would be our life span.
I assume it might be difficult for anyone who didn’t experience conflict to understand why we thought the way we did. It seems very melodramatic when it’s written down like that. But that’s the way it was. Hunted in our own place. On the run. Living on the edge. If there was not quite a queue of would be assassins - in and out of British uniform - there was certainly enough to justify our concerns. It was open season on republican activists. Not just for me or Martin. But many, many others as well. And for our opponents and enemies. Contemporaries from all sides. Including some who were doing their best with deadly intent to fulfil our expectation. Not that we wanted to die. Far from it. That’s one fact to emerge from the pandemic crisis. Few of us want to die. Or to see others die.
The longer I live - the more I learn - the less I know. There are so many mysteries to and in our existence. That’s part of the joy of living. Martin would have been seventy on Saturday 23 of May. Last Saturday. He lived a very full life and he lived it well. There was a wonderful online celebration organised by The Martin McGuinness Peace Foundation (its available still at )
Well done to all involved. Commiserations again to Bernie and the entire McGuinness clann.
Martin’s death, his wake and funeral touched many people. I’m sure others who had loved ones killed by the IRA don’t see it like that. Fair enough. They too deserve respect. Their loved ones had lives worth living. Worth celebrating by their friends and families. We all have grieved after folks we love. Not only people killed in the conflict. Parents and grandparents. Other family members. Mates. Neighbours.
In Ireland we have a tradition, steeped in our values, of gathering around a bereaved family to give them comfort and support. Part Christian with elements of another older pagan world we celebrate the life which has ended. Unless of course the dearly departed is a young person of someone deemed to have died before their time or in tragic circumstances. We have all experienced the shock of that. Of death by violence. Death by suicide. Sudden death.
And yet we get comfort from the prayers and sympathy and solidarity of those who support us. And the wake and funeral and burial or cremation service are the occasion to give expression to all this. It’s telling the bereaved that they are not on their own. We’re sorry for their troubles. Even though we go back to and get on with our own lives that coming together is important. Taking that time to visit, to pay our respects, is part of what we are.
That’s one aspect of the terrible deaths from the Coronavirus that many find so distressful. People dying alone. Especially older people in care homes or other congregated settings. Restrictions on funerals. Yes it’s necessary and I support the restrictions but it’s heart rending. I have missed funerals myself since the lock down of people I know, friends, former prisoners. It must be much, much worse for family members.
All these thoughts come together in this column as I reflect on these matters of life and death. The pandemic will pass. We don’t know when but pass it will. It will affect some of us more than others. Just as the conflict did. Some who survive will never recover fully from the loss of a loved one. Or the circumstances of their death. Just like in the conflict.
So Martin and I were the lucky ones. It’s still a wonder to me that he is gone and I’m still here. But that’s life. Our life begins every morning we wake up to a new day. So try to take the benefits of that with joy. Make the most of it. It won’t always be possible to see it like that. Not every day. But that’s okay also. It’s okay not to be okay. But try to be positive. Be alert to the wee things. The birdsong. The light in the sky. The kindness of friends. And strangers. A nice meal. A dance. A good tune. A dog. Flowers. The wind. A laugh. Companionship. Love. Children. Trees. A good walk. Friendship. Nature. A good book. A wee drink if you can handle it.
Even if you don’t have any or all of these things you have yourself. That’s a big thing. Without yourself who or where would you be. So let’s try to be happy. Despite everything and because of everything. Remember we only die once. We live every day. Let’s do our best to be our best and to make this a better place for others less well off than we are.

Friday, May 22, 2020


 The British named it Operation Demetrius. For those of us who lived through the 9 August 1971 it was internment day. Like many others I was awakened early that morning by the sound of binlids rattling their alarm across the streets of Ballymurphy and Springhill. 342 men and boys from nationalist homes across the North were dragged from their beds in the early hours of the morning by thousands of British soldiers and RUC Many were beaten and 14 – the Hooded Men - were subjected to days of sustained torture. 

Thousands fled their homes. 25 people were killed in the following four days. In my home area 11 local citizens, including a priest and mother of eight, were killed by the Paras in the Ballymurphy Massacre.  Five months later the Paras attacked an anti-internment march in Derry and killed 14 people. Bloody Sunday was another of many dark days in the conflict. In July 1972 another five citizens, this time in Springhill, were killed by the British Army. They included another priest and a thirteen year old girl.

The Ulster Unionist Party, which for 50 years had ruled at Stormont, had  demanded that the British bring in internment.  It had been used in every decade since partition, including for a brief time in 1969. It was part of a repressive arsenal, including the Special Powers Act and institutionalised structured political and religious discrimination, which had sustained unionist domination in the North for 50 years. Internment of men and women was without charge or trail and for an indefinite undeclared period. Some of the older men had been interned many times. Liam Mulholland was first imprisoned in the 1920s and in every decade since including the 1970s. Throughout that time British governments supported the existence of this squalid little apartheid police  state.

Of course, Unionism wasn’t alone in employing internment. It was used by the British after the 1916 Rising and again during the Tan War. The Free State government used it in the 1920s and Fianna Fáil brought it in between 1939 and 1946. Fianna Fáil used it again during the 1950s and in December 1970 the then Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Jack Lynch announced the introduction of internment but political and public outrage forced him to backtrack.

Whenever the British government went for the military option it brought with it the techniques of counter-insurgency that it had employed in dozens of colonial conflicts in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia in the decades after the Second World War. These included the use of internment, the torture of detainees, shoot-to-kill tactics, curfew, riot control tactics, the use of state collusion and counter-gangs, and much more. Instead of asserting the primacy of politics the Conservative government of Prime Minister Ted Heath handed power over to the generals. The tactics and strategies that resulted from this failed to contain the conflict but instead led quickly to even greater resistance.

I was first arrested and interned in March 1972. After several days in Holywood Barracks where I was badly beaten I was taken to the Maidstone prison ship in Belfast Lough. The conditions for the 150 internees on the boat were appalling. We were held below deck. The fold-up bunks were in tiers of three. Light struggled in through small port-holes. The food was awful and the boat sat in its own sewage. The toilets were constantly flooded. Following   protests by us the Maidstone was closed down by the British  after Stormont was prorogued. We were all taken to Long Kesh by helicopter.
In June 1972 I was released to take part in talks with the British government and then as part of a republican delegation to London. The truce that followed was short-lived.
Just over a year later I was arrested again in July 1973. I was beaten unconscious by British soldiers and interned again in Long Kesh, initially under an Interim Custody Order.  There are lots of photos of the Cages of Long Kesh available online if you want a sense of what it looked like. The camp was built on a former British RAF base. Every Cage was surrounded by a high wire fence topped with barbed wire. Each Cage had four Nissan huts made of two skins of corrugated tin. Cages held around 100 men and in the autumn and winter they were freezing cold, damp, and poorly lit. In the summer they could be stifling. Toilet and shower facilities were primitive. The food was normally cold and of a poor standard. Most internees relied on food parcels sent in by our families.

The British Army carried out periodic raids on the internee Cages. Scores of soldiers with batons and shields would smash their way into the huts during the night, drag men outside and force us to spread-eagle against the wire for hours. Many were beaten. Personal belongings were ripped apart, beds urinated on, and handicrafts – which some internees did to pass the time – were destroyed. Hugh Coney was shot dead in 1974.

Like prisoner-of-war camps throughout history there were also escapes – some successful – some less so. On Christmas Eve 1973 four of us in Cage 6 – Marshall Mooney, Tommy Toland, Marty O’Rawe and myself, all from Ballymurphy – tried to escape. We were caught.

Seven months later in July 1974 I was caught again. This time I managed to get a wee bit further. In March 1975 I was convicted on the first attempt and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment. I was subsequently convicted in April 1975 of the second attempt and was given a three year sentence to run consecutively.

Now that the British Supreme Court has ruled that my imprisonment was unlawful I would like to plead guilty to numerous other escape bids including some very scary claustrophobic efforts to dig tunnels.  I was eventually released in 1977.

Fast forward 32 years and a researcher working for the Pat Finucane Centre in October 2009 was going through documents released by the British government under the 30 years rule. The researcher found a memorandum, dated 8 July 1974, from the Director of Public Prosecutions to the British Attorney General.

The key paragraph says: “It seems to me that the Attorney General should be advised at this stage before the question of prosecutions is considered further that Adams, O’Rawe and Tolan and possibility many other detainees held under the Orders which have not been signed by the Secretary of State himself may be unlawfully detained.”

In the course of the ten years that it took from the researcher first uncovered this document to the British Supreme Court decision last week a further ‘Secret’ document was uncovered that revealed that the Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson and his Secretary of State for the North Merlyn Rees held a meeting on the 17 July 1974 to discuss “an urgent problem” which the Attorney General had raised with him. The AG Samuel Silkin told Wilson and Rees that an examination of the papers concerning our attempted escape had revealed that the Interim Custody Orders of three of us had not been “examined personally by the Secretary of State during the Conservative administration”. 

Silkin told the meeting that there “might be as many as 200 persons unlawfully detained” in the North. This “could only be put right by retrospective legislation in Parliament.”

So, the British government knew, before it chose to put me on trial, that I was unlawfully detained. It also knew that up to 200 other people might also be unlawfully interned. It did nothing. The onus is now on the British government to identify and inform other internees whose Internment may also have been unlawful. That’s unlikely so if you were arrested and interned between 7 November 1972 and early 1974 and you think that your internment order was unlawful don’t wait - contact your solicitor.