London Supporters of Tony Taylor are holding a picket of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers’ surgery on Saturday 2 July between 11am and noon. The constituency office is 163 High Street, Barnet EN5 5SU. We are demanding the release of Tony Taylor, a Republican activist from Derry. Tony was arrested on 10 March 2016 after Theresa Villiers had revoked his license from an earlier conviction. He was sent to Maghaberry prison without questioning, charge or trial, having been denied legal representation.
Tony emerged from Maghaberry in 2014 and began rebuilding his life, focusing on his Republican activism on community empowerment and prison welfare issues. He was instrumental in rebuilding the Republican Network for Unity party in the Derry area.
The imprisonment of Tony is nothing less than a blatant case of internment without trial. It is an affront to human rights and natural justice. Join us on the picket to demand his immediate release!
In August 1971, Britain reintroduced internment in the north of Ireland. Under the Special Powers Act, Unionist governments had often resorted to locking up political opponents without charge or trial. Against the backdrop of the mass civil rights movement in the late 1960s, and following clashes resulting from a state clampdown on civil resistance, the British army crashed into the homes of Catholic areas and arrested 342 people.
Many of those arrested reported on beatings, on being blindfolded and thrown out of moving helicopters and the European Commission of Human Rights quite rightly found that torture had been used. Needless to say, internment actually deepened the struggle against the British and their Unionist allies, with Catholic areas in a state of open war. By 1975, when internment had apparently been disbanded, nearly 2,000 had been arrested.
Hot on the heels of interment came the introduction of Diplock Courts. The right to trial by jury was suspended, as these one judge-only courts sought to avert the “danger of perverse acquittals” and of “jurors being threatened”. Brigadier Frank Kitson, whose idea it was, put it more blatantly: “the activities of the legal services have to be tied into the war effort in as discreet a way as possible”.
In other words, the British government was seeking to criminalise the political struggle against the state. Irish political prisoners were to be treated as criminals, as the state sought to remove any distinction between political violence and normal crime. In essence Britain was using its justice system to deny the validity of the civil rights struggle and subsequently, when the state was found irreformable, the fight against British occupation in the north.
Peace without justice
The Good Friday Agreement which ushered in “peace” was signed in 1998. But it wasn’t until 2005 that the phasing out of Diplock Courts was announced. They were meant to be abolished by 2007. Yet Colin Duffy and Brian Shrivers were both tried by a jury-less court in 2012.
Similarly the Craigavon 2, Brendan McConville and John Paul Wootton, have been tried in a Diplock Court. These courts have been widely condemned by human rights groups. The practice of using uncorroborated evidence from informers during the Supergrass Trials seriously undermined the reputation of these courts. A judge would sit on his own, hear all the “evidence” and reach a verdict, as well as run the trial and pronounce a sentence.
Internment too has not gone away. Instead of the mass raids of the 1970s and 1980s, we have a process of selective internment. For those that are lifted, the British government is deliberately delaying trials knowing full well that they are innocent. It is a ruse to keep political opposition to British rule and to the Good Friday Agreement off the streets for as long as possible.
Socialists should demand the end of internment and the abolition of Diplock Courts. British justice has no progressive role to play in Ireland. Propping up the Stormont regime can only bring austerity, sectarianism and repression to Irish people.