I was just blimping through my copy of the Northern Ireland (Emergency
Provisions) Act 1973, and Part (IV) Miscellaneous and General gives a
definition of terrorism.
"Terrorism means the use of violence for political ends and includes any use of
violence for the purpose of putting the public or any section of the public in
Now, dear readers, how does that grab you? It's wonderful what you can do with
words, isn't it?
I was thinking to myself, being in jail and all that, of all the people I
know who are involved in terrorism. No, I don't mean you and me! I mean all
the people who fit into the above definition. It would take a few volumes to
go over all the categories which immediately flip through my little mind so, to
be parochial about it, I will deal with one category only. It is a special
category all on its own. Would you believe I mean the people in charge of
prisoners, here and in England? I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll just slide
over a few of their recent activities and you can work out for yourself whether
they can be described as above. Sound?
The first thing I want you all to do is to consider reports of the Balcome
Street trial. The craic is this: the men involved have claimed
responsibility for the Guildford and Woolwich bombings. To date they have
supplied a solicitor with separate statements of how they carried out these
operations and, from what I read, the statements are so detailed and precise
that there can be no doubting their authenticity. Furthermore, witnesses are
available to swear that there was no collusion between the men when they wrote
the statements and that each statement was given voluntarily.
The only difficulty is that the British state has already jailed other people
for causing these explosions. Other people who have consistently claimed that
they were framed, that they were forced to sign confessions, and that they are
innocent. Other people who were arrested simply because the British couldn't
catch the IRA units involved. So they invented "IRA units" they could
One obvious point which arises is why and how do innocent people come to sign
statements, and how do those who don't sign still manage to end up doing long
sentences? Surely the British police, the judiciary and the prison systems
aren't guilty of "the use of violence for political ends" or of "putting a
section of the public in fear"?
And what of the beatings handed out in Albany recently? I wonder how Sean
Campbell received a broken arm, jaw and leg, plus fractured ribs? How did
Father Fell come by a broken nose? How did others receive severe bruising and
head injuries? Maybe they all fell down stairs together?
Which brings me to the case of Eddie Byrne. Last week Eddie suffered a
dislocated shoulder while in Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight. And what
of Patrick Hackett, who is now in solitary in Brixton Prison? Patrick, who had
lost a hand and a leg in an explosion, was given solitary for not walking
around an exercise yard.
There are many other cases of Irish prisoners receiving mysterious injuries
and long stretches in solitary. A Scottish solicitor, Alastair Logan, has
published in the Law Guardian, the journal of the London Law Society, a
well-researched and documented indictment of the treatment of Republican
prisoners held in British prisons. He also includes descriptions of injuries
received by Irish people while in police custody or on remand.
An Irish Press editorial of 20 December 1976 comments:
The descriptions in Mr Logan's article of the harassment to which Republican
prisoners are subjected, make painful reading. The restrictions on visits by
relatives, clergymen and lawyers, the humiliating strip-searches, the limited
access to reading material . . . the denial of education and recreational
facilities are chronicled in a depressing sequence. What must it be like to
spend all one's time in a cell where the light is on 24 hours a day?
So much, dear readers, of England. What then of Ireland?
Solitary confinement was condemned as far back as the end of the nineteenth
century by a British Parliamentary Committee. Today in Long Kesh Republican
prisoners are held in solitary twenty-four hours a day. They are naked, have
no contact with the outside world (newspapers, letters, visits etc. are
stopped), no exercise facilities, and they can expect to continue in this
manner for the foreseeable future.
Solitary confinement is an unpleasant, soul-destroying and mind-bending
experience. Imagine yourself locked in a coal-shed for a week, naked, with no
means of communicating with the world outside. Imagine the uproar in our
newspaper columns and halls of learning if this activity was uncovered in South
Africa, Chile or Rhodesia. Yet it is happening now, and only a few hundred
yards from where I write.
The Association for Legal Justice has condemned what it calls the lack of
humanity shown by the British government's Northern Ireland Office in its
treatment of these prisoners. "Just as serious," their statement continues,
"is the rising tide of worry and resentment being generated among their
families and relations..."
I wonder if this practice fits into the British definition of "putting the
public or any section of the public in fear"?
Fr Faul, in an address to a recent conference on prisoners' rights, declared:
"I have a big doubt in my mind about the regime in Portlaoise Prison . . . it
is disimproving the men and producing hardened and embittered persons."
The Dublin government minister responsible for Portlaoise, in a BBC interview
during the recent controversy surrounding the declaration of a State of
Emergency, declared: "We intend to finish this thing once and for all". He
didn't say that his government wouldn't use violence, and it is common
knowledge that prisoners in Free State jails are ill-treated and confined to
solitary. One prisoner, Tom Smith, was shot dead while "attempting to escape".
It is also common knowledge that severe restrictions on visits by relatives,
lawyers and clergymen have been imposed in Portlaoise and Limerick jails. Two
bishops have been refused permission to visit prisoners, as have the parish
priests of some of the men.
Despite evidence of beatings, despite the deaths of prisoners, despite the
verdict at Strasbourg, despite cornmissions, tribunals and inquiries, no
British soldier, RUC man, policeman or screw has ever served a day in prison
since 1969 for murder or torture committed while on duty.
The reason for this is that British laws, like the one which defines
terrorism, have neat Catch 22 clauses built in. The Northern Ireland
(Emergency Provisions) Act, for example, "applies to persons who have attained
the age of fourteen and are not serving members of Her Majesty's regular naval,
military or air force". Yahoo!
Would the real terrorists stand up, please?
Reproduced from Cage 11: Writings from Prison, by Gerry Adams,
with permission of Robert Rinehart Publishers, 6309 Monarch Park Place, Niwot,
Colorado. These excerpts may be read only, any printing or reproduction of this
material must be obtained in writing from Robert Rinehart Publishers.