Human Rights Are Under Threat in the North

By Sandy Boyer

Fifteen years ago, the Good Friday Agreement promised a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. Today there is still no Bill of Rights, and human rights are under a severe and sustained attack.  

Internment without charge or trial is back; “special” political offenses are being used to muzzle political activists; and the police have intimidated witnesses.

Internment was formally ended in 1975. But now it is being used against former political prisoners who are imprisoned indefinitely because their “license” (parole in American terms) has been revoked. They are never told why it was revoked and not even their lawyers can see what evidence, if any, is being used to keep them in prison.

Martin Corey (pictured above) has spent more than three years in Northern Ireland’s Maghaberry Prison. He is imprisoned indefinitely without a charge, trial, sentence or release date because the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, a British Cabinet Minister, has revoked his license. There is very little chance of that he will be released any time in the foreseeable future.

Martin Corey received a life sentence in December 1973 when he was 19 years old for killing two members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Northern Ireland police force, in an IRA operation. He served 19 years and was released in June, 1992.

In the early hours of April 16, 2010, almost 18 years after his release, the police took Martin Corey away to prison. He was informed that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland had revoked his license because he was a “security risk.” 

Last year a Belfast judge ordered him released on unconditional bail because he was being held on the basis of secret evidence. His family rushed to the prison to bring him home.

But while Martin Corey was sitting in the prison reception area and they were waiting outside, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland overruled the judge and ordered him re-arrested.

His lawyers have announced that they will appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. But it could be years before any appeal is even heard, let alone decided.

Marian Price was held in solitary confinement for more than two years after the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announced that he had revoked her license.  Neither she nor her lawyers were allowed to see the evidence against her. Twice judges ordered her freed on bail. Twice the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland overruled the judge and ordered her back to prison.

 Marian Price is one of the best known former IRA prisoners. After she was convicted of bombing London’s Old Bailey Courthouse in 1973, she embarked on a hunger strike that lasted over 200 days, demanding to serve her sentence in Northern Ireland. She was force fed over 400 times and her heath never recovered

After Marian Price was returned to prison in 2011 her health deteriorated so badly that she had to be moved to a hospital. Even after she was in a wheelchair, there was a prison guard stationed outside her door 24 hours a day. She was handcuffed for family visits and even during medical tests.

When the Parole Commission finally released Marian Price she was suffering from pneumonia, arthritis so severe that she couldn't open her hands and the anorexia she developed during her hunger strike had returned.

Stephen Murney is in Maghaberry Prison charged with “collecting information likely to be to the use of terrorists” and “distributing information likely to be of use to terrorists” because he took photographs of members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland at political demonstrations.

He published some of these photographs in local newspapers and posted others on facebook. He also saved images of protests in Northern Ireland over the last 45 years on his computer.

Stephen Murney was arrested on December 1, 2012 and remanded to Maghaberry pending a trial. He is still there today and no trial date has ever been set.

He was offered bail but only on condition that he not live at home with his partner and their child, never enter his home town even to visit a doctor or his family, never attend a political meeting or event and wear an electronic monitoring device . He rejected these conditions.

Stephen Murney is a well known political activist in the Newry area of Northern Ireland. He is a prominent member of Erigi, a legal political party throughout Ireland.

Significantly, although Erigi rejects the Good Friday Agreement it does not believe that an armed struggle can be effective in today’s Ireland.  Erigi General Secretary Breandán Mac Cionnaith,, says it is “not aligned to, or supportive of, any armed organisation.”

Stephen Murney’s prosecution is a threat to political activists and photo journalists. Legal and human rights organizations often advise activists to take pictures of any police misconduct. This can be the only way to prove that the police have actually been violent or abusive. Photojournalists may hesitate to photograph the police in action if they know they could be charged with “collecting material of use to terrorists.”

The Police Service of Northern Ireland tried to intimidate a witness who could have discredited the murder convictions of Brendan McConville and John Paul Wooten. They are serving 25 years (McConville) and 14 years (Wooten) for killing Police Constable Stephen Carroll.

Their conviction rested on the testimony of a man known only as “Witness M” who said he saw the two men leaving the scene of the crime. The defense team located a close relative of “Witness M” who swore in an affidavit that “he was known in the family as a Walter Mitty that he made up stories, that he had a fertile imagination and you could not believe anything he said.” According to this relative, Witness M could not have taken the route he claimed on the night of the killing because his partner was not welcome in his home.

After this affidavit was submitted to the Court of Appeals the police forced their way into this man’s home and threatened to discredit him if he testified at the appeal hearing. Shortly afterwards he was arrested, held for three days, and questioned about his possible testimony.

Defense lawyers have stated that the PSNI put not only this new witness but the defense team itself under surveillance. BrendanMcConville’s solicitor, Darrragh Mackin says that both he Peter Corrigan, John Paul Wooten’s solicitor, were afraid that they would be arrested before the appeal hearing. “It’s an absolutely terrifying fact to think that one or both of us could be arrested.”

The case has been adjourned until October. Even if McConnville and Wooten are freed then, they will have spent four and a half years in Maghaberry Prison.

Martin Corey, Marian Price, Stephen Murney, Brendan McConville, and John Paul Wooten are all “dissident republicans” who are actively opposed to the Good Friday Agreement. Some people are reluctant to publicly support them for fear of being tarred with the same brush. Gerry Conlon of the Guildford 4, who was imprisoned for 16 years for a bombing he didn't commit, said that “people who we know should be speaking out are not speaking out.”

But if these “dissident republicans “are imprisoned, everyone’s human rights will be in jeopardy. Anti-drugs campaigners, community activists or even militant trade unionists could be next. As Irish civil rights leader Bernadette Devlin McAliskey has said this is “a clear signal that no dissent will be tolerated. No dissent will be tolerated and you challenge the status quo at your peril.”

Ends

New York based Sandy Boyer is the co-host of “Radio Free Eireann” broadcast Saturdays at 1pm on WBAI, 99.5 FM, or wbai.org. He has helped to mobilize support for political prisoners including Marian Price, Roisin McAliskey, the Birmingham 6, Pol Brennan and Joe Doherty.

(Originally published in The Irish Echo)

 

Views: 492

Tags: Are, Attack, Human, In, Irish Freedom Struggle, Living History, North, Rights, The, Under

Comment by Bit Devine on September 13, 2013 at 1:28pm

It should be noted that the Weston Park Accord, a key component in the Good Friday Agreement, has, to this day, never been fully implemented.

The Good Friday Agreement was signed on 10th April 1998. The associated Weston Park Accord was signed on 1st August 2001. This is an international agreement between the Irish and British governments. Both governments agreed to implement paragraph 20 before the end of 2001.

Unfortunately, the legislation required to implement paragraph 20 was never passed in Westminster. The failure of the British government to act in the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement forced the withdrawal of this legislation on 11th January 2006 by then Secretary of State Peter Hain

Paragraph 20 states that:

"supporters of organisations now on cease-fire against whom there are outstanding proceedings, and in some cases extradition proceedings, for offences committed before 10th April 1998 would if convicted, stand to benefit from the early release scheme. The Governments accept that it would be a natural development of the scheme for such prosecutions not to be pursued and will as soon as possible, and in any event before the end of the year, take such steps as are necessary in their jurisdictions to resolve this difficulty so that those concerned are no longer pursued".

As part of the Weston Park Accord, a list of those who would benefit from Paragraph twenty was included. It isn't too surprising that Martin Corey, Gerry McGeough and Marian Price were on that list and that all have been interred without justifcation or just cause.

In Gerry's case. he was made to go before a Diplock Court. He was subsequently charged and sentenced in a Diplock Court with alleged offences dating back 31 years to June 1981. Diplock Courts were to be abolished by August of 2007. They are still being used.

Marian's health was permanently damaged when she was force-fed over 400 times in a prison. Experts were called in, Prison doctors, independent specialists and even UN doctors.  Each reported that she needed to be at home to recover with her family. The British cabinet ministers who run Northern Ireland paid no attention.

Twice, judges ordered Price freed on bail. Twice, the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland overruled the judge and ordered her back to prison, saying he was canceling her license (parole in American terms). All the while he knew perfectly well that she wasn't on license at all because she had received a full royal pardon.

Marian & Gerry have been released. Martin still languishes at Maghaberry

Comment by Rónán Gearóid Ó Domhnaill on September 15, 2013 at 3:42pm

Eirigí is semi legal in the republic and is something of a rent a mob who can be called upon to support any protest, no matter how small and love a good scrap. My information on Martin Corey is limited but I am not sure that he is as innocent as he seems. We have enjoyed years of relative peace or 'acceptable' levels of violence in the north and anyone who wants to continue the armed struggle is looked upon as a pariah. Corey is definitely not on par with innocents such as the Guilford Four or Bermingham Six.  People who reject The Good Friday Agreement, whether Protestant or Catholic are a threat to democracy and peace.  

Comment by Sandy Boyer on September 15, 2013 at 10:40pm

The essence of human rights and civil liberties is that they apply to the people we disagree with as well as those with whom we agee. "They came for trade unionists but I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the socialists but I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the Jews but I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me." 

Comment by Rónán Gearóid Ó Domhnaill on September 16, 2013 at 10:55am

by that logic we should be deeply concerned about the welfare of muslim terrorists shooting at American soldiers. Not sure if Northern Ireland is as much a Police State as the third reich was. Are these people peaceful activists or terrorists waiting to plan another murder? Could the latter be reason be why they are imprisoned? There is nothing heroic about murdering two unarmed British soldiers collecting a pizza. I am not sure what kind of positive contribution murdering a Catholic PSNI member made to anything.

Comment by Bit Devine on September 16, 2013 at 12:00pm

Then actually charge Martin with a crime...He hasn't even been charged with a crime in all this time.

If you are looking at his history Pre-GFA, then yes, he was no saint. Neither were a lot of those who fought on the British side of things but what penalties have they ever received?

Gerry, Martin, Marian, none of them were in hiding all of these years. Marian had received a Royal Pardon. Gerry was living and working in his community in Tyrone. He was an educator, a councilman.

Interestingly in Gerry's case, He and McAnspie were both there during the alleged shooting of Samuel Brush. They make Brush out to be a lowly postman just delivering mail. He was anything but. Oh, to be sure, he was delivering mail, everyone has to have an income. Brush, who was wearing a bullet-proof vest, fired on Gerry and McAnspie, hitting Gerry. Both McAnspie & Gerry shot at Brush wounding him. 

Gerry was convicted in February 2011 of attempted murder, possessing firearms with intent, and IRA membership. He was sentenced in April 2011 to 20 years imprisonment, Under the Good Friday Agreement he served no more than two years in jail, and was finally released on 29 January 2013. McAnspie didn't spend one day in that hell hole called Maghaberry. He was acquitted of all charges against him. They went after Gerry because of his politics

Gerry was no saint in those days of the Troubles, to be sure. He even did time stateside for arranging for  attempting to buy surface-to-air-missiles in 1983.

Show me one...just one, who was a saint during those times.

Until there is equal justice meted out for both sides, there will not be anything but a tentative peace in the North.

Comment by Sandy Boyer on September 16, 2013 at 8:28pm

The problem with defending human rights and civil liberties is precisely that you have to defend the rights of people you don't agree with.

In the context of "dissidents" in Northern Ireland - If they have committed a crime bring them before a court with a jury, Do not:

* Intern them without charge or trial;

* Charge then with "possession of materials of use to terrorists" for taking photographs; or

* Attempt to intimidate witnesses.

The question you need to answer is not whether you agree with there peoples' politics but whether you're willing to defend their human rights.

"First they came for the socialists but I did not speak up because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists but I did not speak up because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews but I did not speak up because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak up for me."

Comment by Rónán Gearóid Ó Domhnaill on September 18, 2013 at 8:37am

prevention is better than cure. 'dissidents' who rejected the GFA are a threat to the peace process. Michael Stone for example is back inside after his unusual theatrical display at Stormont. I would have to read more on these guys but what kind of photos were they taking- military installation, police officers?

It will be interesting to see how the past will be dealt with, certainly differently by those who have to live with it.

Comment by Sandy Boyer on September 18, 2013 at 10:15am

The peace process is discredited when basic civil liberties are violated. It is significant that Sinn Fein, no friend of "dissidents" has protested in all these cases. 

The British government said they used internment because republicans were a threat to peace. The US said Japanese-Americans were a threat to peace. Where do you stand?

If people commit a crime they should be tried be a jury of their peers. This has not happened in any of these cases. Where do you stand on that basic human right?

Comment by Bit Devine on September 18, 2013 at 10:37am

I do not know the others well enough to speak to their stance on the GFA or the Peace process. I can tell you that Gerry has always fully supported the Peace Process.

He would never have faced a British court nor seen a Maghaberry cell were it not for the principled stand he took against his former party’s endorsement of the British PSNI.

In Gerry's case, it was something that happened back in 1981. That is equivalent to somebody in the Republic being arrested in the 1950’s for something that happened during the War of Independence in 1921.

Gerry, like so many others, believes in the reunification of Ireland. He doesn't advocate it being a violent reunification but a peaceful one. Even after so many years, the Peace Process in the north of Ireland is quite fragile.

Comment by Sandy Boyer on September 18, 2013 at 12:19pm

The point is not who does or does not support the Good Friday Agreement or the peace process but that everyone, no matter what their political beliefs is entitled to basic human rights including trial by a jury of their peers.

It's important to understand that many people who don't support the peace process also reject the strategy of an armed struggle to drive the British government out of Ireland. They include socialists like Bernadette Devlin McAliskey and Eamonn McCann and republicans like Anthony McIntyre and Richard O'Rawe.

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