The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Spectre of Imprisonment

IRPWA Speech, Third International Conference Against Isolation, Berlin

Marian Price • 15 December 2004

It is an honour to be here speaking to you all for a second time. On behalf of the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association, the 32 County Sovereignty Movement and the entire Republican movement I would like to thank you for this opportunity to address the issues affecting Irish Republican Political prisoners. Also on behalf of the Republican Movement, both imprisoned and in the field, I extend solidarity greetings to all other freedom fighters, political activists and prisoners of war.

The spectre of imprisonment looms large over all those involved in the freedom and liberation struggles and indeed on many occasions the prison has become the frontline in the battle between the forces of progress and those of reaction. In today's political climate a united front against the use of isolation, torture and degradation is not just desirable but is imperative. At a period in human history that is unprecedented in the monstrosity and brutality of the state we must become the bulwark against multi national capitalist and imperialist aggression. The new world order envisaged by these states such as the USA and Britain does not tolerate political dissent nor alternative view points on how best to deliver on freedom equality peace and justice. At a time when ordinary civilian's fundamental human rights are being eroded what can we expect for the political activist who has actively challenged and resisted such super powers. With the enactment of such draconian legislation as the Patriot Act in the US and the Prevention of Terrorism Act in Britain anyone with conflicting views to those of the establishment could easily find themselves behind bars and subject to the wholesale denial of even the most basic of human rights. For these reasons and many more it is incumbent that we meet and share experiences in order that we might learn from each others struggles and provide comfort and inspiration to each other.

Although all freedom struggles are unique in many ways, all have similarities. The common theme running through them all is the threat of imprisonment by those who the political activist seeks to overthrow. When the activist is seeking to overthrow the state then the state will attempt to crush him in order to not only punish the individual but to send out a message to all those who would attempt to do likewise. Not alone does this punish the individual but is also a collective punishment of the freedom fighters family, friends and community. This is a deliberate attempt to increase the pressure on all those who wish to change the status quo and break the power structure. This is the same in Ireland, in Palestine, in the Basque Country, in Turkey, in Iraq, in Quantanamo Bay and in countless thousands of places that never make headlines.

From an Irish perspective the prisons issue is and has always been central to the whole republican ideology. In every decade since the Irish People declared their independence Irish Men and Women have been interned by the British and their quisling allies in Ireland.

There is hardly a republican home in the Irish Nation that has not experienced the heart break of having loved ones dragged out of their beds in the middle of the night without explanation and hauled off to God knows where for God knows how long. The Irish Republican tradition is one whereby prisoners are not treated as criminals but rather as heroes. This is something that the British have consistently underestimated. From the death of O Donovan Rossa to that of Bobby Sands, the British and their allies in the Free State have regularly and consistently failed to appreciate the depth of feeling and sympathy of the Irish people towards their prisoners of war. Despite concerted efforts by the British and Dublin governments to criminalize the Irish Republican Army popular support for their prisoners of war has always provided solace and succour to imprisoned volunteers.

The use of isolation as a political tool is not new to the Irish prison struggles. Perhaps the most notable example was the campaign for the restoration of political status that took place from 1976 until the death of the last hunger striker Mickey Devine in 1981. Ironically many of those who were instrumental in these events later signed a British agreement which sentenced today's republican prisoners to continual struggle for political status, that deal being the Good Friday Agreement.

During the 1976-1981 prison struggle hundreds and hundreds of Irish revolutionaries spent years isolated in cold cells, naked save for a blanket. Without any form of mental or physical exercise. Many died as a result of the ordeal; some were maimed by prison guards and others succumbed to various forms of mental illness as a direct result of their treatment at the hands of their British captors. Long Kesh and the H-Blocks rank as a testament to Britain's failure to control Ireland just as Abu gharib will become in Iraq.

Irish political prisoners endured all this and the trauma of their comrades dying slow and agonizing deaths on Hunger Strike rather than accept the label of criminal.

Today's generation of Irish POW's had their political status signed away by former comrades. Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement they accepted a deal which effectively stated that armed action against the British in Ireland was illegal, the implication being of course that the British presence in Ireland was somehow legal. This is something that the Prisoners of War in Ireland and particularly those in the occupied six counties would not and will not accept. The latest prison struggle in Ireland was the campaign by the republican prisoners in Maghaberry for segregation from common criminals and pro-British death squads. The campaign which involved wrecking cells, refusal to conform, no-wash protests and finally a campaign of smearing excrement on walls forced the British to grant segregation. This partial victory was no doubt aided by the fact that the traditional Irish sympathy for republican POW's was again coming to the fore. Large protests took place across the north and the British were actually advised by former republicans in Sinn Fein to accede to the Republican demands rather than have them gain any further support in the republican community. The granting of a wing of their own for republicans amounted to a de facto recognition by the British authorities that these men were political prisoners and not criminals and ended the policy of isolating the republicans among a hostile prison population of pro-British paramilitaries and criminals.

Since the granting of segregation life for the republican prisoners has been far from easy.

The prison authorities have been intent on forcing a punitive regime upon the prisoners.

The men have been forced to endure long spells in lock up due to a practice known as 'controlled movement'. In effect this means that no more than three prisoners are allowed out of their cells at any one time. The prison authorities have been using this to punish the prisoners for winning segregation, something which they fought against right from the start. The prisoners have also been divided into two landings on the wing with little or no contact between the two sets of prisoners thus further separating the men from each other.

Education and recreational facilities could best be described as ranging from the basic to the non existent and the prisoners are continually subjected to humiliating and degrading strip searches which have been described as akin to sexual assault. Last summer a potential Hunger Strike was narrowly avoided by dialogue between the prisoners and the IRPWA. We felt that the prison authorities were intent on provoking a serious situation in order to justify their opposition to segregation for prisoners.

In the year since I last addressed this symposium there have been many ups and downs for the republican movement both inside and outside the prisons. Many Republicans have been released from prison because of revelations that agents of the British state and members of the British Army, British police in Ireland and other agencies of the British state have been involved in the systematic planting and contamination of evidence against republicans. Other agents have been involved in entrapping republicans in order to send them on their way to long prison sentences. This latest form of internment illustrates perfectly how low the state will stoop in order to crush dissent. This also illustrates how desperate they are to censor the republican message and how despite their draconian legislation, media censorship, black propaganda and black operations the message is still getting out there, that is why international conferences on issue such as prisoners and what they stand for are of vital importance. Many of us here today are unable to get a fair representation of our views at home nor a level playing field on which to air our legitimate political opinions yet here we are today amongst friends. As long as we continue to discuss the issue of the isolation of political prisoners and indeed the isolation of the opinions, hopes and aspiration that have resulted in these men and women being imprisoned, the forces of capitalism, imperialism, occupation and reaction can never be victorious and we, comrades can never be isolated.

Tiocfaidh ar la.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

23 December 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

The Spectre of Imprisonment
Marian Price

Bad Santa
Anthony McIntyre

Blunkett's Interment Law Struck Down
Eamonn McCann

Trust Us, It's Not What It Looks Like
Brian Mór

ARN & Street Seen: End of the Year Comments from Davy Carlin
Davy Carlin

21 December 2004

3rd Intl. Conference Against Isolation: Speech by IRSP Delegates
Liam O Ruairc and Gerard McGarrigle, IRSP

Spot the Light
Anthony McIntyre

Unionism in the Dáil
Dr John Coulter

Let's Get Penitent!
Brian Mór

Street Seen Sleeping Bag Appeal
Jon Glackin

Life Among the Ruins: The Peru Reader
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Listen to Sharon's Little Helpers
Paul de Rooij



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