FFAI ISSUES UPDATE
A — Catholic Bishops, legal scholars and justice campaigners slam British plan on legacy killings — Four Catholic Bishops, legal experts and justice campaigners slammed British plans on crown legacy killings, accusing Britain of “bad faith” and “rewriting the rules of justice.” Instead of an Historical Investigations Unit investigating hundreds of controversial killings, including British trooper killings, Britain wants only a review by their appointed “independent body”. This panel would close all cases, unless they saw “new compelling evidence and a realistic prospect of a prosecution”. They would hold no investigation to look for new evidence, before ruling there was none.
Bishops Eamon Martin, Noel Treanor, Donal McKeown, Larry Duffy and Michael Router, expressed “alarm and disappointment” at the plan announced by British secretary Brandon Lewis. They said the British had stepped away from the Stormont House Agreement and the fundamental principle that “justice would be pursued, where possible, regardless of the identity of the perpetrator.” The Bishops concluded, “For those victims who do not feel justly treated, the wounds of the past will never fully heal. We therefore support the ongoing pursuit of appropriate criminal, legal and civic justice for all victims”.
Professor Kieran McEvoy, Dr Anna Bryson and Professor Louise Mallinder of Queen’s University Belfast, joined Committee for the Administration of Justice lawyer Gemma McKeown, to publish: Prosecutions, Imprisonment and the Stormont House Agreement: A Critical Analysis of Proposals on Dealing with the Past in Northern Ireland. Ms. McKeown said,“ For some members of the current government, and some back-benchers, even one soldier being convicted and imprisoned for conflict related offences is one too many. It is that urge for impunity, dressed up as ‘witch-hunt’ that appears to be propelling government policy”. They found Britain’s plan incompatible with the European Convention on Human rights (ECHR), the Good Friday Agreement, and Stormont House Agreement. The British countered opposition by referring their proposals to be rubberstamped b the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster. Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice said : “This committee does not hold the confidence of the many thousands of people from across our entire community bereaved and injured as a result of collusion and direct state violence”.
Amnesty International’s Grainne Teggart said Britain’s plans “amount to a further betrayal of victims and are the latest attempt to close down paths to justice”…Amnesty will be submitting to the Westminster inquiry to highlight a human rights compatible way forward to finally deal with the past.”
B — No new Irish government formed nearly 100 days after election — The search continues for a governing coalition supported by at least 80 elected Dail representatives. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil agreed on a “full and equal partnership” for five years, during which they would rotate the position of Taoiseach. Both parties lost seats in the February election, ending in a parliament, unable to muster a majority. Fianna Fail with 38 seats and Fine Gael with 35,are negotiating with the Green Party holding 12 seats. All three parties have competing interests and all compromises made by party negotiating teams must be approved by a full party members vote..Any agreement by the Greens must be passed by two-thirds of the party membership before they join a coalition. The Greens have been racked with internal turmoil over entering talks and members have been meeting via video link to debate Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael’s policy framework document. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael could also try Labour and other small parties as potential partners but there is no guarantee any party will join a coalition facing economic dislocation and hard choices. Both parties still refuse to talk to Sinn Fein which won 37 seats, citing historic links to the IRA. The Fine Gael-Fianna Fail policy document contains a section on a “Shared Island” and proposes a unit to work towards a “united island” but makes no reference to a united Ireland.
C — Kevin Barry Artt, who escaped Long Kesh and won refuge in America sees conviction dismissed 37 years later — The Diplock Court conviction which sent Kevin Barry Artt to Britain’s Long Kesh Prison in 1983,was reversed because the written notes of his so-called confession were fabricated by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Artt was one of 37 IRA members who escaped from Britain’s top security prison in 1983.He settled in California, and defeated Britain’s attempt to extradite him back to the north. He had been convicted in a non-jury court where the only evidence was a disputed admission that he was one of the IRA members who killed a notorious Long Kesh prison official in 1978.This conviction was reversed because scientific tests proved RUC members revised their written notes of the statement to convict him. The ruling means that Artt should never have been sent to Long Kesh, forced to escape or flee to the USA.
Kevin Barry Artt was part of the great escape from Long Kesh , regarded as one of the biggest prison escapes in history. He fled to America, settling in California and establishing himself as a successful car salesman. In 1992 he was arrested on a passport violation, and British officials filed to have him extradited back to Long Kesh. In a landmark 1998 decision the United States Court of Appeals refused to extradite him and two other escapees, Terry Kirby, and Pol Brennan, upholding their right to show the political bias in Britain’s non-jury Diplock court political trials. Mr Artt, who has lived on the west coast ever since, renewed an appeal he had lodged before his escape. He challenged his so-called confession during RUC interviews in 1981,maintaining he had been subjected to ill-treatment, coercion, threats, misleading promises and that the RUC had fabricated the statements. Scientific tests proved him right.
Following the verdict Mr Artt’s lawyer Fearghal Shiels of Madden & Finucane said: “This is the latest in a number of appeals in this jurisdiction which highlight a depressing enthusiasm on the part of RUC officers to lie on oath to a court to secure a conviction of an innocent man at any cost.”
D — No checks on British control over border poll — A Court of Appeals proceeding started by campaigner Raymond McCord to compel the British Secretary for the north to set out criteria for holding a border poll on Irish reunification, has instead
resulted in a British Court of Appeal ruling that no criteria are required. The ruling was the latest in a series of cases brought by Mr. McCord testing issues like Brexit and the Good Friday Agreement, which ended in adverse rulings. He claimed the British Secretary’s failure to set out circumstances in which he would direct the holding of a poll on unifying Ireland breached constitutional issues.
The court said the British Secretary could decide what factors to consider for granting a border poll and noted there was no requirement for guidelines in either the 1998 Belfast Agreement or in the legislation enacting it, the Northern Ireland Act.
E — Britain rejects EU request for post-Brexit Belfast office — The British government has rejected the EU’s request for a Belfast office needed to check post-Brexit Irish border trade. The EU had to close its offices across the north when Britain exited the bloc on January 31st, but EU officials must be present to monitor checks and controls on goods crossing the Irish Sea, which could then be transported into the 26 counties. Under Britain’s withdrawal agreement, the north stays in the single market, but remains within Britain’s customs territory to allow it to gain from future British trade deals. However the full EU customs code has to be enforced on goods travelling between the six counties and British mainland.
The protocol agreed last October stated that EU officials “have the right to be present” during customs and regulatory checks on goods entering the north from Britain, in order to ensure they comply with Single Market rules.
Irish Tánaiste, Simon Coveney said the EU understood that British officials would carry out the required checks but that there would be an EU office with officials able to observe checks taking place.“The whole point was to provide reassurance not just to Ireland but to the EU more generally that the Single Market was not being undermined or compromised… In other words, some across the EU have a concern that Northern Ireland becomes a sort of unguarded back door for goods to come into the Single Market through Ireland and the protocol has to deal with that.” The agreement was supposed to avoid a hard border across Ireland.
REMBERING THE LEGACY OF HUNGER STRIKE MARTYRS
Thirty-nine years ago this month, in May 1981,Bobby Sands MP, Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O’Hara died on Hunger Strike in the infamous H-Blocks of Long Kesh, rather than let Britain brand them as criminals wearing criminal uniforms.
These men were born into Britain’s Orange State, which used systematic religious discrimination in employment, housing and voting rights to make them second class citizens in their own land. Civil rights marches were met with violence, leading to conflict.
After events including Internment or indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial, the Hooded Men torture, the Ballymurphy Massacre, Bloody Sunday and a Hunger Strike led by legendary IRA Commander Billy McKee in 1972 , British policy makers conceded that those imprisoned because of the Irish conflict, were not criminals but special category political prisoners.
Conditions associated with prisoner-of-war status, such as no criminal uniform, no prison work, association with other political prisoners, etc, were honored in the cages of Long Kesh.
Soon British ministers who claimed there was no legitimate struggle for freedom in Ireland and no political prisoners merely criminals in Long Kesh or Armagh, were challenged with questions about large numbers of Irish prisoners who even Britain recognized as special category.
The British decided on a new strategy to label Irish political prisoners as criminals, and make them living symbols that Ireland ’s struggle for freedom was a criminal enterprise.
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ordered that from March 1, 1976 Irish Republicans must dress up as criminals. She would use them to label Ireland’s historic struggle for freedom as “800 years of crime.”
Those jailed for actions taking place on or before February 28, 1976 would still be recognized as special category prisoners, not wear a criminal uniform and instead, retain all of the conditions of political status.
Those engaging in the very same actions as part of the same struggle after that date, were to be branded as criminals. They must wear criminal uniforms and be confined in H-block cells, as living symbols that they were criminals not patriots.
Kieran Nugent became the first Republican prisoner handed a criminal uniform. He shouted back that his British jailers would have to nail it to his back in order to force him to wear it.
Hundreds of “blanketmen” would be held in Long Kesh. The British tried beatings, brutal searches, intimidation and loss of remission to make them accept criminal uniforms and criminal status.
A steadily escalating campaign to break them and Armagh women political prisoners was resisted by an escalating protest campaign by Republican prisoners.
Massive support for them was provided by Churchmen, politicians and human rights activists who recognized that these Republican prisoners would never have been inside a prison except for the struggle against British rule in the north.
All attempts at honorable resolution were rejected by Thatcher and the British, even a mediation by Cardinal O’Fiaich and a 53 day hunger strike in 1980 led by Brendan Hughes.
Ten Irish Republican patriots, Bobby Sands MP, Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh ,Patsy O’Hara, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Thomas McElwee and Michael Devine would ultimately give their lives on hunger strike rather than betray their struggle by bowing to Thatcher’s criminalization.
Thatcher was beaten albeit at a terrible price. The world recognized that criminals do not die such deaths for the freedom of their country.
We can be proud that America, including AOH members across the country, marched daily at British consulates, generated national publicity, and enlisted Congressmen to visit the north and were crucial part of their victory.
Now 39 years later we remember all of the Hunger Strike Martyrs, who locked away in a British prison, overcame everything in the arsenal of the British Empire to win a victory for Irish freedom.
Next year the 40th anniversary of their heroic sacrifice the AOH FFAI is planning a program of commemorative events, state and city resolutions, speaking tours and visit to the north to honor the Hunger Strikers and their unforgettable legacy.
During the AOH’s 2019 Fact-Finding Mission, at the Mickey Devine Mural in Derry, former H-Block Blanketman Tony O’Hara gave an emotional personal recollection of his brother Patsy O’Hara’s death on Hunger Strike, while Bobby Sands’ former cellmate Thomas “Dixie Elliot” shared his personal memories of Bobby Sands.
Most of you have seen the video provided by Mark Thompson, thanking the AOH and LAOH for our donations to Relatives for Justice, and for our political and solidarity work. We had intended to video similar messages for you from the recipients of your Christmas Appeal grants. Being unable to travel to Ireland in March we asked Mark for a video message and as usual he exceeded all our expectations. At the suggestion of Danny O’Connell and with help from Lee Patterson, Sean Pender and the National FFAI Committee, we are trying to do a series of messages and updates for you.
MALACHY McALLISTER-MAY 28TH
Malachy McAllister still has a deadline to leave the United States on or before May 28th.FFAI has been working with Malachy, his legal representatives ,National VP Sean Pender and Immigration Chair Dan Dennehy. All of our National leaders are involved in Malachy’s fight to remain here.
FFAI MONTHLY BULLETIN
Please read and distribute the monthly FFAI Bulletin. It is now available on AOH national email blasts, or on the New York State and National AOH web sites. We want to give you monthly updates on key events in the north with short analysis and explanation.