Power to the Political prisoners! Power to the People!

(IRSP News is delighted to publish this opinion piece by Gary Keenan of the IRSP in Belfast.)

On International Women’s Day 2012 a discussion was held in West Belfast’s Conway Mill about the on-going political internment of Marian Price. Bernadette McAliskey emphasised the illusion of normalisation by stating that this sort of meeting should not be taking place in 2012 and that the Six County state was supposed to have embraced democracy. Another of Bernadette’s salient points was that people who are appealing to Sinn Fein to exert their influence to release Marian Price were deluding themselves. Sinn Fein as part of the Stormont executive are now administrators of so called British Justice in Ireland. Although made with good intentions, the appeal for figures such as Raymond McCartney to act on this issue is made from a sentimental point of view and because of past injustices faced by McCartney as a political prisoner. However Republicans will be aware of how former comrades have been quick to turn their back on revolutionary principles once part of the establishment. Eamonn De Valera who fought in Easter week and took the Republican side in the Irish Civil War, later as Taoiseach condemned Republican prisoners to death on hunger strike and execution. As Bernadette said “There is no point in guilt-tripping people who did not use to be in the government. They are now”. To appeal to the administrators of British rule in Ireland to help our imprisoned comrades is naive at best and ridiculous at worst. Sinn Fein has consistently said that they are ‘working in the background’ on both the issues of the internment of Marian Price and the brutal conditions in Maghaberry. ‘Working in the background’, what does this mean? The working class people of nationalist communities are not working in the background. On the contrary, working class people are taking to the streets in their thousands to demand an end to British brutality. A similar situation existed last year when former Republican Prisoner Brendan Lillis was subjected to a calculated regime of torture as a terminally ill man. Sinn Fein ‘worked in the background’ and shamefully tried to claim credit for Brendan’s eventual release. The truth is Brendan Lillis was released as a result of the massive campaign of agitation on the streets by Irish working class.

Political commentators such as Eamonn McCann has stated that there is a humanitarian aspect to these issues and that this should be promoted to appeal to the broader support. This approach would undoubtedly increase the number of people involved in the protest movement. However by broadening the campaign to entice the ‘moderate’ elements of our society we run the risk of allowing them to take control. Yes, there is a humanitarian aspect to Maghaberry and the internment of Marian Price but there is also a much larger political agenda. The torturous conditions and political internment emphasise Britain’s imperialist role in Ireland and their continuing war against the Republican people. This is why any attempt to broaden the base of the campaign for the Maghaberry prisoners must include an acceptance that the prisoners are political prisoners. They are also Prisoners of War because as previously noted Britain continues to wage war against the Irish people through both overt and covert means. A recognition of this fact will lead to a better understanding of why, in 2012 the British government is getting away with torture and political internment. Some people speak of the need to involve the wider community such as the clergy and the SDLP. Now support for the prisoners’ demands is a positive force but we should be careful that this ‘support’ from non-republican quarters does not culminate in the protest movement being hijacked. The Catholic church and the SDLP have an appalling record as far as Irish political prisoners are concerned. During the period of 1976-81, both the clergy and the SDLP undermined Republican prisoners and refused to unreservedly recognise them as political prisoners and support their 5 demands. Richard O’Rawe as PRO of the Republican prisoners of Long Kesh, exposed the undermining role that the SDLP and the Catholic church had played in a statement which announced the end of the hunger strike on October 3rd 1981:

“By this time, a new, active, treacherous, and vigorous campaign was under way to break the strike. This campaign was orchestrated by clerics who received approval from the Catholic church. On occasion other individuals were involved also….Attempts were made to discredit us prisoners and the National H-Block/Armagh Committee. More damaging was the promotion of the ‘hopeless’ syndrome.”

O’Rawe also identified the SDLP as ‘imperialist lickspittle’; this label is as accurate now as it was in 1981. Any sort of ‘work in the background’ that either the SDLP or Sinn Fein (these days, it’s difficult to make a distinction) undertake is purely for political gain. The current situation in Maghaberry and Hydebank dictates that you are either in support of political prisoners or you are an apologist for British institutions of torture.

Former British General Frank Kitson articulated British counter-revolutionary policy in Low-intensity operations by admitting the existence of the strategy to neutralise the revolutionary sections of the community and promote the more moderate elements. The British government continue to employ this strategy as they know that they can contain and control those moderate elements. In Monsignor Raymond Murray’s The SAS in Ireland, British intelligence are believed to have drafted the list as part of “Operation RANC”, which was set up after the assassination of Airey Neave. Neave was a key Tory party figure, with links to British intelligence and is believed to be one of the “puppet-masters” that put Thatcher in charge of the Tory party and later Britain. Because the INLA carried out the bombing that killed Neave, Thatcher’s government sought revenge on the INLA and its IRSP comrades. Members of the National H-Block/Armagh Committee who were members of the IRSP and INLA were systematically assassinated in their homes by secret death squads. There is widespread belief that the British contributed either directly or indirectly in their deaths because of their involvement in the prisoners’ campaign. This was part of a coordinated campaign to remove the perceived radical voices in the National H block/Armagh committees. This explains why Marian Price is being interned by the British government. Bernadette nailed this on the head when she said “She is not there because of anything she did or did not do, she is there because of who, and what she is”. We must be careful that agitation on behalf of the prisoners does not become led by these moderates which would lead to this agitation being derailed.

The people to lead the prisoner protest movement are the comrades, families and friends of those who are incarcerated. These are the people who have suffered the loss of their loved ones and friends and have consistently appeared on white line pickets, rain, hail or shine. They are also working class people who face the daily harassment of the PSNI. They are the people who will continue the fight to ensure their comrades are not forgotten. This is why people should apply caution when broadening the campaign, as the political opportunists and reactionary forces do not have these shared experiences and will stop short in order to reach a naive compromise with their British imperialist masters. Support for the prisoners should remain directed by the grassroots activists who have consistently taken to the streets. Of course we want to encourage as many people as possible to demand an end to internment and to expose the inhumane treatment of the prisoners. But we must be careful not allow the campaign to be hijacked and subsequently derailed. The Irish working class people will unwaveringly carry on the fight for their imprisoned comrades.


“The Irish working class are the incorruptible inheritors of the fight for freedom in Ireland.” – James Connolly


Power to the Political prisoners! Power to the People!

Gary Keenan,




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