Don’t Hand Them Over!

Two young Dublin men, Seán Farrell and Ciarán Maguire currentlyface extradition to the Six Counties on foot of a European ArrestWarrant served by the PSNI in March 2017. If their request is successful Seán and Ciarán will face trial and potentially lengthy prison terms in Co Antrim’s notorious Maghaberry Prison where republican prisoners have for many years been subjected to forced strip searches, systematic beatings and held in isolation for prolonged periods of time. 

Events over recent weeks in relation to British state violence and collusion in Ireland have also amply demonstrated that there has never been a “new beginning” to policing and justice matters in the Six Counties. Given the British state’s long history of human rights violations and its continued attempts to cover up its role in colluding with loyalist death squads in the murders of hundreds of nationalists, it would be a travesty of justice to extradite a republican to face itsso called “justice” system. 

The early months of 2019 have been peppered with examples of the British state’s role in murder and cover up in Ireland, and the lengths it is prepared to go to deny truth and justice. In early February it was revealed that the PSNI had failed to hand over to the Ombudsman all relevant files relating to the 1992 loyalist massacre at Seán Graham bookmakers on Belfast’s Ormeau Road. 

The Ombudsman originally made a request to the PSNI in 2014 for all files relating to the murders of the five men (including a 15 year old boy) in that UFF attack. However, it withheld files relating to covert police activity when it responded to the Ombudsman’srequest for further disclosure of files in August 2018. Families of those killed have long believed there was police collusion in the attack. 

Just a week after this revelation, British direct ruler Karen Bradley perfectly illustrated the British establishment’s imperial mindset and how it views the murderous actions of its military in Ireland. Responding to a question from DUP MP Emma Little Pengelly during a British House of Commons debate on the Stormont House Agreement and what are termed legacy issues, Bradley said:

The hon. Lady sets out the figures very powerfully—over 90% of the killings during the troubles were at the hands of terrorists. Every single one of those was a crime. The under 10% that were at the hands of the military and police were not crimes; they were people acting under orders and instructions, fulfilling their duties in a dignified and appropriate way.

Bloody Sunday in Derry, the Ballymurphy massacre, decades of British state collusion with loyalist death squads, the children killed by plastic bullets, shoot-to-kill: all are considered to be the actions of a military force acting in a “dignified and appropriate way.” Bradley sounded like some mid-nineteenth century colonial overlordsurveying a village that her troops had just massacred while informing the surviving ‘natives’ they should be grateful for the peace and civilisation the Empire had brought to its land. 

Not surprisingly, just a week after Bradley’s comments, the British Crown Prosecution Service revealed it would proceed with a prosecution against just one member of the British Parachute Regiment responsible for the massacre of fourteen civilians on Bloody Sunday. Following a police investigation on the back of the Saville Inquiry, files on a total of eighteen British soldiers were sent to the Crown Prosecution Service who decided there was sufficient evidence against just one, ‘Soldier F’ as he is referred to, who has been charged with the murder of Jim Wray and William McKinneyand with four attempted murders.

The comments of British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson in the wake of the announcement that: “We are indebted to those soldiers who served with courage and distinction to bring peace to Northern Ireland” again illustrated the British state’s perverse notion of justice. Bringing peace by massacring civilians would appear to be a very British state form of justice. 

The opening scene of Seán Murray’s gripping new film Unquiet Graves, which has played before packed audiences across the country, depicts two young Derry men Colm McCartney and Seán Farmer returning home on a bright August evening in 1975 having spent an enjoyable afternoon in Croke Park watching the Dublin and Derry All Ireland football semi-final. The men’s carefree mood quickly darkens as their car approaches a military checkpoint in the South Armagh village of Altnamachin. 

Within minutes both men are lying dead at the side of the road –Seán Farmer shot six times and Colm McCartney four times as he tried to escape following the shooting of his friend. Those responsible for the murder of the two Derry men was a group of UDR and RUC men who, acting alongside other members of the UVF, formed the Glenanne Gang. This notorious gang operatedwith impunity in the mid Ulster area, known as the Murder Triangle,and was responsible for an estimated 120 killings between 1972 and 1978, including the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. 

UDR Corporal Robert McConnell was one of those responsible for the murders of Colm McCartney and Seán Farmer as well as numerous other murders in that area. He was shot dead by the IRA in 1976. At his funeral he was described as a man who had worked “ceaselessly for peace.” Clearly, Karen Bradley and Gavin Williamson were merely parroting a long held belief within the British establishment that its troops, regardless of their murderous actions, are “men of peace.” 

One hundred years on from the commencement of the ‘War of Independence’ the people of Ireland   continue to live with thereality and legacy of British imperialism. Presently, the Irish courts are preparing to extradite two young Dublin men Seán Farrell and Ciarán Maguire to face this perverse form of British justice. Seán and Ciarán were arrested in March 2017 on foot of a European Arrest Warrant issued by the PSNI. They are currently challenging that warrant in the High Court. Should the extradition proceed theywill be incarcerated in Maghaberry Prison. 

In 2015 Maghaberry was described by the Inspectorate of Prisons in England and Wales as “unsafe and unstable” and as one of the most dangerous prisons ever visited by its Chief Inspector Nick Hardwick. There have been numerous instances of mistreatment of republican prisoners including forced strip searches, forced isolation and restricted association. Republican prisoners resisting forced strip searches have been assaulted by prison warders. As recently as last July five republican prisoners were viciously beaten by the prison riot squad and dragged into isolation having objected to the presence on their wing of a prison warder, who had previously engaged in sectarian behaviour. 

A former leading trade union official Peter Bunting, who negotiated an agreement between republican prisoners and the prison regime in 2010, which the regime reneged on, commented in 2016 that amongst prison warders, there was a “sectarian attitude and political interference” towards republican prisoners and that strip searching was a “tool to suppress people” held on the republican wing of the prison. Prisoners are also being denied access to educational facilities, including Irish language resources. 

Last November Dublin City Council passed a motion, submitted by Independent councillor Cieran Perry and supported by all political parties represented on the local authority, objecting to the extradition of political prisoners to Maghaberry. The motion statedthat “the onset of Brexit in March 2019 will disadvantage any political prisoners who may have been extradited under the European Arrest Warrant frameworks but will no longer enjoy rights applying to EU nationals including EU sentence appeal processes.”It went to detail the inhumane conditions in Maghaberry. A similar motion was passed by Cork County Council.

While the current Brexit debacle playing out in the British House of Commons has elements of farce to it, for those facing extradition into the clutches of the British state there are issues of grave concern relating to the protection of human rights. The British government in its EU Withdrawal Agreement has made clear that it will not be bound by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which ultimately calls into question its longer term commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights. One of the earliest cases taken to the European Court of Human Rights established under the Convention was the Irish state case against Britain for the torture of the Hooded Men. The Court found that the men had been subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment. 

During the first two decades of the war in the Six Counties the Dublin government refused to extradition requests from Britain for political offences. The law in this regard was governed by the 1965 Extradition Act, Section 11 of which stated: “Extradition shall not be granted for an offence which is political offence or an offence connected with a political offence.” Introducing the Extradition Bill in Leinster House in January 1964 the then Minister for Justice Charles Haughey, stated: 

“After a review of the arrangement in connection with the promotion of the present Bill the government decided that they should be modified in a number of respects notably by the introduction of safeguards common to international extradition practice. Accordingly, provision has been made for prohibiting the surrender of persons who are accused of political offences, offences connected with such offences, purely military offences or revenue offences and in cases where there are substantial reasons for believing that the persons concerned will in fact be prosecuted for political offences or offences connected with them for purely military offences.”

Refusing extradition for political offences was a long held political and legal principle and remained the position of the Dublin government for the following two decades until amendments were made to the Act in 1986 which took effect the following year. These changes were introduced after the Dublin government capitulated to pressure from the British government in the wake of the signing of the 1985 Anglo Irish Agreement. 

Given the history of the British state we can be certain that its exit from the EU will by no means enhance individual rights. Throughout the whole Brexit fiasco there has been an absence of debate relating to justice and human rights issues. In the midst of the uncertainty surrounding how Britain intends to uphold basic human rights and given recent events relating to its role in State murder and terror in Ireland and the appalling conditions that republican prisoners face in Maghaberry, the extradition of Seán Farrell and Ciarán Maguire to face a British court would be a travesty of justice. The High Court should reject the PSNI extradition requests.