Tomorrow, Thursday 23rd March 2017 should see the start of the trial (in a Diplock court) of Saoradh activist and National Executive member Dee Fennell. The outcome of this trial is of great importance to not only Dee Fennell and his family but the wider Republican community and indeed human rights and political activists in the occupied six counties and beyond.
Saoradh calls on human rights observers both nationally and internationally to monitor and intensely scrutinise this trial process.
The following article appeared in the Scairt Amach magazine in 2015 during Dee’s incarceration in Maghaberry and has been reproduced and updated here thanks to the Scairt Amach editorial team.
Dee Fennell is a prominent Republican and Community Activist from Ardoyne in North Belfast. A married father of five, he has been involved in Republicanism since his teens. He was elected to the National Executive of Saoradh by the membership at its inaugural Ard Fhéis in September 2016 and currently fulfils the position of Education Officer. In recent years he has been involved in a number of high profile campaigns at a local and national level. As a founding member, and current Chairperson, of the Greater Ardoyne Residents’ Collective, he has been the public face of the overwhelming opposition to sectarian parades by Loyal Orders through his community. As GARC has developed in to a Community Resource and Advocacy Organisation in the last year, he has assisted the organisation in campaigns relating to housing, education, culture, employment and the lack of safe and accessible Leisure, Health and Wellbeing Facilities for nationalists in North Belfast. He is also heavily involved in our national games and culture, through his active membership of Ardoyne Kickhams GAC.
In addition to this Party and community activism, Dee is also involved in a number of Republican projects such as assisting in the development of the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association in Belfast. He is also Chairperson of the Anti-Internment League, which organises an annual parade through Belfast every August to highlight the continued use of internment by remand, through revocation of license and as a result of miscarriage of justice. Because of his political and community activism, he has become a hate figure for unionists and loyalists, constantly under threat of physical attack, while enduring regular harassment and intimidation at the hands of British State Agencies including the RUC/PSNI.
In April 2015, Dee spoke to a large crowd at an Independent Republican Easter Commemoration in Lurgan, Co. Armagh. In the course of the speech he spelt out his analysis of the existing political situation in Ireland, and stated his belief that Republicans needed to get involved in campaigns relating to communities, workers, the oppressed, vulnerable and poor — the theme being “making Republicanism relevant”. Like all of us, he exercised his right to state his opinion that the Republican struggle was legitimate. He also used historical quotes from Maire Drumm, who was assassinated by loyalists in 1976, in an analogous fashion to encourage those present to get actively involved in Republican political activity.
Following the speech being made available on the internet, the response from the combined forces of political unionism and loyalist paramilitaries was somewhat predictable, given Dee’s public opposition to sectarianism. The Upper Bann MP and prominent Orangeman, David Simpson of the DUP, publicly called for Dee’s arrest despite not stating what exactly the alleged offence was that he had committed. Jo-Anne Dobson of the UUP, not to be outdone by her constituency rival in the forthcoming Westminster elections, repeated the trick. The loonies of the Protestant Coalition, led by such eloquent voices of reason as, paramilitary supporters, Jamie Bryson and Willie Frazer, joined Simpson in calling for Dee to be prosecuted. As did the North Belfast UVF-aligned PUP, while the UPRG in that part of the city issued an incoherent rambling statement that he could “experience the wrath” that their comrades in the UFF had previously inflicted on other Republicans. Numerous death threats, to add to a multitude issued in recent years, were made publicly and privately via social media. Unionism and Loyalism conveniently forgetting the right to freedom of speech that they often claim so many British soldiers fought and died for.
The response from the British State to these demands was to placate them; one element of the British crown forces, (the PSNI Serious Crime Branch) released a statement to the media that they were “actively investigating” Dee Fennell’s speech. In a perfect example of British state run political policing using repressive state apparatus, the “PSNI Serious Crime Branch” and “Tactical Support Group” (TSG) swooped on the Fennell family home in Ardoyne on Monday 20th April 2015 and tore the house apart after traumatising Dee’s young children. They arrested Dee and took him to Antrim Interrogation Centre, before charging him with “Instigating, Organising and Encouraging Acts of Terrorism” and “Supporting a Proscribed Organisation, namely the Irish Republican Army”. He appeared in Court on Tuesday 21st April 2015 and was remanded to Maghaberry Gaol, where he was incarcerated on Roe 4 as an IRPWA Republican Political Prisoner.
This case presents a number of serious issues for all political and human rights activists. Dee Fennell has been subjected to what Bobby Sands once referred to as the “conveyer belt system” of British injustice, simply because he stated his opinion in a public arena. Regardless of what that opinion may (or may not) be, freedom of speech has not only been attacked but may well be removed from all, if he is found guilty of such politically motivated charges and a subsequent precedent set. The potential for further charges being brought is unlimited, as the British State now undertakes a Censorship agenda to rival any dictatorship of the past. For Republicans (and indeed Loyalists) this will lead to further arrests and prosecutions given that the following non-exhaustive list, and because of the vagueness of the legislation being used, the 2000 and 2006 Terrorism Acts, could also be deemed “Instigating, Organising or Encouraging Acts of Terrorism” or “Supporting a Proscribed Organisation”:
Speeches and Public Orations
Rebel Music and/or Protest Songs and other songs of a political nature
Political Publications, Pamphlets and Newspapers
Reading Historical Documents in Public (i.e. the 1916 Proclamation or 1912 Ulster Covenant)
Dramas detailing political events
Literature, including books and novels.
The actions of the British State Agencies involved also need to be viewed in a wider political context. As we approach the summer there are two upcoming events in Belfast that massively highlight continued injustices of the Northern Statelet and British interference in Ireland. One of these is the continued refusal by the majority of Greater Ardoyne Residents to accept the continuation of sectarian parades through their area, despite the efforts of Sinn Fein, the DUP, Loyal Orders and Loyalist Paramilitaries to impose an “agreement” that would see certain parades “guaranteed” against residents’ wishes. It would of course suit all those if the spokesperson for GARC, who articulates Residents’ position on the issue, was unable to do so either through imprisonment or by other means.
Similarly, the last number years have seen thousands take to the streets of Belfast for the Anti-Internment League parade in support of political hostages. This demonstration is made up of all Republican organisations, youth groups, community organisations, trade unionists and human rights activists — as well as ordinary members of the public willing to stand against injustice. It has become the biggest annual political demonstration in Ireland. As such, Dee Fennell as Chairperson often has to appear in the media to explain the motives and rationale behind the event.
Add to these roles Dee’s involvement in other campaigns highlighting prisoners’ issues along with community campaigns, that underscore the failures of Stormont to deliver facilities and provision in North Belfast and it becomes quite apparent that his removal or any restriction of his activism suits both the British and their apologists in the Northern quisling “institutions”. The silence of Sinn Fein and the SDLP in relation to this case has been deafening. Both parties portray themselves as the heirs to the Civil Rights Movement and state that they have an equality agenda. Yet neither has condemned the political arrest and imprisonment of Dee Fennell for exercising his right to free speech. Regardless of whether or not they support his political opinion, their continued silence must be taken as an indication of support for the RUC/PSNI’s actions in this case.
Dee is by no means unique in being a victim of this non-subtle political censorship. Newry Republican Stephen Murney was also removed from the streets in order to curtail his political and community activism, before being rightly acquitted. Others such as Martin Corey have been released but subsequently forbidden (under threat of imprisonment) from even speaking to the media about the ordeal suffered as a result of being gaoled through the revocation of early release license. Likewise, the recent case of Tony Taylor from Derry who has spent over a year incarcerated in Maghaberry without charge or trial is yet another example of the British state’s willingness to set aside legal principles and human rights when it suits them.
Freedom of speech is a right that all democrats justifiably treasure. It is a fundamental right that allows ALL to put forward their political analysis and opinions to the public, where the people can then absorb that information and make an informed judgement on it. The arrest, imprisonment, and potential conviction of Dee Fennell, can only be seriously damaging to effective and legitimate expressions of political opinions. As the most vocal and active opponents to the political status quo in the Six Counties, Republicans will undoubtedly face the brunt of this new Political Censorship strategy being directed by the British State and Stormont Executive, and implemented by the combined involvement of the Public Prosecution Service, the PSNI and the British courts.
It is Dee Fennell today. It could be anyone of us tomorrow.