I grew up in the 90’s in Derry City, at a so called ‘interface area’ which consisted of, at that time a large dilapidated metal fence with barbed wire and gates that separated Catholics and Protestants.
To say that my childhood was rough would be an exaggeration but it was definitely different than most of my school friends.
I grew up in Mountjoy Street, at the top of our street, nearest to the Loyalist Fountain Estate is where I witnessed and learned at first hand the evilness and disgusting effects of raw sectarianism. Through youthful eyes, it was a case of them and us. I questioned every day why there was a fence there separating us. Despite the obvious hatred being expressed through the act of throwing petrol bombs and bricks over and back, I knew that this was only the surface of a much larger issue. I was questioning why the division in the first place.
I began reading Irish history from a young age. I read about the genocide of the 1840’s, The Plantation of Ulster, the Black and Tans, the Auxies, and the B Specials. I was astute and clever enough to know that the RUC was not a normal police force. I watched from my bedroom window as they directed Loyalists to where the residents of my street, including my parents, were standing so they would be accurate with their petrol bombs and bricks. Our street was evacuated more times than enough during the summer months by British soldiers because of suspected bombs that were tossed over the fence by Loyalists. I remember vividly a kid who lived next door to me lifted a pipe bomb and took it into his mother’s house to ask what it was, obviously she panicked and threw it outside, and again, the street was evacuated. Controlled explosions and riots were commonplace, expected and the norm.
Growing up in Derry the month of January was always associated with Bloody Sunday. Ever since I was holding my mother’s hand I attended the march that retraces the steps of unarmed Civil Rights protesters. Fourteen of who were murdered by the hated Parachute Regiment. When in my teenage years I marched with friends, some marched because it was a traditional fixture in the calendar, but also because we knew what the people were marching for that day was reasonable and just.
The original march in 1972 was a march in protest against ‘Internment without trial’. Hundreds of Catholic men suspected of being in the IRA or even those who had aspirations of an Ireland free from British interference had the front doors of their family home broken down and were violently pulled from their beds, taken away and tortured and beaten for days. The weapon of internment had been used by the Brits and Irish Free State governments before and realising that Irish history tends to repeat itself it’s clear this is now the case.
The free dictionary Wikipedia defines Internment as;
“Internment is the imprisonment or confinement of people, commonly in large groups, without trial. The term is especially used for the confinement “of enemy citizens in wartime or of terrorism suspects”. Thus, while it can simply mean imprisonment, it tends to refer to preventive confinement, rather than confinement after having been convicted of some crime. Use of these terms is subject to debate and political sensitivities. Interned persons may be held in prisons or in facilities known as internment camps. In certain contexts, these may also be known either officially or pejoratively, as concentration camps.”
So in actual fact Internment does exist today. The same issue that was so strongly opposed and protested against by tens of thousands of Derry people in 1972 is being implemented and imposed onto the people of the North of Ireland again by the British government. One only has to look at the cases of fellow Derry men Neil Hegarty and Tony Taylor.
Neil Hegarty was rearrested and returned to his prison cell within 36 hours after being released after doing a 5 year stretch inside. At the time of his release he was found not to be a danger to society. Two other men who were released with Neil were subjected to restrictive and invasive measures to monitor and control their movements and private lives. They were electronically tagged and given curfews to abide by, these are only more tactics by the British to try and criminalise Irish Republicans and the cause for freedom. They seek to impinge and impose on the lives of Irish Republicans so as to hinder their Republican activity and treat them as ordinary criminals.
Through no fault of his own Neil was not tagged. Upon his release Neil followed all guidelines set out before him and in the company of his solicitor attended the RUC/PSNI barracks giving the cops ample opportunity to impose their draconian methods of controlled movement and living. Neil was in bed when the knock came to his door; his daughter answered to a group of heavily armed and masked Crown Forces personnel asking for her father. Hega presumed it was to get fitted for an electronic tag; however he was rearrested and imprisoned again without legitimate reason. As in 1971/72 this is internment.
After being taken away from his family Neil’s legal team launched an emergency Judicial Review the following week. G4S and the cops were found to be clearly lying regarding the reasons as to why Hega’s license should be revoked, the judge in the British court went with the lies and like a coward got a messenger boy to deliver his verdict and continued to intern him. Neil Hegarty’s legal team then prepared for an appeal and lo and behold he was released from Maghaberry before he was due to face the commissioner.
The British judiciary knew that their shambles of excuses and web of lies wouldn’t stand the glare of international attention and Republican pressure. Neil, at last, is now home where he belongs with his family and I as a Republican who attended, participated and helped organise protests against his internment am glad he is home amongst friends, family and comrades.
Since the day Tony Taylor was arrested when out shopping in Derry City centre with his family, the revoking of his licence by then British Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, the Brits have offered no reason for returning him to prison, produced no evidence of any crime and no trial is scheduled. He will be in prison 2 years in March, His family understandably are at their wits end.
Since it is now clear that Internment is being implemented by the British establishment and enabled and maintained by all who support it, what is being done about it?
What angers me is the fake support coming from a so called Republican party whose aim it is to re-erect, prop up and maintain the very institutions that carried out Tony Taylor’s arrest and internment and that of Neil Hegarty.
Sinn Fein only erect a banner and throw out a few leaflets when an election is on the horizon. Gathering at Free Derry Corner and standing beside a board with Tony Taylor’s face on it, purely for photographic opportunity isn’t support. They have people like Raymond McCartney paying lip service to the ‘Free Tony Taylor Campaign’ for political gain and nothing else. A man who has coasted the wave of popularity after the 1980 Hunger Strike and has done little more since to achieve change within the prison system here. They care little more about the treatment of Republican prisoners in British jails throughout Ireland than the man on the moon.
What Sinn Fein ignore or fail to realise is that their party’s involvement in the Stormont executive makes them one with the oppressor. They continue to support the PSNI, the very same thugs who abusively stop and search Republicans in the street, raid their homes, confiscate their possessions and who try and make their daily lives a nightmare. This is the same actions and ethos of the so called police force I seen as a boy in the RUC, with a clear one sided agenda agsinst the Republican/Nationalist community. They abuse powers to try and bully the Republican community.
Brutality and discrimination wasn’t accepted in 1972 and it isn’t accepted today!
What was so fervently fought for in 1972, the ending of internment and a British withdrawal from Ireland, is very much worth fighting for today. It is clear that this is the only way that Ireland can be at peace within herself.
I know that so many people gathered on that fateful day as way of protest against multiple injustices being inflicted upon the people of the North, the Catholic people of the North.
Today? Today people just don’t care it seems. Far more interested in whether Man United fields their newly bought player or if Rooney’s car will sell on Auto Trader.
Little do they seem to care that those on benefits in our community are in for a nasty shock now that the introduction of ‘Universal Credit’ is thrust upon us.
Little do they seem to care that Britain still has a one hand around the throat of our country and another in our pocket.
Little do they seem to care that men, women and minors are being harassed, physically and verbally on a daily basis simply for harbouring completely legitimate political aspirations. Freedom.
Little do they seem to care that a war is raging within the walls of Maghaberry and Hydebank Prisons between Republican prisoners and a Loyalist, anti-Irish prison service.
I know for a fact that people are at the least concerned about these issues. But seemingly, not enough to do anything about it. A bygone generation at least took to the streets and protested as a physical force against such injustices.
Nowadays to resist is to press ‘Like’ or ‘Share’ on Facebook.
Not good enough!
Where are the humanitarians amongst us hiding?
When did people become so easily pushed about and defeatist?
When an injustice is visited upon them or their own families will they then climb out of their armchairs?
Like the graffiti that was painted on the Derry Walls some years ago, “When the lawmakers are the lawbreakers, there is no law.”
Pete Kavanagh is a Saoradh and IRPWA Activist based at Junior McDaid House in Derry City