Internment in Northern Ireland ended over 40 years ago. But people are claiming it’s still happening today.

Photo of arrests during 1971 internment protests in Northern Ireland
Peadar O'Cearnaigh

The Anti-Internment League (AILaccused the British and Irish governments of ‘human rights abuses’ at a rally in Belfast on 11 August.

Speaking at the AIL rally, Dee Fennell claimed authorities in Northern Ireland are interning Irish republicans by remand, revocation of licence and “miscarriage of justice”. Many Duffy, from the left-wing republican organisation Saoradh, addressed the rally and stated the Republic of Ireland courts imprison them based on “the most spurious of charges”.

The annual AIL rally marks the official introduction of internment in Northern Ireland on 9 August 1971. While internment officially ended on 5 December 1975, the AIL believe it still exists today.

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This raises serious questions of British and Irish justice systems.

Background to internment

Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Brian Faulkner first introduced internment as a means of dealing with the Northern Ireland conflict. Under the code-name ‘Operation Demetrius’ there was a mass arrest of 342 men on the first day of internment. Most of the IRA leadership escaped and they did not arrest loyalists on the first day.

By the time internment ended, authorities had detained 1,981 people. 1,874 of these were republicans and just 107 were loyalists.

Internment today

The AIL and other prominent republicans believe authorities implement internment today in three different ways:

  • Remand – Prominent republicans claim internment by remand as they are “arrested, denied bail on flimsy grounds”. They could be remanded in prison simply based on the word a police officer who believes they may re-offend.
  • Revocation of licence – Northern Ireland prisons can release prisoners under licence. But if the parole commissioner believes they pose a risk to the public they can revoke this licence. Authorities returned Tony Taylor to prison as they deemed him a “risk to the public”. But his solicitor claims this is “based on an MI5 assessment” and that it is contrary to Section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998.
  • Miscarriage of justice – A prominent case is The Craigavon Two. In 2012, Brendan McConville and John Paul Wootton were convicted of the murder of PSNI Constable Stephen Carroll in 2009. Now in their 10th year in prison, it took three years for their case came to trial. Campaigners claim the evidence used against them is “flawed in many aspects” and they are still fighting for justice.

Answers needed

The points raised at the AIL rally and by other republicans should concern those who believe in a transparent justice system. This means asking difficult questions of the British and Irish justice systems. The public needs answers.

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Featured image Flickr/Tiocfaidh ár lá 1916

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