‘Concession' condemned

The British state remains armed to the teeth while its victims rot in jail

THE ‘GENEROUS’ move to release Irish political prisoners announced by Northern Ireland Secretary Patrick Mayhew last week is gesture politics of the worst kind. It simply proposes to reverse legislation introduced six years ago, under which those jailed for ‘terrorist’ offences could qualify for only one-third remission. The normal maximum is one-half.

This means, under the Northern Ireland Office’s own admission, that only 370 of the 1,000 paramilitary prisoners will have been released earlier by 2005. Sinn Fein estimated that by the year 2,000 only 40 republicans who would not have been released in any case would be free. That would leave 350 out of 500 anti-imperialist fighters still incarcerated in five years’ time.

The releases would still be dependent on the prisoners’ ‘good behaviour’ - arbitrarily decided by the British state - and even this change may not reach parliament before 1996. No wonder Sinn Fein Spokesperson Una Gillespie described the announcement as “insulting and derisory”.

The Irish Republican Socialist Party confirmed that its position remained an amnesty for all political prisoners. “One out, all out; no more, no less. This is realistic and achievable,” the national executive commented.

However, Sinn Fein is committed to the continuation of the ‘peace’ process, whereby the government must inevitably move at a snail’s pace in order to keep both unionists and republicans on board. There is no doubt that it will eventually concede much wider releases using other legal devices.

Similarly it will reach some compromise with Sinn Fein on the question of ‘decommissioning’ of arms. Up to now it is insisting that the IRA must begin to hand in its weapons before all-party talks can start. The British state is not of course going to hand over its own huge array of instruments of mass destruction and oppression to anybody. Work has just begun on the building of yet another massive military installation in West Belfast.

Jim Blackstock