The 'crime' of resisting imperialism

On Thursday September 1, Channel 4 screened The year London blew up. This is how the feature was advertised: "What happens when a city faces a cell of fanatics with a single goal: to bring the maximum terror to the civilian population? Militant islamists may be the current threat, but in 1974-75, the enemy was the Provisional IRA. Four men hiding out in London bedsits carried out over 40 separate incidents across the capital. The city and its people reeled under the impact of this sustained attack, but finally found the resolve to face the onslaught and defeat it." Told through documentary, drama and first-hand accounts, this feature-length history special is the first account of the activities of the IRA unit know as the 'Balcombe Street gang'. However, the film says nothing about the political background to those incidents, or about the motivations of those who carried them out. They were Irish nationalists driven by desperation to hit back against Britain and the British people. Despite their methods, we supported the democratic content of their politics. This speech, made at the Balcombe Street siege trial by the leader of the unit, Joe O Connell, shows both the limitations of their programme and that they were far from being mindless fanatics. It was originally published in Irish Prisoner, journal of the Prisoners Aid Committee (No3, 1978). Members of the jury There has been an attempt by this court to isolate certain incidents which have been called 'crimes'. These incidents have been put completely outside the context in which they occurred in a way that is neither just nor consistent with the truth. The true context is that of the relationship between this country and our country - Ireland. That relationship is one of a state of war against the occupation of Ireland by Britain. No mention has been made in this court of the violence suffered by the Irish people: of the use of internment without charge or trial in the Six Counties, of the conviction before the European Court of Human Rights of the British government for the torture of Irish people; nor of the many brutalities of British colonial rule. Hugh Doherty of the 'Balcombe Street Gang' with Gerry Adams at Sinn Fein conference The judge has attempted to restrict the reference to bombings and shootings to 'terrorist' offences. We would like to ask the judge whether the bombing of Hiroshima and Dresden were terrorist offences? Whether the torture carried out by British soldiers in Aden and Cyprus and Hola Camp Kenya were acts of terrorism? Whether the British were guilty of terrorism when they forced thousands of civilians into concentration camps in South Africa, where thousands of them died? We say that no representative of British imperialism is fit to pass judgement on us, for this government has been guilty of the very things for which we now stand accused. This government carried out acts of terrorism in order to defend British imperialism and continues to do so in Ireland. We have struggled to free our country from British rule. We are patriots. British soldiers in Northern Ireland are mercenaries of British imperialism. Yet none of them has ever been convicted for the murders of unarmed civilians which they have committed in Ireland. We ask the members of the jury to consider this paradox. We are all four Irish republicans. We have recognised this court to the extent that we have instructed our lawyers to draw the attention of the court to the fact that four totally innocent people - Carole Richardson, Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill and Paddy Armstrong - are serving massive sentences for three bombings, two in Guildford and one in Woolwich, which three of us and another man now imprisoned have admitted that we did. The director of public prosecutions was made aware of these admissions in December 1975 and has chosen to do nothing "¦ This shifty manoeuvring typifies what we, as Irish republicans, have come to understand by the words 'British justice'. Time and again in Irish political trials in this country innocent people have been convicted on the flimsiest evidence - often no more than extorted statements or even 'verbals' from the police. Despite the often repeated claim that there is no such thing as a political prisoner in England, we would like to point out the stress laid in Irish trials on the political beliefs of the prisoners and the fact that over the last few years convicted republicans have been subjected to extreme brutality in English prisons. This brutality has led prisoners being severely injured like six republicans in Albany in September last year and to the almost constant use of solitary confinement for such prisoners. It has also resulted in the deaths of three of our comrades - Michael Gaughan, Frank Stagg and Noel Jenkinson. We do not wish to insult the members of the jury when we say that they are not our peers. An English jury can never be the peers of Irish men and women. We will be judged only by our countrymen. Any verdict or sentence from this court is nothing more than the continuation of the hypocrisy of British rule in Ireland and the injustice it has inflicted on our country and its people. We admit to no 'crime' and to no 'guilt', for the real crime and guilt are those of British imperialism committed against our people. The war against imperialism is a just war and it will go on, for true peace can only come about when a nation is free from oppression and injustice. Whether we are imprisoned or not is irrelevant, for our whole nation is the prisoner of British imperialism. The British people who choose to ignore this or to swallow the lies of the British gutter press are responsible for the actions of their government unless they stand out against them. As volunteers in the Irish Republican Army we have fought to free our oppressed nation from its bondage to British imperialism, of which this court is an integral part.