Irish prisoners kept hostage

WHILE THE mass media have widely reported the ending of routine patrols in Belfast and the imminent talks between Sinn Fein and the government, there is one issue which has been largely absent from their coverage of the Irish ‘peace process’.

There are still more than 30 prisoners of war held in British jails, with no indication of when they will be freed or even transferred to the Six Counties. Sinn Fein is mobilising its supporters around the issue with its Saoirse (freedom) campaign, and Sunday April 2 will see a march by several thousand in Crossmaglen, assembling in the square at 2pm.

Conditions for the POWs have in many cases actually worsened, particularly since the escape attempt from Whitemoor Prison last year. The prisoners, who were badly beaten on their recapture, were refused visits for six months. When, finally, relatives were informed that they would be granted a visit, it turned out to be under unacceptable secure ‘closed’ conditions. This resulted in relatives having to return to Ireland before open visits were at last agreed the following week.

Those held in SSUs (special secure units) have borne the brunt of the clampdown. Gerry Mackin in Frankland Prison has spent several weeks ‘on the blanket’ after being withheld the ‘privilege’ - normally granted to SSU prisoners - of wearing his own clothes.

In Full Sutton, Feilim O hAdhmaill has been prevented from telephoning his family, even on Christmas Day, because they wish to speak in Irish, and the prison authorities are insisting that only English must be used. Letters from relatives written in Irish have been held up for weeks because, according to the Home Office, there is a lack of censors.

Sinn Fein spokesperson Donncha O’Hara points out that most IRA fighters are from working class families, who can ill afford the journey to England: “The prisoners are nothing less than political hostages. What a contrast to the treatment given to private Lee Clegg.”

Another Frankland prisoner, Paul Norney, has been held in British prisons for almost twenty years. Now aged 37, his transfer to Ireland has been rejected because of an alleged technical infringement of rules last year.

All prisoners should be released immediately. It is no crime to fight for the right of self-determination. But it is clear that Britain intends to use them as pawns in its game of imposing an imperialist ‘peace’ - a peace where the IRA and Inla must “decommission” their arms, while imperialism itself will remain armed to the teeth.

Alan Fox