The shooting of a senior British prison official has drawn attention to the conflict in the north of Ireland and the increasingly bitter dispute over the treatment of republican prisoners at Maghaberry jail.
A well-planned ambush on a remote stretch of the M1 motorway resulted in the death of Maghaberry warder David Black yesterday [Thursday] morning. Black had been involved in the torture and abuse of republican prisoners since as far back as the 1980 hunger strike.
Although no organisation has claimed responsibility for the attack, there had been warnings over the years of an IRA response to the abuses of republican prisoners, chiefly by the Continuity IRA.
A government backlash today saw PSNI raids and arrests in Lurgan, County Armagh where the vehicle involved in the attack was said to have been found. Former internee Colin Duffy, who spent almost three years behind bars on IRA charges before finally being cleared in January this year, was one of two men detained.
Sinn Fein and the rest of the political establishment at Stormont have strongly condemned the attack.
“The killing of a prison officer yesterday is wrong,” said Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams. “There is no future in such actions which are rejected by the entire community, North and South.”
He said the organisations that are politically associated with the armed groups had “no popular support or political strategy”.
“On the contrary they play into the hands of those in the British system who are opposed to the peace process and to its potential for achieving a united Ireland.
“These groups must be challenged. The media has a responsibility to ask these organisations where they stand on actions such as Thursday’s murder.”
The attack was also condemned by the DUP, the PSNI Chief Matt Baggott, British Prime Minister David Cameron and 26-County Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
But it drew little sympathy in hardline republican areas of the North. A ‘screw’ who had played an oppressive and mercenary role for the British Crown -- from the original blanket protest and the hunger strikes of Long Kesh, up to the current no-wash protest at HMP Maghaberry -- was seen as a casualty of the war he had engaged in.
Black, who was also a prominent member of the anti-Catholic Orange Order, was the 30th member of the British prison system to be killed in Ireland since 1974. PROTEST ARRESTThe attack took place just days after a series of international protests were organised by Republican Sinn Fein in protest at the abuse and criminalisation of republican prisoners.
At one picket in Lurgan last weekend, the RSF Ard Chomhairle member Cait Treanor was arrested and taken to Hydebank women’s prison in Belfast.
In March, Treanor was fined for ‘participating in and organising’ a march through Lurgan in January 2011 in support of Martin Corey, interned without trial in Maghaberry since 2010. Treanor refused to pay the fine of 700 euro imposed on her and so was arrested and jailed. She is expected to be released after two weeks.
Pickets also took place throughout Europe, in Canada and in the US to call for the restoration of political status and an end to the strip- searching and controlled movement of the prisoners.
Dieter Blumenfeld, spokesperson of the organising committee, said: “More than 30 years after the H-Block Hunger strikes ended, Irish prisoners are once again forced to protest for their rights. Some of these men are on dirty-protest for more than a year. Injustice in Ireland is growing.
“Marian Price and Martin Corey are both interned for more than a year and an Irishman held in a Lithuanian jail is denied his basic human rights.
“Only international pressure can be successful in the campaign to support the Irish Republican prisoners.”
There were protests in 11 countries on 3 continents. One of the protests, a vigil organised by Irish republicans of the “Maghaberry Awareness Group St. Pauli” in Hamburg was broken up by German police. PRISONERS’ STATEMENTThe following message was sent from the group of RSF-aligned republican prisoners at Maghaberry to the protests:
“Greetings from the Republican Prisoners in Maghaberry jail to the activists, supporters and participants of the International Day of Action for Irish Republican Prisoners of War 2012.
“We, the Republican Prisoners of War incarcerated in Maghaberry prison camp, wish to send greetings to those assembled all over the world today protesting on our behalf.
“At present we are engaged in a ‘dirty protest’ to end the archaic practice of strip searching and 23-hour lock-down, and to secure conditions befitting of Prisoners of War. The age-old British policy of criminalisation of Irish Republican prisoners is in full swing in Maghaberry and as always we, as Republicans, will oppose this in anyway we can.
“We have been on this current phase of protest now for over 18 months and we see little movement from our captors. The conditions we endure are far from humane or acceptable, yet we will continue in our struggle until our demands are met. We have a duty to all Republicans and to those prisoners who may follow us.
“We find ourselves incarcerated due to British rule in Ireland and are part of the broader struggle for Irish independence. We take heart from gatherings such as this, that Irish Republicanism is alive and vibrant, kept alive by people like you. As Republican Prisoners of War we will not shy away from our duty and we salute all those in Ireland and abroad who work towards the independence of Ireland by any means necessary.”The support we have received from those across the world makes us more determined and resolute, we are indeed grateful for such support, and ask for your continued support and activism on our behalf.
“We applaud those of you who take to the streets all over the world in protest at the detention of true Republicans.
“We will continue to resist all attempts by the British government to criminalise us and our struggle and with your continued support we are confident of victory.
“Onwards to the Republic!
“Signed O/C Maghaberry Gaol, “October 2012”
A British government “security check” on a new report into the murder of Belfast defence lawyer Pat Finucane by British agents has further undermined the credibility of the document.
The newly-appointed British Direct Ruler Theresa Villiers said she had ordered the examination of the case review ahead of its publication to ensure it does not breach “national security”. Similar reviews have been held by British military intelligence (MI5) throughout the conflict to censor any embarrassing facts or details which might emerge.
Mr Finucane was gunned down in his north Belfast home by loyalist paramilitaries in 1989. Previous investigations have uncovered that most or all of the UDA death squad which carried out the assassination were agents of the British Crown.
The murder of the Catholic father-of-three was one of the most controversial of the conflict. British Prime Minister David Cameron has accepted collusion took place and has apologised to the Finucane family.
But his refusal to hold a full public inquiry into the murder - instead opting for a “legal review” - angered the Finucane family, who subsequently launched a bid to challenge the decision in the courts.
Mr Finucane’s son John yesterday said his family never had confidence in the review and the government’s decision to subject it to the so-called “security check” had emphasised their misgivings.
He said it was not appropriate for the state to control the information published in a report that was supposed to be examining its alleged role in a murder.
“This confirms again that the government, who on the one hand are being accused of collusion in the murder of my father and the prime minister has accepted that there was collusion, controls the flow of information - which I don’t think is credible,” he said.
“It is not a process that I think is independent. We think that process is best managed by a court.”
Mr Finucane again called for a full public inquiry to be held. “We did not have any faith to begin with,” he said of the review.
“I would be very surprised if this will put to bed the international concerns around the murder of my father when it is released. The government should deal with this appropriately and announce a full independent inquiry.”
A decision by the Police Ombudsman to investigate allegations of collusion between the PSNI and the unionist paramilitary UVF has been welcomed.
The ombudsman is to examine allegations that police colluded with the UVF by failing to properly investigate fatal shootings in north and west Belfast between 1989 and 2010 -- including that of Bobby Moffett, who was murdered on Shankill Road after a dispute with a senior UVF man. It is widely believed that the PSNI had approved the cold-blooded murder, which took place in a casual manner on a busy street in May 2010.
A number of families of UVF victims have welcomed the Ombudsman’s intervention and it is their testimonies which have led to this move.
It is believed investigators will examine claims that no-one has been charged or convicted in connection with the murders because police agents and informers were being protected.
The investigation bears strong similarities with another Ombudsman inquiry.
Operation Ballast, which homed in on north Belfast’s Mount Vernon estate, revealed UVF killers were protected from prosecution because they were police agents.
Raymond McCord, whose son was murdered by the UVF, has welcomed it.
“What people have to understand is that when people from the unionist community or any community go to the Police Ombudsman’s office and make a complaint it has to be investigated,” he said.
“This isn’t having a go at any paramilitary group and I’m delighted because hopefully now it’ll show that there wasn’t a proper investigation in a lot of the murders.” INQUEST OPPOSEDMeanwhile, the PSNI have said they are ‘unable’ to extradite a man suspected of killing Derry republican Kieran Doherty in 2010 -- but do not want an inquest to go ahead.
A PSNI inspector said a suspect had left the jurisdiction some time ago, but that extradition “would not be relevant”. He said was concerned that “matters would be revealed” in the coroner’s inquest which could be “detrimental to the investigation”.
Senior coroner John Leckey said during decades of conflict in the North, coroners routinely held inquests quite soon after a death and he could not remember police objecting.
The Doherty family remain suspicious of the involvement of MI5 (British military intelligence) in Kieran’s death, despite a report by senior British barrister Alex Carlile which denies this.
Family lawyer Fiona Doherty said: “There is a serious allegation, a serious issue in this inquest about the approaches made to the deceased, Mr Doherty, by MI5 for a continuous period of time up to his death and the family have serious concerns about that and serious concerns about the possible involvement of state agents in the death.”
The family want the full contents of the Carlile report to be available to the coroner. Kieran Doherty’s uncle, Vincent Coyle, said they were only given two paragraphs of the report.
“Now we know there is a lot more in that report which we have not seen. In fact we think there’s a report the size of a phone directory and that must be made available to the inquest,” he said.
A County Tyrone republican has lashed out at the justice system in the North of Ireland after charges against him and four others were quietly dropped by Crown prosecutors this week -- after more than 14 months held without bail at Maghaberry prison.
The charges against Coalisland man Kevin Barry Murphy were based on alleged forensic evidence linking him to a claimed arms find in County Armagh in April last year.
Another man, Patrick Carty from Dungannon, was also freed after the PSNI police and prosecutors abandoned claims that his fingerprints were discovered on a mortar rocket.
Relatives and friends of the two men, who packed into the public gallery at Armagh Magistrates Court, were filmed entering and leaving the court complex by Special Branch police.
Murphy was previously cleared by a court of IRA charges in 2004 after it emerged that a police informer had been used to lure him and three others to a site where a rocket launcher had been hidden.
He said he had been interned by remand [‘awaiting trial’] and denied ever being a member of the ‘Real IRA’.
“In the past I have been acquitted of being a member of that organisation,” he said.
“The important point is that for the last 14 months we have asked for the fingerprint evidence and they have failed to produce it. It is tantamount to internment by remand.
“Someone said we were guilty of something without producing the evidence. That is the strategy being used against republicans. In the eighties we had the super-grass trials, in the nineties we had shoot-to-kill and today they are using internment by remand.”
He also called for the role of the PSNI and the forensic scientists used in his arrest and detention to be examined.
“An independent body needs to look at how those who step outside the box, those who are not pro-Good Friday Agreement republicans, end up in Maghaberry,” he said.
“What happened to us is also an indictment of constitutional nationalism which has remained silent on the issue.
“It’s an indictment of the new political dispensation on policing and justice.”
The two men have spent their detention at Maghaberry prison in County Antrim, where they joined in the ongoing no-wash protest against criminalisation by other political prisoners held there.
Arms charges against three other men were also dropped this week, although they continue to be held at Maghaberry without bail.
Mr Murphy’s lawyer, Peter Corrigan said the charges had been dropped to avoid having to finally reveal the statements of evidence.
“We have been requesting the so-called fingerprint evidence from the police station from his arrest right through the proceedings,” he said.
“We initiated experts to go into the lab and that request was refused.
“All of a sudden they know we are going to see the statements of evidence and they withdraw the charges.”
He said he believed his client had been targeted for imprisonment and ‘malicious prosecution’.
“This is effectively internment by remand when you don’t produce the evidence to justify the detention,” he said.
“In light of this case we are calling for custody time limits to be brought in so the prosecution cannot do this, so they cannot delay cases without producing the evidence.
“This case is going to be referred to the police ombudsman and we will be initiating civil proceedings for malicious prosecution.”