6 March 1997 Edition
A Celebration of Endurance
Eoin O'Broin charts the growing campaign for Roisín McAliskey and speaks to women who support the calls for her release on bail
SEND FLOWERS TO ROISIN
FOR INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY
Flowers can be sent through any branch of Interflora to
Roisín McAliskey Flower Appeal,
Caledonian Flower House Ltd,
430 Caledonian Rd,
to arrive on Saturday 8 March.
On March 8 International Womens Day, Roisin McAliskey, who is seven months pregnant, will spend her 109th day in jail.
She has been strip searched almost 100 times since her arrest last November. Her medical condition is worsening. Weight loss and stress-related asthma continue to endanger the health of her child. The British authorities have denied her access to proper medical facilities, and keep her locked in her cell for 23 hours a day with no exercise or recreational time. And now doubt has been placed over McAliskey's right to keep her child when it is born.
Yet McAliskey, whose category A status in Holloway prison places her in a more dangerous category that Rosemary West, has yet to be charged with any offence. Although she is wanted for questioning in Germany in relation to the 1995 bombing of a British army base in Osnabruck, her arrest, detention and denial of bail have all been initiated by the British government and the RUC. German embassy officials in London and Dublin as well as government representatives in Germany have made it clear that they have no objection to bail.
International Womens Day will be the high point of a campaign which has mobilised opinion across the world. Calling for McAliskey's immediate release on bail, the campaign has received the support of the Dublin government, nationalist politicians north and south, senior British Labour party representatives, a host of human rights organisations including Amnesty International, and hundreds of thousands of people in every continent. From 1pm on 8 March more than 20 protests will be taking place simultaneously. In Germany, Australia, Norway, London, San Fransisco, Washington, New York, Edinburgh, Derry, Monaghan, Newry, Omagh, Belfast and Dublin, thousands of people will be registering their horror and anger at a British government which continues to deny Roisín McAliskey the most basic of human rights.
On Monday Monaghan UDC passed a unanimous motion, prposed by Sinn Féin, calling for the immediate release of Roisín McAliskey.
London will be the focus of the protests, with a Serenade for Roisín being organised by an ad hoc group of women from Fuascailt, the political prisoners campaign in Britain. Hundreds of women's organisations have been invited to support the event. High profile legal lobbyists, Justice for Women and the Southall Black Sisters have pledged support and will accompany the city's many Irish women's groups. Protest organiser Ann Rossiter spoke of the lack of any real press coverage of Roisín's case in the British media. ``The aim of the day is to rally support from influential women's groups around the country and generate as much media attention as possible,'' she said. Outlining the historical importance of Holloway prison to the women's movement, Rossiter stressed that the day's events were to be seen as ``a celebration of endurance. The endurance of Roisin against an uncivilised and inhumane British government, and the broader endurance of women in the face of discrimination and inequality no matter what form it manifests itself.''
Expressing similar sentiments, Brenda Downes of the Falls Womens Centre, who are coordinating one of the Belfast protests, spoke of the need to express solidarity with McAliskey. ``Roisín comes from the North, she is very much part of our lives. The fact is that Roisín is a woman whose human rights are being violated and we need to express solidarity with her''. Downes also strongly criticised the British government who, ``regardless of what violations they proceed with, are never held to account''.
A delegation of women political representatives will be visiting McAliskey in Holloway during the Serenade. Mary Flaherty (Fine Gael), Cecelia Keaveney (Fianna Fáil), Brid Rodgers (SDLP) and Dr Jane Wilde (Women's Coalition) will travel together to London for the special Women's Day visit. Organised by the Roisín McAliskey Justice Group, the delegation is intended to increase the political pressure on the British authorities.
Cecelia Keaveney, who represents Donegal North East, asked ``what risk could a 7 month pregnant, seven stone woman be to anybody? The aim of our trip is to highlight the issue of Roisín's detention, and to add to the work done by other TDs here in Dublin.'' Asked if she was hopefull that the visit would have any impact on McAliskey's situation, Keaveney said that ``you don't go on such a delegation unless you think that something will come out of it. We need to keep puttting on the pressure, highlighting the case publicly and working in the background. We have a united front of women from across the Dail and women from north and south''.
Mary Flaherty, TD for North West Dublin, also stressed the importance of ``bringing as much pressure as possible to bear of the British and German authorities in order to have bail granted''. She said that the Dail women ``see ourselves very much as part of a spontaneous sense of horror and outrage. Ordinary people around the country have been shocked by the obdurance of the British government, and we hope our visit will add to this public attention''. Flaherty stressed the ungercy with which the German authorities must clarify their position regarding bail, so that ``the focus of attention can return firmly to the British authorities''.
Sinn Féin councillor Mary Nelis has called on the German and British authorities to drop their extradiction request for McAliskey. Nelis said, ``Britain's degrading treatment of Irish political prisoners hasn't changed in 100 years. The treatment of Roisin as we approach the end of this century shows that the British racist treatment of Irish prisoners is still one of degradation and inhumanity''. Nelis stressed the importance of International Women's Day and the solidarity events surrounding McAliskey's imprisonment. ``8 March is the one day in the year during which the suffering experienced by women as women is recognised. But equally importantly it involves a recognition of women's strength and determination in struggling against discrimination and inequality''.
The Union of Students in Ireland has again called for the Dublin government to strengthen their intervention in McAliskey's case. Kellie O'Dowd, USI womens rights officer said that ``McAliskey's case raises serious questions about the treatment of female prisoners and Irish prisoners in Britain. USI have again called on Dick Spring to intervene immediately on the infringement of the fundamental civil liberties of Roisín McAliskey and her child''.
Growing urgency about McAliskey
By a Fuaiscailt spokesperson
In London, as elsewhere, there is a growing sense of urgency surrounding the imprisonment of Roisin McAliskey, engendered by the knowledge that her baby will be born in a matter of weeks - and that she is having to contend with the unimaginable stress of knowing that her baby is likely to be taken from her and placed in the care of social services.
A delegation which included two of our members recently accompanied Bernadette McAliskey to the German Embassy in London where they were greeted by an embarrassed official who assured them it is not his government which opposed bail for Roisín, but the British. Germany, he said, is extremely anxious to get the whole matter dealt with as quickly as possible.
But nothing close to a case against Roisín has been presented by the Germans. They also refuse to state inside the court what they claim outside it. If they do not oppose bail, then their counsel should state that at Roisín's next court appearance.
It has been very instructive to many observers here (although completely unsurprising to Irish nationalists) that Britain and Germany - two countries which pride themselves on being advanced democracies - have legal systems which allow them to imprison an individual, without charge, for a seemingly indefinite period of time. What is this practice if not internment by another name?
Meanwhile, Roisín's condition becomes ever more urgent. The Fuascailt pickets at her court appearances are gaining in supporters, volume and press coverage. On 22 February 400 members of the group staged another well-publicised demonstration, this time outside the Lufthansa offices in London, urging potential customers to boycott the airline until Roisín is released and receiving an extremely positive response from the majority of passers-by.
The governor of Holloway Prison was stung into responding to his critics last week via a letter to the Guardian, in which he explained that Roisín's partner has now - after three months - been cleared as an `approved visitor' and that she will not be shackled, as prisoners have been in the past, whilst giving birth. The matter of constant strip searching, the lack of proper healthcare and the threatened removal of her baby after birth was avoided.
The next event in the Fuascailt campaign will be a public meeting in London addressed by Bernadette McAliskey on Friday 7 March, followed by a 24-hour fast outside Holloway Prison, beginning at 12.00 noon on Saturday 8 March. This fast is also in support of all Irish POWs in English jails, whether on remand in Belmarsh prison or serving ferocious tariffs and refused repatriation.