21 August 1997 Edition

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Labour cling to PTA

Fern Lane of Fuaiscailt tells the new Labour government that it is time to match their rhetoric on human rights with deeds

It is, perhaps, unsurprising that the first of Labour's major election promises to be broken was one which primarily affects Irish people in both Britain and the Six Counties; namely the promise to fully incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into British law.

Once the realisation dawned that this would mean that the PTA, numerous aspects of which directly contravene the Convention -most famously the 7-day detention orders - would have to be repealed, the back-sliding began and the matter was quietly dropped, presumably in the hope that nobody would notice.

This singularly nasty and, in practice, racist piece of legislation has become something of an emotional crutch - a security blanket if you like - for successive British governments to cling on to as they progressively ran out of political ideas for the resolution of conflict and turned instead to repression.

As a consequence of its insistence on the use of the PTA, Britain has derogated from the European Convention on numerous occasions (more so, in fact than any other country in western Europe) and has effectively got away with it because it has usually done so under the get-out clause of Article 15, by which `national security' can be invoked as the reason for almost any action, no matter how draconian, on the part of a government.

The routine oppression, surveillance, harassment and invasion of privacy of thousands of Irish people under the PTA has been casually dismissed by the British as an insignificant detail compared to the `benefits' - dubious and unproven as they are - which have supposedly accrued from the imposition of the PTA.

It is obvious therefore that the PTA should now be repealed, but not as part of some carrot-and-stick excercise, as a `reward' for republicans behaving themselves, but simply because it is an evil and oppressive law and because repealing it is the right thing to do - and this should be irrespective of any cessation or otherwise on the part of the IRA.

Given that there is a cessation in place, however, it is counter-productive and duplicitious for the British to say that they wish to resolve this conflict by political means when they continue with the imposition of the PTA and other emergency laws which are used to menace and monitor the nationalist population of the Six Counties and the Irish community in Britain. It is also hypocritical, given their record on the European Convention, to give pious lectures to others on ethics and human rights, as Robin Cook did, while the PTA remains on the statute books. The annual renewal of this manifestly unjust and profoundly undemocratic piece of legislation sends the message to republicans that the British state ultimately continues to regard the conflict in Ireland as a security matter. It has to go; words as they say, should be matched by deeds.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1