16 October 1997 Edition
Sharp rise in RUC harassment
Since the IRA cessation began in July one armed group has stepped up its actions. Reports of RUC harassment and attempts to recruit informers have risen steadily. This week we carry reports of a concerted campaign against both Sinn Féin activists and ordinary nationalists.
On a daily basis the RUC is targeting people in nationalist areas in what must be a policy backed at the highest level. In a week when Tony Blair visited the talks and publicly backed the peace process, his armed forces are still in a war mode. The British Prime Minister, if he is serious about peace, must call off his armed forces.
Even the talks process itself is being targeted by the RUC. In what Gerry Adams described as ``a clear breach of confidentiality,'' the RUC held one of the party's negotiating team and scrutinised papers relating to the Stormont Talks.
Delegate Siobhan O'Hanlon was returning from Stormont on Wednesday 8 October when she was stopped by the RUC on the Monagh Bypass in West Belfast. O'Hanlon was held for over 30 minutes while confidential papers relating to the business committee, the decommissioning commission and two other sub committees were read by the RUC.
Describing himself as ``deeply concerned'', Gerry Adams said he would be asking the Irish government to help ensure there is no more harassment by the RUC. ``This is a clear breach of the confidentiality which must surround the talks process. There is a special onus on the Irish government to ensure that all citizens in the North are not subjected to harassment,'' he said.
The message to Tony Blair must be relayed loud and clear. He cannot talk peace while his forces are still fighting a war.
Concerted harassment of Councillors
by Laura Friel
``Hope you listened to Gerry's warning?'' he asked. ``Don't take it lightly''. These were the sinister words of an RUC man referring to a recent statement by Gerry Adams warning of possible loyalist death squad attacks on Republicans.
The RUC officer was threatening Armagh City's Sinn Féin Councillor Sean McGirr. The threat came in the wake of increasing crown force harassment of Republicans in Armagh City. Ominously, a few days earlier, a well known loyalist linked to King Rat and the LVF, was seen driving around Armagh City. The loyalist killer stopped to make enquiries about a relative of Sean McGirr.
On Tuesday 7 October McGirr was driving from Caledon village towards Armagh City when an RUC car passed in the opposite direction. ``The RUC vehicle turned to follow me,'' Sean said. On the outskirts of the city, Sean drove into the tourist centre at the Navan Centre. ``I thought the RUC would be less likely to harass me in front of witnesses,'' he said. In the carpark however eight more RUC cars were waiting. ``We were surrounded. Two passengers in my car were threatened with violence and an RUC officer threatened me with a loyalist death squad attack.''
The RUC held McGirr for over 30 minutes, threatening to issue penalty points against him. In a newly introduced system of traffic regulations, penalty points can be awarded against a driver at the discretion of the RUC. The measure is intended to deter dangerous driving and a driver who acquires twelve penalty points within three years is automatically banned from driving. In the hands of a sectarian force like the RUC, such legisaltion is being used as yet another weapon to intimidate nationalists.
Later, Armagh Sinn Fein Councillor Noel Sheridan was targeted harassment, this time by the RIR. On Tuesday evening an RIR patrol stopped outside Sheridan's home. For over 30 minutes the patrol stopped and questioned people in the street. One person who approached the councillor's house was held and questioned in detail. Two days later, Brian Cunningham, a Sinn Fein Councillor from Keady was visiting a constituent when he was followed by a joint RUC/British Army patrol. The patrol surrounded the house, searching outhouses and ground immediately adjacent to the building. ``It's just petty harassment,'' says Cunningham, ``there's no need for all this.''
In a seperate incident McGirr witnessed the brutal treatment of a young nationalist who was being arrested by the RUC. On Friday 10 October, shortly before midnight, there was a minor incident involving a young man and an RUC van. ``It was just outside my home,'' Sean said. ``.The young fella appeared to throw something towards a van used by the RUC.'' The RUC drove at him at speed, knocking him onto the bonnet of their vehicle before sending him rolling across the ground.
What followed was described by McGirr as ``a frenzied attack''. ``The fella was clearly injured, he made no attempt to stand up and I could hear him groaning.'' Five RUC vehicles arrived. McGirr requested medical assistance for the injured man but the RUC refused. ``They gave him a terrible time, half a dozen RUC men held him down, one RUC officer knelt on his face while another handcuffed him.''
Sinn Fein representatives harassed by British forces
Pat Treanor, a Sinn Fein councillor from Monaghan, who was in Belfast on 14 October to meet a representative of the Ogoni people from Nigeria was stopped and detained by a British army patrol about 4 miles outside Armagh City as he returned home. Treanor was held for 45 minutes and had his car searched thoroughly. The British soldiers carrying out the search also read documents he was carrying.