29 April 1999 Edition

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Mála Poist

Gardaí accused of racism

A chairde,

The news that the gardaí are this week taking lessons in multicultural policing from London's Metropolitan Police is nothing if not ironic, given the institutionalised racism displayed by that force in the Stephen Lawrence case. The behaviour of the gardaí in the case of Belmondo Wantete, however, shows that they do indeed have an awful lot to learn.

Belmondo Wantete, an electrical engineer from the Congo, has lived in Ireland with his wife and young children for two and a half years and has resident status. Since 1 May 1998, he has been subjected to the most appalling harassment and racism by the gardaí.

On 1 May 1998, his home was raided at 3am by a group of gardaí. He and his family were subjected to extreme racist abuse. Eventually, he was taken to Sundrive Road garda station and held for 12 hours without access to an interpreter or a solicitor. He was then held in Mountjoy for a week before bail was arranged. He was subsequently charged with assaulting two gardaí in his house during the raid.

Mr. Wantete has made a formal complaint about his treatment to the Garda Complaints Commission.

On 10 June 1998, he was arrested and charged under the Aliens Order 1946 with failing to carry ID. When the case came up in the District Court on 25 September, 1998, the arresting garda admitted that he knew Mr. Wantete well and had no doubt of his identity but insisted he had the right to demand to see his resident's permit. The judge ruled that the numerous forms of ID produced by Mr. Wantete were sufficient according to the Aliens Order, as they confirmed his name, address and nationality, and she dismissed the charge.

On 6 September 1998, Mr. Wantete was taken from his house and brought to Sundrive Road garda station on foot of an arrest warrant that was not in his name. Members of Residents Against Racism and his lawyer arrived at the station with his identification papers. The gardaí still refused to release him despite the fact that he was identified as Belmondo Wantete and not the person named on the warrant. He was detained for five hours and eventually released without charge.

On numerous occasions over the past year, Mr. Wantete has been charged with offences such as not having motor tax or insurance or a driving licence. Each case has been an excuse to repeatedly drag him through the courts. On each occasion, he has proved to the satisfaction of the courts that he did have valid tax, insurance, and driving licence.

Belmondo Wantete has faced a nightmare of racist harassment. When his assault charge comes up for trial on 8 June, he faces the possibility of lengthy imprisonment. Over 750 people (including several TDs, senators and MEPs) have signed a petition calling for the charges against him to be dropped and the behaviour of the gardaí to be investigated. We would urge people to join them by contacting Residents Against Racism.

Yours faithfully,

Secretary, Residents Against Racism, 10 Upper Camden St, Dublin 2.

A grave insult

A chairde,

Through the medium of your paper, I wish to protest in the strongest terms about the gates of Arbour Hill being locked against the members of the National Graves Association on Saturday, 24 April, the anniversary of the Easter Rebellion.

According to press reports, they were opened for political parties on the following day.

I was bringing a full coach of our members, including relatives of executed Volunteers, to visit the graves of those killed during Easter Week 1916 and the graves of the executed leaders.

We had no problem in Kilmainham, Stephens' Hospital, the Republican Plot in Glasnevin where 16 members of the Irish Citizen Army are buried, or the graves at Lusk, Skerries etc.

I had checked with the military, the Office of Public Works and the GIB if the jail would be opened and was assured there would be no problem. I fully realise that the executed leaders are in the same position as the Forgotten Ten ie. Kevin Barry and his comrades, and we believe the gates were locked against the National Graves Association because of our involvement with Mountjoy and the campaign for the reburial of the Volunteers buried in the prison yard.

I might add that up to the time we left, 11.15am, our national flag was not visible at Arbour Hill.

M. Ní Céarnaigh
The National Graves' Association of Ireland.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1