23 March 2000 Edition

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Garda intimidation in Galway

Alan Ó Cléirigh, a 20-year-old commerce student at NUI Galway, has the latest target of Garda harassment and intimidation of Sinn Féin members.

On Tuesday evening, 20 March, the home of Ó Cléirigh, who is the vice chair of the Sinn Féin Cumann at NUI Galway, was raided by gardaí when he was not at home. His housemates, none of whom are members of Sinn Féin, were home and were held for more than an hour as the house was searched. The students, who are in the middle of exams, were threatened with being held for 48 hours if they did not cooperate.

The raid followed a demonstration organised by the Sinn Féin Cumann at NUI Galway on Wednesday, 15 March outside the Galway District Courthouse calling for an independent inquiry into the assassination of human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson and for the disbandment of the RUC. At the demonstration, members of the Special Branch were seen taking photographs of those participating.

The Sinn Féin Cumann at NUI Galway is the largest political party organised at the university. According to Ó Cléirigh, the cumann has not experienced any difficulties with the university administration in the 15 months since its inception. Ó Cléirigh says, however, that harassment of cumann members by the Garda has become a growing concern.

In the raid, numerous items were taken from the house, including the posters used at the demonstration, photos of various cumann events, minutes of their meetings, and a list of members. Also taken were Ó Cléirigh's phone book, diary, Sinn Féin Cúige documents and records of the cumann's work over the last year.

``This is blatant intimidation,'' the Galway man says. ``It shows the fear that the establishment has of Sinn Féin's growing political strength but it will not intimidate us from providing an effective campaigning voice for the community.''

With more than 150 enrolled members of Sinn Féin at the university, the party's strength and appeal to younger voters is visibly evident.

When asked why the materials were taken and under what authority, Ó Cléirigh's solicitor, Daniel Callanan, was told by the head of Special Branch at Salt Hill that the posters were ``offensive'' and the warrant was issued under the Offences Against the State Act.

Initially, Ó Cléirigh and Callanan were told that it was not Special Branch behind the raid but rather the Drugs Squad. It was later confirmed that it was in fact Special Branch who undertook the raid. Following his meeting with the Head of Special Branch for the area, Callanan warned Ó Cléirigh that a warrant for his arrest was forthcoming and he should be prepared to be arrested at anytime.

Earlier in the day, the two Special Branch members who had attended the demonstration at the Courthouse passed Ó Cléirigh on the road. They beeped their horn, flashed their lights and laughed as they drove by the student.

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