13 December 2001 Edition
RUC provoke violence in Armagh
By PEADAR WHELAN
"When the males were being searched the searchers were rough and almost all the fellas were hit really hard on the testicles"
The RUC/PSNI were guilty of serious human rights violations against young people returning from last Sunday's demilitarisation protests in South Armagh.
A bus carrying up to 30 young people was stopped at Loughbrickland, near Banbridge in County Down by a large deployment of Crown Force personnel, kitted out in riot gear. They were taken off the bus and searched, at least two were forced to remove their clothing and a number of youths had their testicles squeezed while being searched.
At a press conference in Belfast, on Tuesday 11 December, Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy said that the trouble in South Armagh was provoked by the RUC/PSNI, who attacked people whose only intention was to hand in a letter of protest.
"The trouble in Crossmaglen afterwards was a response to what happened at Creevekeeran and Drummuckavall watch towers when the RUC/PSNI beat people," Murphy said.
A number of the young people who were on the bus on Sunday night outlined to An Phoblacht their experiences at the hands of the Crown Forces. The members of Ógra Shinn Féin, say the RUC/PSNI were waiting for their bus, which they stopped and waved into the side of the road. This was at about 5.30pm on Sunday. A number of RUC/PSNI got on the bus, while a large force, including British soldiers, some of whom were helicoptered in, surrounded them.
While the bus was at the side of the road, RUC/PSNI walked around pointing at some of the youths, intimidating them by slapping their batons into their palms. While they were being held on the bus, the RUC/PSNI refused to let the young people to go to the toilet. Some of the males had to urinate at the back of the bus in plastic bags. Eventually when the RUC/PSNI allowed some of the women to leave the bus to go to the toilet, in a field, they were kept under observation from RUC/PSNI personnel.
After about an hour, the RUC/PSNI begun taking the young people off the bus, one by one, and search them. All this time they were under video surveillance. Those who were questioned and searched were then corralled in by a ring of crown forces personnel with batons drawn. Again, when a number of the teenagers asked to go to the toilet they were told, "you may piss yourself".
One of those youths, who spoke to An Phoblacht, said that the RUC/PSNI were extremely aggressive throughout the entire operation. "They dragged people about by the arms and shone bright lights in their faces. When the males were being searched the searchers were rough and almost all the fellas were hit really hard on the testicles."
A 15-year-old, whom the RUC/PSNI believed was struck by a plastic bullet at the watch tower protests, was ordered to remove his clothing, in what amounted to a forced strip search. He was taken to the back of a land rover and made remove his top, then his trousers as well, and told to lift up his boxer shorts so that the RUC/PSNI could inspect his body - allaegedly to see if, indeed, he was struck by a plastic bullet.
A second teenager was arrested and brought to Banbridge RUC/PSNI barracks where he was held for up to five hours and charged in respect of the trouble in South Armagh.
Altogether, the teenagers on the bus were held for up to two-and-a-half hours before being released. At no time were they under arrest, yet the RUC/PSNI refused to allow them to move outside the immediate area.
At Tuesday's press conference regarding the events, Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey advised the people on the bus to make statements to their solicitors.
RUC/PSNI provoke anger in Armagh
By Criostóir Ó Rághallaigh
Ógra Shinn Féin Dublin Organiser
Anger is what drove young republicans to protest in south Armagh over the weekend. Anger at the derogatory attitude dispayed by the British government to demilitarising the north of Ireland.
Anger at the watchtowers, the black steel fortresses, the soldiers, the helicopters that blight the Irish countryside. And anger at the refusal of the British government to live up to its commitments, promised under the Good Friday Agreement, and reiterated by Tony Blair after the recent move on weapons by Óglaigh na hÉireann.
The response from the British military machine to this anger was predictable - plastic bullets.
Faced with a peaceful protest, the British army and their cohorts in the RUC/PSNI responded in the only way they know how to, and once again reinforced the argument that the force's raison d'être remains the same.
Over 100 Ógra Shinn Féin activists from Dublin, Cavan, Galway, Belfast and further afield arrived in south Armagh on Sunday and three seperate military installations were targeted for protest. At all three, the pattern was similar. Banners were unfurled and a small section of protesters began cutting through the six-foot thick barbed wire perimeter fencing. The Crown Forces were already waiting in full riot gear, with batons, shields and plastic bullet guns. With them stood British soldiers brandishing assault rifles.
Sectarian and racial abuse was hurled at the Ógra activists, as were threats to shoot 'baton rounds', at those involved, who posed no serious threat to either British soldiers or the RUC.
Those who came anywhere close to within striking distance were attacked with batons and those who defended themselves came in for particularly vicious treatment.
True to form, however, the RUC focused only on those most vunerable to attack. A teenager 50 yards from any disturbances, and completly uninvolved in any violent act, was struck in the stomach with a plastic bullet.
At Crossmaglen barracks the outcome was the same. Within minutes of arriving, protesters were fired upon with plastic bullets after stones were thrown at the concrete-reinforced, steel outer-casing of the barracks. Only then did the situation deteriorate. Only then, when forced to defend itself, did the protest take a violent turn.
Contrary to mainstream media reports, violence was not the aim of the Ógra activists. Ógra Shinn Fein activists would rather not have to give up their Sundays to protest at military instillations. They would rather not have plastic bullets fired at them. However, republicans live in the real world. They see the SDLP on the one hand claiming to support demilitarisation, while complaining about demilitarisation protests. They see the British reneging on their commitments and a compliant Dublin government refusing to take the issue seriously. Young republicans will continue to protest at the 220 British military instillations and 20,000 British military personell that remain in Ireland.
Above and beyond the Border
While demilitarisation remains a core part of republican strategy, breaking down the social and psychological barriers to Irish unity may be an even bigger challenge, argues ELLA O'DWYER
A question arises as to whether or not the ultimate demilitarisation or removal of the military installations from the border in Ireland will be enough to remove the cultural concept from the Irish psyche
From where I'm standing, the border is the "above and beyond" - the frontline challenge forever at the top of the agenda. It's 'up there', with all the big issues, and the 26-County gaze is locked in that direction. Like so many factors impacting on the politico-historical context, this boundary has lodged itself not only in Irish history, but in the Irish psyche too.
We speak of 'the border' as if commenting on a natural geographic structure, like the Shannon estuary or the Mountains of Mourne, and this is the spectre stamping the nationalist perspective throughout the country. The border is a phantom, haunting the entire politico-cultural context. For republicans 'down here' in the 26 Counties, however, the situation gets more complex, because England, to the right, is the immediate challenge and obstacle to freedom. With eyes up and eyes right, we have little vision 'left' for the rest ie. the very ground from where we make our analysis. In fact 'The Left' has been lost in this cross-eyed perspective, in which the ideological ground was forgotten, confused and locked in the past. The trick is to harvest that past and create the infrastructure for the future.
Memory is the lens through which we in the South see the ground we're standing on and we look at the present through images of the past, and at the expense of a concrete vision of the future. The history of the 26 counties is not only a record of times past, but the return and reinvention of that past in the present. The spectre of an absent identity looks up and over the phantom border, and nationalists 'above and below' stare at that barrier like children locked out from a sweet shop.
Like our compatriots in the Six, the people of the South are alienated from our own voice and people. More than a bit of ground is involved here. Our entire intellectual and cultural perspective has been displaced, and our discourse split. From the 26-county perspective (the place I'm asked to write from) the present amounts largely to a regurgitation of the past. That perspective has undergone critical surgery and amounts to a cut, copy and paste of selected memories and historical moments.
Many of those moments/memories are of glorious defeat, sometimes solidifying into a burden of guilt - as, for instance, in the signing of the Treaty. At the stroke of a pen, we were displaced from the people and place of the Six Counties, while our own people were dispatched to oppression and discrimination. That dispatch was signed, sealed and delivered from 'The South'. We not only lost the ground 'up' there, but we lost the rest - the 26 as well. From the signing of that agreement, we forgot about the present ground, from where we stare variously up to the border and across at an empire. While silence and anonymity were major consequences of the signing of the Treaty, memory suffered in the same way. We forgot what we were originally about and lost our grip on the future. These are traces in a virus of amnesia that has allowed Empire and revisionism to steal the ideological ground from where we look at and identify ourselves.
Relentless return to the past reinforces the border between the nation and its potential regeneration or 'issue'; what we are and what we are capable of delivering. A border has been flung between the past and the possible future and boundaries mark the point of 'return' and no return, reinforcing the ascription to them of strong influence, when boundaries are perceived to exist where there are none. The concept of border is a loaded one, in that it reinforces the sense of incompleteness and unfinished business. The story of the colonised place is one of incomplete histories, with Empire focusing us on boundary and limitation, while astutely deflecting the visionary thrust. What marks the ground between the Six Counties and the 'rest' in Ireland are the remaining British spy posts, while the landscape remains perfectly integrated. The border of the mind, however, has implanted itself with the sureness of a natural entity.
While criminalisaion, normalisation and revisionism have been strategically deployed in Ireland, a certain naturalisation has occurred also. The naturalisation of what is unreal and alien is a process conducted by military and narrative means, with Empire imposing the context - lodging its military presence in landmarks and its cultural presence in the language of 'the border'. The borders installed through the agency of imperialism thwart the advance of the future, sending history back onto the path it has already made. The Irish have glared for over eighty years at a border, while suspending the construction of the Republic.
Our vision was arrested, with the border marking the separation. We have done our time on 'the border', splitting on the very concept. And that split is the trump card of imperialism and of its colonising agency - revisionism. In an attempt to dispossess us of the ideological ground, colonialism cultivates extensive illusions of separateness. A thwarted vision, as symbolised by the border is, for all the implied sterility, a potent instrument of oppression. A question arises as to whether or not the ultimate demilitarisation or removal of the military installations from the border in Ireland will be enough to remove the cultural concept from the Irish psyche. Should the British establishment come to judge that it could demilitarise and yet sustain that border of the mind, it might well do so, leaving a border in the national psyche and leaving us incapable of grasping the 'big issue' ie. the concrete vision of the future.
Training for victory amongst the Irish is therefore more than simply a matter of uniting the country and far more to do with integrating the ideological journey. Doing the joined up writing on republican ideology is a pre-requisite to that challenge and recalling the original issue or vision is the pre-requisite to unleashing that story.