Return of internment: End state repression

In the recent period, there has been an escalation in state repression in Northern Ireland. For example, the use of “supergrass” evidence in the trial of loyalists. A particularly worrying development is the return of internment.

Republican Marian Price is being held in solitary confinement in Hydebank Prison in Northern Ireland. She was arrested after she held up a sheet of paper so that a masked member of the Real IRA could read a statement at an Easter Rising commemoration in Derry. As she was previously released “under license”, the state retains the right to return her to prison at any time.

In effect, Marian Price has been interned without trial, she has been imprisoned for the act of holding a piece of paper. The state has decided to take her off the streets. In addition to this simple fact, there is a little doubt that she has been singled out for especially harsh treatment in prison.

A campaign launched on her behalf recently held a protest meeting of several hundred on the Falls. Support for Marian Price is severely limited however. Her association with the Real IRA damns her in the eyes of the vast majority of working class people from both Catholic and Protestant backgrounds. The role of the Real IRA in the Omagh bombing caused widespread revulsion across society. The actions of the Real IRA, and other dissident paramilitary groups are correctly seen as pointless and destructive. Any campaign which is closely associated with dissident republicanism will not win significant concessions for Marian Price.

Marian Price was first jailed in the early days of the Provisional IRA campaign in England. Price was freed early but the exact terms under which she was released are now a matter of contention-she received an official pardon but the paperwork relating to this has been “lost”. This is important as it relates to the formal case that has been made to return her to prison.

A threat to the workers’ movement

The Socialist Party, and its predecessor Militant, has a long history of taking up the issue of State repression. Unlike republicans, loyalists or even others on the left, the Socialist Party takes up the issue of repression in a way that aims to unite working class people, rather than to divide them. For example, we opposed internment, the use of lethal plastic bullets, “shoot to kill” and the use of supergrasses. We have taken up issues which appear to be of concern to one community only – for example, the Birmingham Six or the UDR Four – with the aim of making them issues for all working class people. We do not lose sight of the basic human rights issues when the state wields the iron fist of repression. We also draw attention to the role of the state as the representative of the interests of the ruling class and big business.

The methods that the state employs against paramilitary groups have been employed against socialists, trade unionists and young people who are protesting against cuts, war, or the capitalist system itself – for example, Thatcher’s use of the police and the courts against the miners. On a much lower scale, the use of “kettling”, when thousands of people are held by the police during protests in Britain, is a form of internment.

In the 1970s, militant trade unionists were imprisoned on trumped up charges on a number of occasions.  For the capitalist state human rights come a poor second to the rights of the capitalist system. To allow the state to use repressive methods against small and isolated groups without protest, opens the door to the more widespread use of such methods in the future against the working class.

No support for dissident republicans

The Socialist Party condemns absolutely the actions of the Real IRA and other dissident groups. We call on all of these groups to cease their campaigns with immediate effect. We will not associate ourselves with campaigns which support Marian Price but which do not take a clear position of opposition to the Real IRA campaign.

Socialist Party members and other lefts have put forward a motion so that the issue of Marian Price’s treatment should appear on the agenda of the annual conference of NIPSA, Northern Ireland’s largest union, in June. The motion also opposes the use of “supergrass” evidence in the recent trial of North Belfast loyalists. Elected representatives of the Socialist Party have raised Price’s treatment in recent months and will do so again.

The Socialist Party calls for an immediate improvement in the conditions under which Marian Price is held. Marian Price has not been charged nor convicted of a crime and therefore should be immediately released from prison.