Saturday, 14 July 2012
“Orangefest” has once again graced the streets of nationalist Newry, treating local residents to hours of disruption, bigotry and state force harassment.
The centre of Newry resembled a ghost town with many shops opting to remain closed and most residents deciding to stay at home. The ‘benefits for local economy’ we so often hear about to justify such events was nowhere to be seen. The ‘colourful display and enjoyable experience’ didn’t materialise for the people of Newry.
Thousands of Orangemen accompanied by dozens of bands took part in the annual sectarian ritual which also included a large scale security operation mounted by British state forces. Local residents, including éirígí’s local representative Stephen Murney, were stopped, searched and questioned throughout the day by the PSNI who used the occasion to step up their harassment of the local population.
Stephen explained, “I had arranged to meet Councillor Davy Hyland and another comrade beside the Town Hall to observe this coat-trailing exercise. Before I had even reached my destination I was stopped and questioned under the Justice & Security Act. When I eventually met Davy, we immediately found ourselves surrounded by members of the PSNI’s Tactical Support Group (TSG). For a second time I was questioned under the Justice and Security Act, while Davy and another comrade also had their details noted. We were also photographed and videoed by the PSNI for “intelligence purposes” while our comrade was threatened with arrest.
“While standing watching the parade members of the Orange Order were shouting abuse at councillor Hyland and made obscene hand gestures towards us in an attempt to provoke a reaction. They failed, but the PSNI unsurprisingly didn’t intervene. Another more serious incident occurred when members of a loyalist flute band went to attack a photographer who had dared step in front of their band to take a photograph. Again the PSNI stood idly by and did nothing despite being situated just a few feet away from the incident.”
Murney continued, “Shortly after the parade had left the centre of Newry, I was stopped and searched for ammunition for a third time while Davy Hyland, for a second time, had his details recorded. There was no justification whatsoever for the harassment we received today. Many other people, including councillors and members of other parties, were standing observing this march a few feet from us unhindered yet the PSNI took exception to our presence and deliberately targeted us.
“While the people who live in Newry cannot walk freely in their own city, thousands of unionists can indulge in threatening behaviour, intimidation and provocation while being protected by the forces of the British state.”
Stephen ended by saying, “We certainly won’t be intimidated by sectarian shows of strength nor will we be deterred by PSNI harassment. We will continue to campaign for the right of everyone to live free from sectarian harassment and intimidation.”
éirígí spokesperson in Newry Stephen Murney has responded to the erection of flags and buntings around the city, including outside Ardmore PSNI barracks.
Murney said, “The ability of unionists to erect flags and bunting unhindered outside Newry PSNI barracks is not in the least surprising.
“It is widely acknowledged that flags and bunting are regularly erected outside catholic churches and shops in various towns and villages. Individual catholic homes in unionist areas are also singled out for this treatment.
“On an annual basis, the PSNI not only turn a blind-eye to such behaviour, our party activists and supporters, as well ordinary nationalists, would argue that the PSNI actually facilitates this behaviour.”
Murney, the local spokesperson for the socialist republican party in the Newry area, added, “Our party members can point to numerous incidents in various areas where the PSNI are actually present as the erection of flags and bunting takes place but do nothing except engage in friendly conversations with those responsible.
“It is notable that, despite the clear intent of those behind this annual sectarian ritual to intimidate and provoke nationalists or to deliberately foment and increase tensions within communities, the PSNI merely publicly respond by saying that ‘no crime was committed’.”
Concluding, Murney said, “It is patently obviously to everyone that the PSNI has a long-standing and unwritten corporate policy, inherited from the RUC, which is implemented each July.
“That policy can be summed up as stating such sectarian provocation by unionists is not to be considered as ‘behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace’.”
Legislation currently going through Westminster will have a major adverse impact upon civil and human rights’ protection in the Six Counties. The British House of Lords this week begins its consideration of the controversial Justice and Security Bill (not to be confused with the already existing Justice and Security Act 2007).
If passed into law, the bill will introduce what are known as ‘closed material proceedings’ (CMPs) which will allow the British government to present secret evidence to a judge without having to disclose it to the rest of the court or, indeed, to a defendant in a trial, or a claimant in a civil case.
Being able to present secret evidence to a judge in any legal case without the other side having the chance to refute it or to even know what it is obviously gives the British Government a huge and unfair advantage in legal proceedings and has the very real potential to present a very one-sided or misleading version of events.
The bill also proposes to extend the draconian secret evidence mechanism to encompass ordinary civil law cases, including employment tribunals.
The draft legislation proposes that the law should be changed so that where a minister decides that certain material, if openly disclosed, would cause damage to the interests of ‘British national security’, that minister can trigger the use of CMP. This means the material will not be disclosed to the other side, yet the British government will be allowed to put the material before a judge and rely on it in defending or pursuing any action through the courts.
If CMPs are implemented, the wide definition of ‘sensitive information’ and ‘British national security interests’ will effectively lead to many controversial cases in the Six Counties being held behind closed doors.
The leading independent human rights’ organisation in the Six Counties, the Committee for the Administration of Justice (CAJ) has already publicly warned of the consequences of the use of these ‘closed material proceedings’.
The CAJ has openly signalled that these secret courts could be used by the British state to thwart any effective investigations into murders which involved either members of the British forces or British agents. Civil actions for damages relating to miscarriages of justice, ill-treatment, unlawful state murders, and failures by the British state to take reasonable steps to protect life are all likely to fall under the remit of these CMPs.
éirígí Rúnaí Ginearálta Breandán Mac Cionnaith said, “This new legislation is clearly aimed at strengthening the existing draconian apparatus which the British state and its various agencies already have access to.
“At a time when MI5 is playing an increased sinister role in the Six Counties, and both it and MI6 are targeting Islamic and black communities in Britain, this legislation undoubtedly will be used against all those deemed to be ‘enemies of the state’.
“What is particularly noticeable, however, is the muted response to this legislation from constitutional nationalist politicians in the Six Counties. Having previously signed up to a policing regime which incorporated a formal role for MI5 in Ireland, those parties’ silence on this latest erosion of civil and human rights is not at all surprising.”
“Once this legislation is enacted, these secret procedures will create processes that may look and sound like a trial or an inquest but in fact will be nothing of the sort. The core element of justice will be noticeably absent.
"Cases such as those relating to the infamous shoot-to-kill policy, collusion and even those like the Ballymurphy Massacre could all fall under the remit of this legislation.”
Many will no doubt be accustomed to the ongoing battle being waged by parties within the Stormont Executive to stamp out dissent and criticism from republican quarters.
Indeed, most observers will be all too familiar with the Stormont parties’ attacks on political opposition to the Executive’s role in the maintenance of partition and union with Britain, its role in maintaining injustices against Irish citizens, and its implementation of right-wing economic policies.
However, an increasing and disturbing trend is emerging whereby any form of criticism of, or dissent from, the Stormont narrative is now coming under attack.
Those at the receiving end of this wider Stormont offensive are not republicans, no matter how far one might stretch one's imagination.
The most recent salvo fired in this offensive against the not-so-usual suspects came from none other than Stormont’s deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness.
A judgment from a Fair Employment Tribunal hearing in June found that his party colleague, Conor Murphy, had discriminated against a protestant job applicant while Murphy was minister of regional development.
In a BBC interview shortly after the tribunal’s findings, McGuinness attempted to place the Stormont Executive above and beyond the reach of established equality and fair employment legislation by stating, “What this calls into question, in this particular case, is whether or not a minister has a right to make a ministerial appointment or are ministerial appointments going to be dictated by a body which, effectively, is not part of the government?”
A strange question for him to pose. After all, this was the same equality and fair employment legislation that McGuinness’ party had once advocated and had also enlisted the support of Irish-America to reinforce through the adoption of the MacBride principles.
Earlier this year, in February, SDLP environment minister Alex Attwood announced the go-ahead for construction of a £100 million privately-owned golf resort a mile away from the entrance to the Giant’s Causeway world heritage site.
Friends of the Earth warned that building a golf course within sight of the UNESCO-recognised Giant’s Causeway site on the North Antrim coast would be akin to constructing a drive-through burger bar near the Taj Mahal.
The National Trust publicly opposed those plans and initiated a legal challenge against the proposal. UNESCO itself has asked for project to be stopped.
The DUP sent out their attack terrier in the form of DUP MP Ian Paisley Junior, who bluntly stated: “Thanks National Trust, at a time of economic depression, you put the two fingers up to everyone in Northern Ireland and say you’re going to try to hurt rather than help the economy. You are a disgrace to Northern Ireland.”
Paisley’s party colleague, Stormont minister Arlene Foster, said she and her executive colleagues from all parties were “highly disappointed” by the legal challenge.
There is no record of any of the other Stormont parties expressing disagreement with either Paisley’s or Foster’s views.
It then emerged in June that the same DUP minister, Arlene Foster, had previously attacked the Co-operative Group over the showing of a documentary opposing fracking. Fracking is the controversial method of extracting gas from shale rock. Critics of fracking state that the controversial method of gas extraction can pollute water and cause minor earthquakes.
Foster claimed the film, Gasland, was biased, and said the Co-op’s decision to sponsor the screening was misplaced.
The Co-op rejected her criticism. In its response, Co-op regional secretary Gerard Hill told the minister: “The Co-operative is campaigning for a moratorium on the exploration of shale gas, at least until all the risks and impacts are properly identified and addressed. The event comprises a screening of Gasland followed by an open discussion on what shale gas development might mean.”
Obviously, Foster is adverse to ‘open discussion’ or debate on a subject which has widespread implications for thousands of families in Fermanagh and adjacent counties. Once again, there was silence from her ministerial colleagues in Stormont’s Executive.
And, of course, there is the ongoing saga of the Stormont parties’ collective campaign aimed at lowering corporation in the Six Counties while they simultaneously and hypocritically penalise the poor and less well off in society.
At a time when families, the young, the old, the ill, the low-paid and the unemployed are all facing cut-backs as a result of Stormont’s cuts in public expenditure, all parties in the Executive are united in their attempts to secure even greater tax breaks for those large companies, banks and financial institutions that can well afford to pay increased tax rates.
Disagreeing with this policy, however, also means incurring Stormont’s displeasure.
Opposition by many community and voluntary sector organisations to cuts in social welfare benefits were met with a warning from Stormont finance minister, the DUP’s Sammy Wilson.
“We need to ensure that we do not create unnecessary alarm,” he said.
It might have escaped the attention of Wilson and his other colleagues from all parties within the Stormont Executive that alarm already exists throughout communities and within families in every one of the Six Counties. There is real and genuine concern about the impact all these cut-backs will have.
Alarm also exists within Stormont, but for different reasons.
At the last election, the five parties which make up the Stormont executive polled a total of 608,350 votes out of a possible electorate of 1,210,009. That means just over 50.2% of all those eligible to vote actually cast their ballots for those parties.
As disillusionment and despair increases within working class communities at the failure of the Stormont executive to effect real political, social or economic change, the Stormont parties are keenly aware that, before long, they could well become a minority government in the truest sense of the word.
That is why any and all criticism, from whatever quarter, is collectively viewed by all of Stormont’s parties as not being beneficial to their political project.
And therein lies the real challenge for Socialist Republicans and for all other progressives.
It is the challenge to harness that growing disillusionment, to reverse that sense of impotency among our communities in order to genuinely give them a real sense of empowerment, and to build a real and effective alternative to Britain’s neo-colonial Stormont project – a project which, in most people's daily experiences, is fast becoming a failure.