Today The Pensive Quill features guest writer Johnny McGrath arguing for a more proactive approach to the current prison crisis. The author of the piece is an activist with the Prisoners’ Solidarity Group, Cork.
Is the time not ripe for a broad 'Prisoner Solidarity Committee' to be formed? Made up of Representatives of all P.O.W. representative groups, IRPWA, Cogús, F+F Group, Cabhair, IRSP, Éirígi as well as active groups and ex-pows groups, like Duleek independent republicans, PSG, Friends of Marian (Dublin), Teach na Fáilte etc. Forgive me if I have left anyone out) and including someone from a neutral standpoint like Independent Workers Union (I.W.U.). There are at present pickets, protests, white line pickets, marches, car convoys happening in Various parts of the country like Cork, Dublin, Duleek, Dundalk, Derry, Strabane, Belfast, Newry, Lurgan etc etc.
The lack of coordination and the variety of groups and organisations campaigning separately for the same issue can be off putting for those outside the world of Republicanism and on the left. A united broad campaign could generate a lot more support.
It has been said that the Prisoners dont have much support because the people dont support the campaigns that some of the prisoners have been alleged to have been involved in. There have been political status struggles going back decades From Mickey Devine back to Thomas Ashe all part of the same old battle against criminalisation. Those imprisoned now are no different from Michael Gaughan or the Fenians transported to Australia, penal transportation is now extradition/rendition. What matters is that they are Political Prisoners.
What is lacking at first glance is a campaign with a Name!.i.e.'SMASH MAGHABERRY', 'SMASH INTERNMENT CAMPAIGN'. Secondly, coordination of the already existing protests,(so at the very least they could happen on the same day where possible) and thirdly a set strategy, to achieve set objectives. We have a duty, an obligation to our Comrades 'behind the wire' to organise, agitate, and escalate our campaign so they don't have to escalate things inside Maghaberry. We have our Liberty, they dont.
In a recent article the IRSP noted the dangers of Broadening out a campaign for the prisoners
... there is a humanitarian aspect to Maghaberry and the internment of Marian Price but there is also a much larger political agenda. The torturous conditions and political internment emphasise Britain’s imperialist role in Ireland and their continuing war against the Republican people. This is why any attempt to broaden the base of the campaign for the Maghaberry prisoners must include an acceptance that the prisoners are political prisoners. They are also Prisoners of War because as previously noted Britain continues to wage war against the Irish people...
No broad campaign can allow the Prisoners demands to be watered down. It must act as a support to the struggle within Maghaberry, Hydebank or Lukiskes prisons, democratically. Again the IRSP
Now support for the prisoners’ demands is a positive force but we should be careful that this ‘support’ from non-republican quarters does not culminate in the protest movement being hijacked. The Catholic Church and the SDLP have an appalling record as far as Irish political prisoners are concerned. During the period of 1976-81, both the clergy and the SDLP undermined Republican prisoners and refused to unreservedly recognise them as political prisoners and support their 5 demands.
Much time has been wasted on what divides us, now is the time to find common ground for the benefit of the POWs and to build a united Prisoners movement in order to escalate things on the outside to prevent the situation within Maghaberry from reaching the point of no return.
Below are just some ideas of what the objectives and strategies of a broad campaign could be.
- A Broad campaign should have as its core objectives:
- The Full Implementation of the 12th August Agreement
- The Ending of Internment,and release of anyone Interned,(i.e. Marian Price, Martin Corey, Gerry McGeough)The Repatriation of Michael Campbell.
- Formation of regional Broad 'Prisoner Solidarity Committees' in regional areas where networks of anti-imperialists exist, similar to the relatives action committees which could agitate at local level, local committees could organize protests in structured, consistent way (monthly?) highlighting situation, pickets of TDs, informing the general public who are largely unaware of situation, lobby trade unions, sports bodies like GAA, students unions, lobby local councils to pass motions supporting campaign objectives. Campaign at local level to be democratic.
- Formation of 'National Prisoner Solidarity Committee/Movement'* which would include representatives of each aforementioned groups, to organize and coordinate campaign and turn it from being a regionalised campaign into becoming a National Campaign. Draw up a 'charter' or constitution which deals with mutual respect among representative groups., (focus on what unites us rather than what divides us).Organise fundraisers Facilitate groups who are constitutionally opposed to taking part in 'broad fronts' by liasing and coordinating events with them where possible.
- National campaign to be just that, National, reject partitionist tendencies where they arise and make sure equal measure is given to highlighting situation in areas like Dublin or Belfast( areas of partitionist power) organise pickets at and marches on Stormont and Leinster house ,pickets outside British and Lithuanian embassies and events organised to sell and promote British Normalisation policy, such as the 'dublin seminar on belfast agreement'. (Too late for that I know). And events that seek to Normalise policing.
- Mobilisation.* 'National committee' liase with 'regional committees' to mobilise people, i.e organise and fundraise for buses to get people to Big events such as marches in one end of the country or the other.
- Progressive support. National committee to engage with and seek support of all progressive/Left bodies and groups such as political parties and trade unions and cultural groups.
- Seek practical support internationally. 'National committee' to establish links with other progressive forces with a view to establishing Internationl support committees in various countires, USA, Euskal Herria/Basque country, to agitate for campaign demands.
- Propaganda. To effectively spread our message to both local and mainstream media through social media and agitational propaganda.
- National committee* could launch an annual 'Prisoners day', and create a symbol (like the green ribbon) that would become synonymous with the campaign and Republican prisoners in general.
This is by no means a complete strategy, all ideas welcomed. Anyone who wants to respond directly to this article can email email@example.com
Níl neart go cur le chéile