The public meeting at the House of Commons on Tuesday 20 November did not have a popular theme. It had been called by the Justice Campaign to examine and discuss the justice issues surrounding the imprisonment of Irish prisoners Gerry McGeough, Marian Price and Martin Corey.
No British MPs attended. At the very start of the meeting the Chairman, John McDonnell MP, told us that Unionists had been briefing against the meeting in House, saying it was offering succour to terrorists, possibly deterring some MPs who might otherwise had come along out of curiosity. Full marks to the two peers present though, Baroness O'Loan, former Police Ombudsman in the North of Ireland and Lord Dubs. Dr John Hillery, son of former Irish President, Patrick Hillery, was also there to hear Conor Murphy, Monsignor Dr Raymond Murray, Moya St Leger and former Fianna Fail cabinet minister Eamon O Cuiv TD hit out hard about the abuse of legal process in these three cases.
The British media have remained silent on these cases. One speaker suspected a D-Notice had been issued. Only a tiny number of people on what the British fondly call 'the mainland' have heard of the prisoners' plight. So some of those present were literally open-mouthed at what they were hearing. One young lady said to me afterwards, ‘my jaw was on the table.’
Conor Murphy spoke eloquently about Martin Corey who still doesn't know why he is in prison. Neither does his lawyer. But Conor was also strongly critical of the abuse of the law which put McGeough into Maghaberry. ‘Everyone is entitled to due process and to a fair trial, and they are being denied this.’ He went on to say their treatment ‘represents a serious breach of their human rights and their continued imprisonment undermines the justice system. We are against the use of “revocation of licences” as a substitute for due process.’
Campaigning vigorously in support of Marian Price, Fr Murray spoke movingly of what appears to be the malicious persecution of Marian. He described her current condition in cold clinical detail, providing us with an up to the minute report. A quotation from a speech he made at a civil rights in August is on the leaflet advertising the event:
All of the wrongs and injustices that I have campaigned against for over forty years still exist today. (Monsignor Raymond Murray Aug. 2012)
Fr Murray has had come out of retirement to campaign against British human rights abuse 14 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
Listening to the most famous human rights' campaigner in the North of Ireland - now in his seventies - was a bizarre experience, like encountering a denizen of Kafkaland on another planet.
I spoke about Gerry McGeough from a very personal point of view. As his prison visitor in Germany I got to know him well and have been in touch with him for 25 years. I was not at all surprised that McGeough had been put on trial and gaoled for a shooting incident 30 years ago in which no-one was killed. I put it down to what I called the "mindset of the English ruling class" which hasn't changed one iota down the centuries. ‘McGeough had outwitted the English time and time again’ I observed, ‘and for that there is a price to pay.’
I also drew attention to the fact that because war had never been declared in the North of Ireland, the Army's Rules of Engagement which limit what an Army can do in an armed conflict had never applied. Ergo, a 53 year-old cardiac patient and First Class Honours graduate of TCD who never killed anyone is behind bars while members of the British security forces and known loyalist killers involved in the murders of 83 civilians in the North of Ireland including the solicitors Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson, remain at liberty and are still not required to account for their actions.
Eamon O Cuiv spoken passionately about his involvement with Northern prisoners from an early stage, before the GFA. McGeough. He had heard about McGeough's imprisonment from myself and at first had doubted the story. Since discovering it was true he has visited him 3 times and is due to visit again soon.
Reporting on the impact these cases are having in the Dail, O Cuiv said there were twelve people on the hoc group. Six from Fianna Fáil, one from Sinn Féin and five from the Technical Group looking at these cases. The European Parliament had also been in contact with him. There was, he said, a lot of interest at a high political level and the Tánaiste has asked them to report on their next visit to the prisoners in the north.
All in all, a good meeting even if MPs who needed to come were not present.
O Cuiv finished his speech with the words of another prisoner Terence MacSweeney:
It is not those who can inflict the most, but those that can suffer the most, who will conquer.