The basis of his arrest according to the Guardian is opinion he expressed at an Easter Rising commemoration in Lurgan, where he described armed struggle as a legitimate form of action. The Guardian reports Fennell as having said:
Armed struggle must be a contributory factor to a wider struggle ... The use of arms prior to 1916 was legitimate. The use of arms in Easter 1916 was legitimate. The use of arms after 1916 was totally legitimate. In the existing political context of partition, illegal occupation and the denial of national self-determination, armed struggle, in 2015, remains a legitimate act of resistance.
In doing so he was expressing a long standing republican viewpoint not all that different from what is said up and down the country every Easter. Amongst those being honoured are republicans who consciously gave their lives on hunger strike in Long Kesh as advocates of the legitimacy of armed struggle and in defiance of the British attempted delegitimisation of the same through criminalisation. Are those who speak at their graves expected to pull the rug from under their comrades’ great losses and refrain from saying their actions lacked legitimacy just to suit the current British rulers and their gagging laws?
In my view Dee Fennell has expressed a perspective that while logically consistent with the 1916 Rising ethos is wrong, and wrong for a number of reasons: not least that in the name of asserting the right of the Irish people to be free from the British state, it dogmatically insists on denying the right of the Irish people to be free from the use of arms as a means to resolve any grievances they might have with the British state. In short, one usurpation of self-determination is replaced with another.
Apart from thinking that armed struggle has some form of current justification
Fennell has said little that differs in any substantive way from what Gerry Adams said in a radio debate with the leader of Fianna Fail, Micheal Martin. Adams argued that the Provisional IRA campaign in the North was legitimate, declining an offer from host Fran McNulty to describe the fate of Jean McConville as a war crime. Gerry Kelly, as pointed out by Pete Trumbore, can also be found at Easter legitimising the Provisional IRA campaign.
Neither Adams nor Kelly were arrested for their legitimization of “terrorism” or their support for an organisation that remains proscribed, the Provisional IRA. Nor should they be. By the same token the grounds for the arrest of Fennell are tenuous and as the commenter DaithD pointed out on this site ‘the gap between one offence being prosecuted and the other being ignored is the space where political policing lurks.’
Is the PSNI stating that it is okay to legitimise IRA armed actions if they took place before the Good Friday Agreement? If they are then why is the PSNI continuing to prosecute people for those actions? Is the PSNI trying to say that such violence was legitimate but not legal?
There seems to be a serious anomaly in British law. Maryam Namazie has drawn attention to theocrats advocating the stoning of gays and adulterers yet who are nevertheless allowed to sit in Sharia courts as judges whereas those who express the view that physical force is legitimate are in the dock.
What this prosecuting of opinion will not achieve is a toning down of discourse that articulates the legitimacy of armed struggle. Those who favour it will simply retreat even further into the shadows from where they will speak to people, many impressionable and all too ready to believe something as long as it is whispered to them.