‘Tom Murphy is not a criminal. He’s a good republican”.
The latest Gerry Adams controversy over Slab Murphy has once again re-opened the issue of whether Irish republican prisoners were criminals or political prisoners.
It ‘s fairly clear to everybody who was around during “The Troubles” (as 30 years of civil and political strife are euphemistically called), that the IRA,INLA and other republican paramilitary organizations did not see themselves as criminals. They contested the label to the death with the 1981 hunger strike.
Comment: Whether Republicans were political prisoners or ordinary decent criminals is an issue that divides people only in Ireland.
The UK is quite clear on its stance.
As Margaret Thatcher said “A crime is a crime is a crime”.
In the UK political protest has long been criminalized to head off threats to public order and its own security. The law itself appears unwilling to distinguish between political and ordinary crime. Consequently, for over 2 centuries English prisons have held people like trades union activists, suffragettes, communists, anarchists, conscientious objectors, and Irish political prisoners, all of whose crimes derived from political convictions.
Their refusal meant they did not belong to the British social/radical history narrative as the other political offenders did.
Attempts to treat them as criminals just fuelled the conflict and their rage.
Speaking in Dublin on 27 March 2005, Martin Mc Guinness, Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, himself a former IRA prisoner, explains why the issue is recurrently brought to the fore and why Republicans are criminalised.
“In every generation of struggle against British occupation the policy of criminalisation was introduced in an attempt to break the spirit and sap the energy of Irish republicans”
“Today the opponents of Irish republicanism who are attempting to brand republicans, as criminals are not British oppressors.
It is establishment parties in this state who enjoy limited independence brought about by previous generations of Irish republicans.
The British did not succeed in criminalising the patriots of 1916 nor did they succeed in criminalising the men in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh and the Women in Armagh in 1981.
Query: Why criminalise Republicans in Ireland?
“The stronger we get politically, the more we threaten the cosy cartel that has abused its grip on the levers of power in this state since partition”.
Sean McConville IRISH POLITICAL PRISONERS, 1848–1922, Routledge (2005)