Irish Republicans: Ordinary decent criminals or Political prisoners?

Thomas "Slab" Murphy (left) who owns a farm in Co Louth straddling the border with Northern Ireland, arrives at the non-jury Special Criminal Court in Dublin, where he pleaded not guilty to nine tax offences in the Irish Republic. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday December 17, 2015. See PA story IRISH Slab. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire

PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday December 17, 2015: Niall Carson/PAWire

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. 

my game, my rules

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.

ni prison officer
Irish political prisoners denied the legitimacy of British rule in Ireland.

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.

armagh prisoners
And we are not about to allow the Soldiers of Destiny or the PDs to succeed in criminalising this generation of Irish Republicans”.

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)