Why are they doing it?

Guest writer Moya St Leger with a piece hammering British policy on the prisoner issue. The author is former President of the Connolly Association.

The great Irish human rights' campaigner, prolific author, editor, poet and academic, Monsignor Dr. Raymond Murray, said recently “All of the wrongs and injustices that I have campaigned against for over forty years still exist today.”

So why are they doing it? Why are the British subjecting Irish men and women to abuse, who have the temerity to want them out of Ireland? Why is this desire regarded as a sin and their non-lethal activities regarded as crimes? What is it that people around the world can see to which the British are blind?

What kind of mindset allows a British Government of whatever political hue to continue allowing human rights abuse on a grand scale? How is it possible for British judges in Northern Ireland to be overruled by a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when it would be virtually impossible for the same to happen in England or Wales?  How come that 14 years after the Good Friday Agreement reached the Statute Book, Irish men and women can be hauled into prison without charge or an Irishman can be sentenced to 20 years for a shooting incident over 30 years ago during an armed conflict between the British Army and an historic Irish Republican army in which both he and his victim were injured yet no-one was killed?

It is possible, dear friends, because the English and Unionists within the British Establishment, whether in Northern Ireland or in London have an ancient mindset reinforced by the fact that we, the British, have sovereignty in Northern Ireland so UK law prevails ... or should do but for the ancient mindset regarding the Irish people. 

This mindset formed over centuries is unchanged by the Good Friday Agreement. It is a mindset so old and so deeply ingrained in the English it could now be part of our genetic make-up. It renders it impossible for any member of the English ruling class to think differently unless they are determined to think differently. That determination is absent in all but a tiny number of English. It is born of discovering how we came to 'own' Ireland. It springs from the outrage which is triggered by that discovery. An English man or woman who has undergone this life-changing experience is worth his/ her weight in platinum, so rare they are on the ground.

The English attitude to the Irish people remains unchanged, despite acknowledging that a large proportion of the great writers and poets who produced the canon of English literature had Irish roots. Around the world the English work alongside Irish engineers, teachers, lawyers, bankers, businessmen and women, doctors, surgeons and scientists yet the view of the English ruling class of the Irish remains unchanged. What is that view?  It is this: that the Irish are a curious sub-species of Homo Sapiens, the Homo without the sapientia, so evident in the English. The Irish are to be regarded as untrustworthy, deeply tribal therefore still somewhat primitive. The Irish are a people who cannot see sense; they cannot understand the logic and practicability of law and the English way of doing things. The Irish are unpredictable, uncontrolled, and therefore uncontrollable.

May I bring a little history into this? The English genetic proclivity to regard the Irish as an unknown, uncontrollable entity can be traced far back in English history. By looking at a tiny piece of the mosaic helps one to see what is happening now in Northern Ireland in a wider context.

My great x 13 grandfather, Sir Anthony St Leger KG, was a 16th century lawyer and courtier at the court of Henry VIII.  In 1536 the King sent him out to Ireland to do a survey of Ireland before it was Crown territory. Sir Anthony spent 13 months travelling around Ireland sending reports about the place and the people to King Henry. After he returned to London, he was commissioned by the King to draw up a policy to bring Ireland under the Crown which he did in 1540.  In one of his reports Sir Anthony had written (I have rendered the Tudor spelling into modern English):

... for Your Majesty, unless it (Ireland) be peopled with others than be there already and certain fortresses there built and warded, if it be gotten one day it is lost the next.

Sir Anthony had recognized that the Irish would be impossible to control.

Lloyd, a contemporary of his went even further when recording the life of my ancestor.  After Sir Anthony was made Ireland's first real Viceroy, Lloyd recorded:

Several important Acts (introduced by Anthony) were made law. The most rational and equitable laws were those of England, but too rational to be imposed on the brutish Irish. Therefore our knight, considering that they could not relish such exact laws, to live or to be ruled by them, immediately enacted laws such as agreed with their capacity rather than such as were dictated by his ability...

The notion that the Irish did not have 'the capacity' to 'relish' English law is still at the very heart of English thinking about the Irish and, it appears, the thinking of our present very English Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. 

But Anthony was a 'wise and warie gentleman' and a clever lawyer. He drew up a policy called "Grant Re-grant" which enabled him to negotiate a deal with the majority of great Irish chieftains who accepted an English title in return for handing over their lands to Henry, who then handed them back to them to be held as servants of the Crown.  However, what 'our knight' had not bargained for was that the two great Irish chieftains in the North held out against the policy, O'Neill of Tyrone and O'Donnell of Tyrconnell.

The Irish don't need me to tell them that the descendants of those two great chieftains and all their collateral branches remained in the north of Ireland after the Flight of the Earls and are still the bedrock of Irish resistance today. The wholesale shipping in of Scottish Protestants in the 17th c. was a testament to their resistance. It was the English admission that they could not cope. The building of fortresses (including the MI5 building in Palace Barracks), the stationing of British armed forces, the abuse of British law, the imprisoning of sick republicans, the stalling of the handover to the Republic of Ireland territory which belongs to the whole Irish people, our absolute refusal to acknowledge that we should have long withdrawn from a country where we were never welcome, is a mystery to people all round the world.

Yet, every British government to this day knows that everyone else is wrong.  The sense that "Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom as much as my constituency is. Northern Ireland is as British as Finchley" (Margaret Thatcher 1981) is still secretly held by Tory politicians, though it is now politically incorrect to say so.  There have been the occasional chinks of light in the dark recesses of the British mind, beginning with John Major whose origins, it must be noted, were not in the English ruling class!  Tony Blair went with the flow and produced the GFA, but it is clear the Old Guard are back, with their antediluvian attitudes about the Irish and how they have to be closely monitored and kept under control.  Above all, there has to be silence in the British media about the ugly underbelly of Kafkland (NI).

As long as we, the British, have sovereignty over those six northern counties of a neighbouring country that is geographically farther away from us than France, the veil of blindness cannot be lifted. It is a mindset, and for the majority of ordinary people from the top to the bottom of society, a mindset can only be changed if circumstances change. Very few English experience the profound intellectual U-turn as I did when in my 20s, before the mindset had taken firm root, I began discovering the truth about the English presence in Ireland.

The only way forward beyond the imprisonment of Gerry McGeough, Marian Price and Martin Corey and a host of others who do not have campaigns behind them is to continue reiterating unceasingly, if needs be parrot-fashion, that British sovereignty in the north of Ireland must end immediately, not next year, not next month, not tomorrow but TODAY.  A border poll must be held TODAY involving the people of the whole of Ireland and the whole of the Irish Diaspora around the world.  The GFA provides for a border poll, but it should be accompanied by a poll in the Republic and in the worldwide Irish Diaspora.

To the Rt Hon. David Cameron, our Prime Minister, I say this: 


it is your moral duty to hand over the six Irish counties over which we still claim sovereignty now, Mr Cameron, right now.  In the next session of parliament it is your duty to introduce a bill to enable us to withdraw from Ireland.  I call on you personally to accept it is your duty to us the British people, to the Irish people here, in Ireland and around the world, and to the thousands of Irish who have been killed over the centuries so that we could retain our vice-like grip on Ireland. It is also your duty to God, Mr Cameron. Why is obvious: because retaining the North of Ireland
is now as it always was, manifestly sinful.

Moya St Leger
London 24 August 2012



  1. Moya,

    thanks for an informative piece. We are pleased to carry it

  2. such strong words, maybe cameron will have him classed as insane, well lets be honest, its either that, or, a declaration of intent to withdraw from our province of Ireland, "ULSTER" and give to that province its original 3 counties to make up the nine which it originally had. I doubt if any nationalist will disagree with this post, I for one welcome it.

  3. Yes Moya, thank you.

    America showed itself entirely unwilling to keep to its treaties with the native peoples it exterminated/absorbed, and Britain seems similarly inclined. Given how long America continued to squeeze the Indian tribes even after all the territory was formally conquered and mapped, Ireland may have decades, if not centuries, of similar treatment ahead.

  4. Statement from Gerry McGeough – “No Welcome in Ireland for the English Establishment” from Maghaberry Prison, August 27, 2012.

    Gerry McGeough sends his congratulations to the organizers of the Tyrone Civil Rights March that took place Sunday, August 26, 2012. Gerry said we must all continue to stand up for justice and democracy and there is no welcome in Ireland for the English establishment and they should slither back to their own swamp of a country. All the English empire has brought to Ireland, and other countries, is misery, conflict and evil. The sooner the English empire becomes ancient history, the better for the world. Long live democracy!

  5. Powerful stuff.

    'for Your Majesty, unless it (Ireland) be peopled with others than be there already and certain fortresses there built and warded, if it be gotten one day it is lost the next.'

    I saw on Fox News [ i suffer an ocassional 5 minutes to confirm USA stupidity] that the American assessment of Afghan trainee troops shooting their USA trainers as resulting from either their centuries old tendency towards war, or if all other considerations can't explain this behaviour 'maybe we have to conclude they just don't like us being there'. DOH!!

    I was at school in England until i was 9yrs old. Kids are encouraged to believe that the viking and Roman invasions were in the long-run good for the development of England. Subtly perhaps this 'conditioning' permits the brits to project invading 49 nations [and counting] as a socially benevolent activity?

    Surrender and regrant is a good analogy of SF, a pathetic one in SFs case, but good nonetheless.

  6. Women's clothes cut off in New Hall jail 'unacceptable'

    Prison inspectors have criticised the "unnecessary and unacceptable" practice of cutting off women's clothes when they are strip-searched.

    Responses to women whose behaviour caused concern were also "excessively punitive", said a report on New Hall Prison in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.

    One woman from another jail who refused to hand over clothes she had previously been allowed to wear had them cut off.

    A Prison Service spokesman said cutting clothes off was sometimes necessary.


    One law for the English, a different law for the Irish.

  7. Moye St Leger,

    This really is an enjoyable and informative read, thanks for sharing it. I agree with your take on the English ruling class, but the attitude of working class people to Ireland is far more complex in my view.

    One of the great weaknesses of many English people of all classes is an inability to walk in another persons shoes. They have not suffered occupation for hundreds of years and most have an inability to understand how those who suffer under that yoke feel.

    Like you I too had my eyes opened on Ireland in my late teens and I have James Connolly to thank for that, along with C Desmond Greaves who introduced him to me with his biogs of Mellows and Connolly.

    Once the blinkers came off, it became impossible not to look at the world in a totally different way.

  8. Moya, an insightful commentary, your letters are much appreciated by Pat and I, and when Gerry is free, I'll make sure to tell him of your support.

  9. itsjustmacker

    that angered me reading it. Screws will abuse if not curbed. They are petty and brutal. They enjoy punishing. In jail I used to view them as professional misery makers. But yet quite a few of them were decent and humane.

  10. Anthony.

    Its not that the screws were decent and Humane, those who we thought were decent were the ones fearing for there lives and those of there families, to me they were 100% scum who looked down on Republicans as scum and they made sure we all knew it. They old saying is, They were to sweet to be wholesome. and to state that I was angry after reading it, Would be an understatement.

  11. Itsjustmacker,

    I don’t share that view. I was there too long and got to know too many to be able to sustain that view in my own mind. But each of us has a different experience to bring to the narrative.