I have known Paul McGlinchey almost four decades since when as teenage republicans we first met in prison. He later went on to spend more time on the H Block blanket protest than any other prisoner resisting the British state’s criminalisation policy, having first refused to wear prison uniform in October 1976. Five full years of often brutal cellular confinement and persistent deprivation would pass before he would wear clothes again, his own. It is quite a distinction although he seems to have benefited little from it. That is the type of fortune that tends to come in exchange for abandoning beliefs rather than staying with them.
Frequently the target of PSNI attention, which he adamantly describes as harassment, his home was raided by armed British police on Christmas Eve. The search was the culmination of a long history of attrition which he traces back to his decision in 2007 to break with Sinn Fein over its about turn, leading to the party endorsing a force it had previously insisted upon being disbanded. His choice was totally consistent with a long history of republican activism which both he and his brothers were immersed in. One of those brothers, the late Dominic, was in 1977 named by the same police force that knocks on Paul’s door today as one of the North’s three most wanted men. Another brother, Sean, served almost two decades in prison and is currently a Sinn Fein councillor who for a time served as mayor of Limavady.
Paul McGlinchey is married with three daughters and a son. Through his irrepressible resistance he had hoped that the egregious effects of living in Britain’s political slum would be stymied and not passed onto his children. He readily admits to having been wrong about that.
What has changed? People don’t have to live behind steel shutters fearful of assassination by loyalists working on information provided by the police. We still get stopped and searched, take abuse, few will provide work to those who hold republican beliefs.
Of the PSNI ill disposition toward him Paul said:
It is ongoing. My home which is situated on a dead end road has been raided previously and they also harass my family. My daughters are constantly hassled and pulled from their cars and body-searched at the side of the road. One of them was followed to her place of work and messed about by the cops in what would seem to be a bid to apply pressure to her employers to get rid of her.
The daughter in question was told at the weekend that she had in fact been ‘let go’ and now has no employment.
He has taken up the issue of harassment with solicitors and has previously been to the Ombudsman but the latter’s office has sided with the cops, on each occasion justifying the continuing harassment. Typical officialdom, always seeking to conceal and cover.
In the days leading up to the Christmas Eve incursion the PSNI had been setting up checkpoints outside his home and along the road. According to the family this measure would be in place three to four times a day. Cop cars would pull into the family driveway, rev the engine to announce their presence before turning around and speeding off.
The homing in on Paul McGlinchey intensified in the wake of the killing of a member of the prison staff at Maghaberry, David Black, who was ambushed in an IRA gun attack as he drove to work in November. Paul believes the PSNI ire coming his way is directly related to his work with the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association, of which he is chairperson for the South Derry/North West South Antrim area. He is particularly annoyed by comments made by Martin McGuinness in the wake of the David Black killing which he feels were fashioned specifically to demonise those who supported the protesting prisoners and as such fed into the PSNI interest in himself. Paul claims that he will not be deterred from the work he does on behalf of republican prisoners, and that he will continue to both campaign against brutality in Maghaberry and to work to alleviate financial hardship incurred by the families of prisoners.
This is not surprising in the slightest given the longevity of his prison protest. He says that since his release from prison in the 1980s he has campaigned for improvements in the regime prisoners endure. He has been taught by experience that a prison regime that is not monitored will quickly revert to brutal form, something he and other blanket protestors know quite a bit about. A frequent target of prison staff violence he is determined to ensure that no prisoner undergoes similar mistreatment.
I was in prison a long time myself and am only doing what was did for me while I was there. I feel very strongly about these issues. I know how difficult it is for families and I took many beatings from prison staff so I am certainly going to campaign against it happening today.
The raid on the family’s South Derry home came a full six days after a search warrant had been issued. The family feel that if the police really believed that the munitions mentioned in the warrant were on its property the warrant would have been executed immediately it was issued. Instead in the view of the family the decision to delay the search until Christmas Eve was an act of vindictiveness contrived by senior officials in the PSNI.
I complained to the leader of the search team about the invasion of my home the day before Christmas. He told me he no more wanted to be in my home than I wanted him to be there but he had got his orders that morning and was merely carrying them out.
Councillor Sean McGlinchey also drew attention to the lag between the warrant being issued and its execution. ‘This was a disgrace on Christmas Eve ... especially when you consider this warrant was signed on December 18 and the search could have been carried out any time.’ Few in Councillor McGlinchey’s party would seem to agree, or if they do they are reluctant to raise their voices. There was no gathering of Sinn Fein party members at Knock PSNI headquarters as there was in the wake of the arrest of Padraic Wilson.
When the PSNI arrived it was around 10.30am. Paul's wife Cindy responded to demands to open the door. Thinking that the police might have arrived with bad news about a son abroad she moved to talk to the cops outside the front door as she did not want the daughters to hear the conversation in case there was anything that might alarm them. The mobility of Cindy McGlinchey at this time was considerably restricted. As a result of an accident in which she was injured by a horse she had sustained two broken arms. She had also been rendered housebound and unable to go out prior to the raid. Since her accident she had been unable to raise her hands above her head. Cindy McGlinchey in that condition, visibly evident to the PSNI as she was still in plaster, would in the minds of most people be capable of posing no threat.
Her husband explains that in spite of this, she was immediately attacked. Without explaining that they were in possession of a search warrant a female member of the PSNI threw Cindy McGlinchey up against the wall and forced her arms up her back. One of her daughters heard her screams of agony and rushed to the front of the house demanding that the police cease their assault on her injured and by now visibly distressed mother. At that point a warrant was produced and the PSNI proceeded to raid the family home.
During the course of the search comments were made loudly in the presence of one of his daughters that the hatred of the police in the family was so severe it was cancerous. The daughter in question had survived cancer and found the comment unnerving.
They were being smart about it. They stood talking to each other but I could tell it was for my attention. When I raised it with the man in charge at the end of the search he didn’t want to know. The police had raided the home before and on the last occasion I had just been diagnosed which they were aware of. So it is hard to believe their supposed conversation was just an innocent chat.
In her father’s account of the raid:
The police dog had been muck covered when it entered the house, as if it had been lying in fields all night. It smashed ornaments, fouled the bed, knocked over the Christmas tree, and climbed all over furniture. All locks on bedroom windows were forced and broken as was the lock to a wardrobe owned by our son to which a bolt cutter was applied. One daughter’s jewellery box suffered a similar fate due to the force used to open it. The whole thing lasted five hours.
After the violation of the family home Paul had to take his wife to Antrim Area Hospital where her blood pressure registered at ‘a very high level’. Cindy who has no history of hypertension says the incident has sent her BP ‘rocketing through the roof.’ The couple noted that the doctor who examined her had commented that she had acquired additional injuries to those sustained during her accident and that her progress had been put back a number of weeks.
The incident has left her traumatised and she is left feeling very vulnerable in her own home. Although the search team cleaned up the dog mess Cindy McGinchey hit out at the Chief Constable:
Matt Baggott should have his dogs properly trained before sending them into people’s home ... I am the mother of two daughters and would be distraught if any of them were to attack an injured mother in her own home in front of her children in the manner that the PSNI woman did to me.
Paul McGlinchey, the former H-Block blanket prisoner at the centre of British police harassment, said he hopes that the matter can be resolved in a way that brings a halt to the ongoing PSNI strategy of attrition against him. ‘The family have been through enough already. I hope this is the end.’ He wants the issue investigated robustly and resolved justly ‘but that can only be done if the policewoman who assaulted my wife is brought to book.’
In terms of police harassment I suspect it is not the end for many republicans and in particular one carrying the family name McGlinchey. After I spoke to the McGlinchey family the following thought crossed my mind: what sort of outcome has the republican struggle delivered when an armed British police force is still able to target a former blanket man more than three decades after the H Block hunger strikes? Would Frank Hughes, a personal friend and IRA comrade of Paul, and the second of the hunger strikers to die, have regarded that as a success? Hey Frank celebrate our victory in which the British police can still charge you for all the times you shot them up. To term this horrible vista a victory robs us of the words to describe defeat: language has been rendered meaningless. While arguably there are many members of the North’s police who want to move on and have no interest in fighting the battles of yesterday, as an institution – which crucially, rather than individual attitudes, is what determines behaviour - the armed British Police Service of Northern Ireland is intent on putting manners on republicans who refuse to con themselves and others that political policing ended with the renaming of the RUC.
The PSNI increasingly conducts its business as if the main challenge it faces is a republicanism that has spouted another head which must be cut off. It obsesses almost incessantly about republicans which it has placed at the centre of its public discourse. When every problem is a viewed as a nail then every solution will involve the use of a hammer. Seeking to hammer into submission the opposition helped fan the flames of the Northern conflict.
A police force that has purchased a one way ticket to conflict, if allowed to go unchecked, will ultimately arrive at its destination. Yet nobody seems to be of a mind to take responsibility and put their foot on the brake. The North like every other society needs a policing agency but is one in the grip of revanchism the best that it can come up with? It was not for nothing that republicans demanded the total disbandment of the RUC. The legacy of having failed to achieve that is the burgeoning culture of impunity that permeates the activities of today’s PSNI.