Human Rights Are Under Threat in the North

Sandy Boyer with a piece that initially featured in The Irish Echo on 11 September 2013.

Fifteen years ago, the Good Friday Agreement promised a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. Today there is still no Bill of Rights, and human rights are under a severe and sustained attack. Internment without charge or trial is back; “special” political offenses are being used to muzzle political activists; and the police have intimidated witnesses.

Internment was formally ended in 1975. But now it is being used against former political prisoners who are imprisoned indefinitely because their “license” (parole in American terms) has been revoked. They are never told why it was revoked and not even their lawyers can see what evidence, if any, is being used to keep them in prison.

Martin Corey has spent more than three years in Northern Ireland’s Maghaberry Prison. He is imprisoned indefinitely without a charge, trial, sentence or release date because the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, a British Cabinet Minister, has revoked his license. There is very little chance of that he will be released any time in the foreseeable future.

Martin Corey received a life sentence in December 1973 when he was 19 years old for killing two members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Northern Ireland police force, in an IRA operation. He served 19 years and was released in June, 1992.

In the early hours of April 16, 2010, almost 18 years after his release, the police took Martin Corey away to prison. He was informed that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland had revoked his license because he was a “security risk.”

Last year a Belfast judge ordered him released on unconditional bail because he was being held on the basis of secret evidence. His family rushed to the prison to bring him home.

But while Martin Corey was sitting in the prison reception area and they were waiting outside, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland overruled the judge and ordered him re-arrested.

His lawyers have announced that they will appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. But it could be years before any appeal is even heard, let alone decided.

Marian Price was held in solitary confinement for more than two years after the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announced that he had revoked her license. Neither she nor her lawyers were allowed to see the evidence against her. Twice judges ordered her freed on bail. Twice the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland overruled the judge and ordered her back to prison.

Marian Price is one of the best known former IRA prisoners. After she was convicted of bombing London’s Old Bailey Courthouse in 1973, she embarked on a hunger strike that lasted over 200 days, demanding to serve her sentence in Northern Ireland. She was force fed over 400 times and her heath never recovered.

After Marian Price was returned to prison in 2011 her health deteriorated so badly that she had to be moved to a hospital. Even after she was in a wheelchair, there was a prison guard stationed outside her door 24 hours a day. She was handcuffed for family visits and even during medical tests.

When the Parole Commission finally released Marian Price she was suffering from pneumonia, arthritis so severe that she couldn’t open her hands and the anorexia she developed during her hunger strike had returned.

Stephen Murney is in Maghaberry Prison charged with “collecting information likely to be to the use of terrorists” and “distributing information likely to be of use to terrorists” because he took photographs of members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland at political demonstrations.

He published some of these photographs in local newspapers and posted others on facebook. He also saved images of protests in Northern Ireland over the last 45 years on his computer. Stephen Murney was arrested on December 1, 2012 and remanded to Maghaberry pending a trial. He is still there today and no trial date has ever been set.

He was offered bail but only on condition that he not live at home with his partner and their child, never enter his home town even to visit a doctor or his family, never attend a political meeting or event and wear an electronic monitoring device. He rejected these conditions. Stephen Murney is a well known political activist in the Newry area of Northern Ireland. He is a prominent member of Erigi, a legal political party throughout Ireland.

Significantly, although Erigi rejects the Good Friday Agreement it does not believe that an armed struggle can be effective in today’s Ireland. Erigi General Secretary Breandán Mac Cionnaith, says it is 'not aligned to, or supportive of, any armed organisation.'

Stephen Murney’s prosecution is a threat to political activists and photo journalists. Legal and human rights organizations often advise activists to take pictures of any police misconduct. This can be the only way to prove that the police have actually been violent or abusive. Photojournalists may hesitate to photograph the police in action if they know they could be charged with “collecting material of use to terrorists.”

The Police Service of Northern Ireland tried to intimidate a witness who could have discredited the murder convictions of Brendan McConville and John Paul Wooten. They are serving 25 years (McConville) and 14 years (Wooten) for killing Police Constable Stephen Carroll.

Their conviction rested on the testimony of a man known only as “Witness M” who said he saw the two men leaving the scene of the crime. The defense team located a close relative of “Witness M” who swore in an affidavit that 'he was known in the family as a Walter Mitty that he made up stories, that he had a fertile imagination and you could not believe anything he said.' According to this relative, Witness M could not have taken the route he claimed on the night of the killing because his partner was not welcome in his home.

After this affidavit was submitted to the Court of Appeals the police forced their way into this man’s home and threatened to discredit him if he testified at the appeal hearing. Shortly afterwards he was arrested, held for three days, and questioned about his possible testimony.

Defense lawyers have stated that the PSNI put not only this new witness but the defense team itself under surveillance. Brendan McConville’s solicitor, Darrragh Mackin says that both he and Peter Corrigan, John Paul Wooten’s solicitor, were afraid that they would be arrested before the appeal hearing. 'It’s an absolutely terrifying fact to think that one or both of us could be arrested.'

The case has been adjourned until October. Even if McConnville and Wooten are freed then, they will have spent four and a half years in Maghaberry Prison.

Martin Corey, Marian Price, Stephen Murney, Brendan McConville, and John Paul Wooten are all “dissident republicans” who are actively opposed to the Good Friday Agreement. Some people are reluctant to publicly support them for fear of being tarred with the same brush. Gerry Conlon of the Guildford 4, who was imprisoned for 16 years for a bombing he didn’t commit, said that 'people who we know should be speaking out are not speaking out.'

But if these “dissident republicans “are imprisoned, everyone’s human rights will be in jeopardy. Anti-drugs campaigners, community activists or even militant trade unionists could be next. As Irish civil rights leader Bernadette Devlin McAliskey has said this is 'a clear signal that no dissent will be tolerated. No dissent will be tolerated and you challenge the status quo at your peril.'

  • New York based Sandy Boyer is the co-host of “Radio Free Eireann” broadcast Saturdays at 1pm on WBAI, 99.5 FM, or He has helped to mobilize support for political prisoners including Marian Price, Roisin McAliskey, the Birmingham 6, Pol Brennan and Joe Doherty.


  1. Bernie may say challenge this at your peril, there was a anti-internment meeting in the Teachers club in Dublin yesterday, the room was full to capacity, the speakers Clare Daly TD, Dee Fennel,John Mc Cusker and Pauline Mellon spoke at length and in detail about state abuse of human rights, Martin Corey ,Stephen Murney as an example, one thing abundantly clear that came out of yesterdays meeting was that if we sit back and allow the state to lock up first the organisers and vociferous opponents of state abuse then anyone who dissents from state control measures no matter how unjust or harsh will suffer the brit version of the provo,s disappeared,we will be left with a society that will be made up of sheep , jailers and the imprisoned, I for one do not want to live in any such society,where freedom is decided by some faceless unelected bureaucrat..

  2. Sandy

    That is a brilliantly clear, powerful outline of the plight of our Republican friends

  3. Some serious issues addressed here Sandy. Whatever limited gains the IRA campaign secured - and there were gains and they were limited - the British state is clawing back any ground it ceded. One step back two forward seems to have shaped Brit logic.

  4. Great article Sandy and as Marty has stated these issues and others were the topic of discusion yesterday at the launch of the Dublin Anti-Internment Campaign.


    I have to agree with you yesterdays meeting was really worthwhile and there is clearly the will to go forward. The organisers of yesterdays event did an excellent job and I have no doubt will continue to do so. The speakers were great but so were the people who spoke from the crowd including yourself. I felt in Particular that Padraigin gave a very valuable contribution from the floor and certainly enlightened me and others in respect of a few issues.

    I would like to take this opportunity also to thank Anthony and Carrie for their hospitality, it was great to finally meet you in person.

  5. Whatever the minuscule gains made by the IRA, They have all been put on the back burner, I would hasten to say , Its three (3) steps back and one step forward by the Brits.

    The secret evidence is a major bonus for the Brits, I am baffled as to how this has not been fully challenged in the European Courts of Human Rights.

    There is no doubt , as we all know, Internment is back. What is the use of having courts?, A court orders the release of suspect , then an unelected British Secretary of state for Norn Iron revokes the court order and states that person to be re arrested, what she is stating is, "Your Guilty until proven innocent", the reverse of modern law as we all see it.
    Now, this will make you think ;

    Richard Haass: Americans thought NI conflict 'was resolved'

    So my question is, Whats he coming over for.

  6. The existence of human rights abuses with the political system are beginning to leak out due to the committed work of some groups and individuals. A new group set up to defend human right, Justice Watch Ireland, facilitated a training day, funded by BIHRW, at the Conway Mill on Saturday. Ciaran Steel and Joe McVeigh addressed the issues of human rights abuse within the criminal justice system and the police. For example, McVeigh spoke of the recent treatment of Peter Corrigan by the state for simply doing his job to the utmost of his ability i.e providing the best legal services to his clients. Steel, on the other hand, spoke of the widespread abuses occurring under the guise of 'Stop and Search' procedures. Some people in attendance hearing this information for the first time from reputable sources were genuinely shocked and enraged. A question posed by one woman hit the nail on the head: Why are certain political parties and society in general silent on these issues? In the interests of present 'Northern Ireland' as an example of political stability certain unpalatable realities must be covered up.

    Marian Price, Martin Corey, DD McLaughlin, Ta McWillams, Stephen Murney, Gerry McGeough, Brian Shivers, Brendan McConnville, John Paul Wotton, are all victims of state persecution and abuse. The use of secret evidence and covert intelligence gathering enhances the Diplock courts ability to secure convictions against political dissenters and undesirables. Today the legal bar has been lowered to such an extent that due process in the British courts is almost non
    existent in any meaningful sense. The 'conveyor belt' has been honed and perfected to maximum efficiency for the disposal of political opponents. All of this has been achieved under the cover of a farcical political process supported by the nationalist parties north and south. Society is complicit in these abuses by its silence and ignorance of the facts.

    The impending appeal of McConnville and Wotton will be another test of the British judicial system in the north. We can only hope for the best whilst always expecting the worst.

  7. Sean, the time for hard work is now as we cant let another generation be wasted.
    UNDERSTAND THE PAST,ANALYSE THE PRESENT AND INFLUENCE THE FUTURE..cast all the deadwood,quislings and anyone else who is going to hold progress aside.

  8. A meeting at the weekend in Dublin on the issue of internment was a most welcome event. The panel was made up of a group of relatively young political/human rights activists from both parts of the island. The contributions were informative and powerful in their deconstruction of the political narrative that presents the new 'northern Ireland' as a model of political stability.

    Pauline Mellon, very much the new kid on the block, presented an eloquent analysis of the failure of the GFA to live up to its promise. It was not difficult to detect a deep sense of disappointment and disillusionment in her words which, I believe, is now felt by so many. This soft spoken, intelligent woman can hardly be accused of being a republican 'extremist', on the contary, she comes across as someone who genuinely believes in a fair and just society. And it is this that lends weight to her strongly held views on the wrong doings of the state.

    John McCusker and Dee Fennel are well known republican activists who have been involved in the many campaigns to highlight the injustices within the British political system. Both are strong supporters of the political prisoners and make no bones about it.

    Clare Daly, a Socialist TD, has been consistent in her desire to oppose human rights abuses in the north for some time. I first met her three years ago, along with several other TDs, to discuss the then protest situation within Maghaberry. She was supportive of the prisoner's position vis-a-vis strip searching and controlled movement, both of which she saw as being restrictive and unnecessary. Daly criticized the political censorship particularly in the south in regards to these issues. She spoke of the high level of public awareness around Guantanamo Bay in comparison to the
    ignorance of what is occurring 'one hundred miles up the road'.

    This meeting was a useful exercise for the purpose of disseminating information and raising awareness. For too long these issues have been trapped within the 'republican ghetto' while the general population are oblivious to the facts on the ground. Meetings like the, and the one in Conway Mill, break fresh ground and open up new possibilities. The political institutions must not be allowed to hide behind public ignorance any longer. Political and public disinterest must be challenged by the self proclaimed champions of human rights. Information and knowledge forces all of us to make a choice whether we want to or not.

  9. The prisoners' rights activist Mandy Duffy posted this on her Facebook wall. It is a timely comment given the essence of Sandy's piece.

    On Wednesday 11th September, members of the Joe McKelvey Society West Belfast started work on a mural in Divis, which we hoped would be a good way to draw attention to the people of the area on the prisoners plight within MagHaberry Gaol.

    With hard work and commitment from our members, we were able to have the mural completed by 5PM the next day, and this in-spite of the horrible weather conditions we faced on Thursday. In doing the mural, we didn’t just want to do something for the prisoners, but we also wanted to bring the reality of what they face on a daily basis to the residents, a lot of whom are none the wiser about current events within British prisons in Ireland. Largely, this is through no fault of their own, as some elected rep's and councillor's would have you believe the gaol's these days are like heaven in comparison to years gone by, and that the Republicans in gaol at the minute 'get it easy'.

    A number of our members fortunately had the chance to lay bare a few truths regarding the inhumane environment our P.O.W's experience each day they are incarcerated in not only MagHaberry, but also in Hydebank Wood, where forced strip searches of female Republican prisoner's have taken place in the last few weeks. The response from the residents was largely one of shock as they listened to what still goes on in hell-hole's such as MagHaberry. Resident's also found the mural a positive change from what had previously been on the wall, which was plastered with anti-social slogan's and graffiti.

    As well as the mural highlighting the current Republican prisoner's plight, we also wanted to commemorate the first blanketman, Kieran Nugent, who was the first Republican prisoner in Long Kesh to refuse to wear the prison uniform on the 14th of September 1976. With this in mind we took the opportunity to add the famous quote 'Nor meekly serve my time', which is widely associated with Kieran Nugents decision not to allow the British Government to criminalise him, his comrades and the cause they served.

    On the back of the mural, the Joe McKelvey Society West Belfast will be leafleting the Divis area in the coming weeks to further highlight the injustices Irish Republicans continue to face in MagHaberry and Hydebank, with prisoner's being forcibly strip-searched while going to and from court and also the use of controlled movement within MagHaberry, which is causing a lot of tension within the gaol.

    Ultimately, the Joe McKelvey Society West Belfast demand that the August Agreement is finally honoured by the powers that be, both in the gaol and on the outside. And our support, as always is with our P.O.W's who bravely stand up to the sectarian bullies day and daily in MagHaberry and Hydebank Wood.




  10. There is legislation in operation here that would not have been tolerated in the seventies or the eighties.
    This legislation which specifies the terms under which ex-prisoners can be employed is blatantly discriminatory, yet it was sanctioned by all those who signed the Belfast Agreement.
    This Emloyment legislation was also used by the House of Lords to dismiss a case of unfair sacking of two ex- prisoners by the Simon Community.

    The danger of this type of statute, lies in the fact that it does not deal only with past convictions but actually encompasses the beliefs a person still holds in relation to politics and the status quo.
    Any thoughtt, which can be determined as contrary to the well being of 'Northern Ireland' can cause a person to be barred quite legitimately from employment.
    This discrimination goes even further in the new advanced discloser, because if nothing shows up the police can intervene and tag a person, this that or the other, i.e political activist, prisoners representative or a supporter of an non- constitutional party.

    Criminalisation, the odious practice that Republicans such as the afore mentioned Keirnan Nugent fought so hard to resist, has found its way both overtly and covertly into legislation thanks to our constitutional parties including Sinn Fein.

  11. Through University, I have attended a few Republican meetings and have actually met Stephen Murney a few times. Very committed guy. Eirigi are a group that I have a lot of respect for. I was not shocked that MI5 went after him. They will not allow any young men like him rise up and speak out against the truth.
    Every time I hear about those being illegally held for the most stupid things. My mind is always cast back to how certain people are able to be named as UDA/UFF leaders on the news, attend fancy functions and even manage to walk and address masked UDA members at remembrance parades. They will never see the inside of a prison cell.