This day last week I visited Maghaberry Prison to see an old friend I first met in prison back in 1984. Seamus Kearney was recently sentenced to life imprisonment by a judge of obviously bad character for a Northern conflict killing. A clear throwback to the 1980s war era when judges were prepared to convict on nothing more than the word of a member of the RUC, his reasoning was anything but reasoned, his judgement the main suspect in the case but somehow not on trial.
Today a week on, Alex McCrory is back in Maghaberry, only on this occasion on the wrong side of the visiting cubicle. Along with two other former prisoners he was arrested last Sunday in a British police operation which emits the stench of a rancid sewer. According to the Irish News journalist Alison Morris, the finger prints of MI5 are all over the arrests. She claimed the level of MI5 surveillance was unprecedented in scale. The men, all previously the targets of British harassment and wrongful arrest, have since been charged in relation to physical force republican activity and, even if not convicted, face a lengthy spell under the auspices of what is colloquially known as internment by remand.
The arrests of the three men came shortly after a bomb exploded in downtown Belfast although there has not been the remotest suggestion that they were arrested in connection with it. But the narrative took off like a pen to paper. Such was the widespread abhorrence at the blast that public concern about the arrests of three men labelled ‘top dissident republicans’ was hardly going to raise its head above the parapet. The attack may well have the fingerprints of MI5 all over it also. Given the spook outfit's malign past, such a course of action simply cannot be ruled out. From a republican perspective it was devoid of any strategic potential but not so for the British security services who stood to gain immensely from the attack. It enabled them to execute a plan that might otherwise have raised vociferous objections from people concerned with the state intrusion on civil liberties.
I am perturbed that Alec McCrory, a frequent contributor to this blog, is in Maghaberry Prison this evening. My political antennae tell me he has been stitched up under a justice system fine tuned to facilitate the ‘disposal of unwanted members of the public.’ On a human level, I was in his home last Saturday before the visit, gave him a batch of books he never got time to read, saw the Christmas preparations, answered endless questions from his five year old daughter and chatted with his wife. I know the gap that will be in that home on Christmas morning.
Come what may, despite whatever political differences I may have with Alec McCrory, I will be there as a friend to him throughout every day of his imprisonment, supporting him as undergoes the undoubted ordeal that awaits him. As he once said to me friendships are too important to be ruined by something as distasteful as politics.Visits to Maghaberry seem set to feature for some time to come.