The thousands who ignored rain and loyalist protests to march on Internment Day, had far better reasons than those ascribed by Fionnuala O’Connor (Sorrow of internment lost in 21st century.)
Internment went deeper than imprisonment without charge or trial beginning on August 9, 1971. British forces shot down those who got in the way in Ballymurphy, picked victims to be hooded and tortured, and then answered Internment protests with “Bloody Sunday.” Compton and Widgery were enlisted to whitewash British injustice.
Internment symbolized Britain’s willingness to use and cover-up injustice when it served British interests. Had ‘the sorrow of Internment’ ended there, or even in 1975 with the release of remaining internees, few would take to the streets today.
Instead Britain replaced one injustice, Internment, with another injustice, Diplock Courts, forced confessions and a thinly veiled conveyor belt to the H-Blocks or Armagh. British strategists saw ending Internment as their chance to bin special category political status and masquerade political prisoners as criminals.
Internment Day marches became launching pads for new campaigns against new British injustices. At the huge 1979 Internment rally at Casement Park, we speakers were briefed that the event must be a major show of support for the Blanketmen, in the battle to move Thatcher to resolve the impending crisis short of a hunger strike.
Later Internment Day rallies would be devoted to the Hunger Strikers, then Supergrass trials, then other successive wrongs that showed the same British determination to impose and justify injustice represented by Internment.
Internment required impunity for those who carried it out. British forces could not be expected to shoot down unarmed civilians in Ballymurphy, torture selected victims or fire on protesters in Derry without knowing they had immunity for it all. Theresa Villiers’ denial of an inquiry to the Ballymurphy families was more of the same impunity.
Brenda Downes stood for hundreds of families whose relatives and friends were murdered with impunity by British forces, acting alone or in collusion with loyalists. In 1971, the British sent “armoured cars, and tanks and guns.” In 1984, the British sent RUC armoured cars and land-rovers and plastic bullet guns against peaceful marchers for a ban that the Thatcher regime would later admit in writing was a mistake.
The RUC member who fired the plastic bullet which killed John Downes was acquitted in a trial which seemed to many of us the same British justice we got from Widgery and Compton. Brenda Downes like so many others is still being stonewalled in the fight for truth.
Those who marched should be commended for understanding the true meaning of all Internment represents, and for knowing that the sorrow cannot be lost while British injustices continue.