Pauline Mellon from The Diary of A Derry Mother looks at the judicial censorship of the elected representative, Gary Donnelly. Pauline Mellon is a rights activist and justice campaigner in the North West.
What is censorship? Censorship is to limit ideas and information that certain persons -- individuals, groups or government officials deem distasteful, inappropriate or not in the public interest, or as in a case in Derry Court tomorrow because the message those in power wish to subvert and censor exposes the fallacy of normalisation.
Criminal damage or censorship, you decide?
Tomorrow, Independent Derry Councillor Gary Donnelly will appear in court in Derry to hear the outcome of his appeal challenge in respect the six month prison sentence he received for writing Anti Internment slogans on the city's walls. On a moral standpoint Gary Donnelly and his co-accused refuse to pay the fine of £2,292. If this ruling is upheld tomorrow Gary Donnelly could lose his respectfully won council seat with the prison sentence exceeding three months. But then this would no doubt suit some!
In 2010 it was revealed that the annual cost of imprisoning someone in the North of Ireland is approximately £77,000 per annum. If Gary and his co-accused are sent to prison this punishment will cost the public purse £115,000, substantially more than the cost of remedying the ‘damage’ caused which would suggest this sentence is about more than just criminal damage.
This unduly harsh action would appear to be about silencing those who express views which are deemed unsuitable to government or as the case may be insulting to the judiciary. Then again this is the same judiciary that is content to let convicted drug dealers and child abusers off with non custodial sentences. So I don’t know which is more insulting, the sentence handed down to people for writing political slogans or the Judiciary feigning insult?
Article 10 of the Human Rights Act provides for freedom of expression including the freedom to express opinions and covers communication through words, pictures and actions, as with protests. Under this article both political and artistic expression are strongly guarded.
Article 10 further covers not-so-popular expression including speech that might well shock some of us. An example in this case would be the use of the word internment which in this scenario seemed to bother the case judge more than the action or damage caused to the wall.
Article 10 lawfully restricts and provides necessary limitations in matters of public safety and in the prevention of public disorder, which brings me to my next point, Twaddell Avenue.
The protest camp at Twadell Avenue has been ongoing for over one year. Apart from trespassing on land owned by the NIHE unchallenged, this protest has been allowed to drain over £12 million from the policing budget. This figure indicates that a huge police presence is necessary to ensure public safety and prevent public disorder. With these facts in mind we must question why the organisers of this protest have never been challenged or arrested for trespass or for being in breach of Article 10 when the alleged organisers of another protest costing a mere £2,292 could face a six month prison sentence.
That said the protest at Twaddell serves to deflect from major issues in the north whereas the protest in the form of a message on the Derry Walls is but a reminder of how little things have changed.
Political opponents of Gary Donnelly have jumped on this issue despite their own ‘history’, or having their names painted on City Walls when they were in gaol, something they seem to forget. Maybe the reason they have jumped on this was because of the amount of first preference votes Gary Donnelly received.
It would seem they talk and claim to advocate change, yet when change happens through a democratic vote, it sticks in their craw. Maybe the fact that they wish to maintain the status quo shows them up as what they truly are, opponents of change?
Derry City Council is sending a council official to the court tomorrow, this is no substitute for a delegation of council representatives, who maybe despite having a political difference with Councillor Donnelly would support his anti-interment and moral standpoint.
I just pray this council official isn't the town clerk as she is accustomed to relocation money and having a mentor, so to relocate from her office on the Strand Road to Bishop Street Courthouse might set the ratepayer back a few hundred quid. That said in the circumstances she may waive these fees what with her agreed golden handshake of £275,000 which isn't bad for three years service, but then this is another story!
I hope tomorrow that common sense and Article 10 of the human rights act will prevail.