An Emphasis By The Police On Dissenting Thought

Sandy Boyer (SB) interviews via telephone from Drogheda, Co. Louth author and blogger Anthony McIntyre (AM) about two cases presently causing grave concern over the preservation of the democratic right to freedom of speech in post-GFA Ireland. Thanks as ever to TPQ's indefatigable transcriber.

WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
24 April 2015
(begin time stamp ~ 15:05)

SB: Now we have Anthony McIntyre on the line. Anthony blogs at The Pensive Quill. He did seventeen years at Long Kesh for IRA activity. Anthony, thanks so much for being with us. 

AM: Thank you for inviting me on, Sandy. 

SB: Anthony, we want to talk about the case of Dee Fennell. Dee is charged with encouraging terrorism. He could face I think a fairly long prison term. And what he did was he said: as long as the British Army is in Ireland the Irish people have a right to engage in armed struggle. Now I would have thought that's a clear case of free speech. 

AM: Well, it is a case of free speech although it has also been pointed out that he had encouraged people to join the IRA. Had he been encouraging people to join the army of the Dublin government to wage war it probably would have been a different matter. But it's what we would regard as the “rhetorical flourish” that happens around Easter time. Had he had called, for example, for the PSNI to be allowed to torture, which is a clear breach of the law and which is an act of state terrorism, he would have never found himself in prison. And we see today that Islamics, Islamists, political Islam is calling, Islamic clerics are calling for people to be stoned for committing adultery or to be stoned to death for being gay or not believing in the religious opinion that they subscribe to and yet they do not go to gaol. So it's a very specific act of political policing here in that he was selected by the police in the old Kitsonian fashion; Frank Kitson's recommendations that the law be used to dispose of unwanted members of the public. 

SB: Now Sinn Féin is the largest political party in Ireland – have they had anything to say about this case? 

AM: Well, we've heard nothing that I'm aware of today – and I was out all day – I'm not aware of Sinn Féin having said anything in relation to it. Sinn Féin actually agree with, if we, their summation in relation to the Haass Proposals - my reading of it is that Sinn Féin actually agree with Republicans being charged for past activity if there is evidence against them and these would be ... so what we have is the Sinn Féin leadership, made up of two former Chiefs of Staff of the Provisional IRA, actually calling for or agreeing to the prosecution of the Volunteers which they sent out on IRA operations. So I'm not surprised at Sinn Féin's silence on this matter. 

SB: But a few years ago, Anthony, if you had listened to a Sinn Féin speech at Easter, it wouldn't have been too different from what Dee Fennell said. 

AM: Well, when you listen to Sinn Féin speeches (inaudible) and you look at what Gerry Kelly said this Easter, if you look at what Gerry Adams said in his RTÉ debate with Michéal Martin, the leader of Fianna Fáil, there is not a great deal of difference between what either man said and what Dee Fennell said. And as one of the Unionist contributors to my blog pointed out - and he did a bit of research on the legislation - that if the police wanted they could prosecute both Gerry Kelly and Gerry Adams for what they have said in terms of legitimising the armed struggle. Now my argument is that neither man should be prosecuted but I don't believe Fennell should be prosecuted either. And if we look back over the years - in 1986, we have Gerry Adams discouraging people from going down the peaceful route when he argued and he stated: if at any time Sinn Féin disown the armed struggle they will not have me as a member. Now that was a clear urging people to maintain the armed struggle. So there's not a lot of difference between what Sinn Féin said in previous years and what people like Dee Fennell are saying today. 

SB: Anthony, I don't know – I've been reading the papers - with little coverage there has been of this case - what kind of sentence could he face – do you know? 

AM: That's something that I'm weak on. I haven't actually read the legislation to the extent that the Unionist contributor to my blog has. I don't know what the penalty is but I'm quite sure it would be severe. It also means that people who defend him could end up themselves – or who make a case on his behalf and make a case for him not being prosecuted – could end up being accused of supporting terrorism. 

I mean, we're in a very dangerous phase in terms of freedom of expression and those Americans interested in protecting the first amendment will look here and be pretty much aghast because even this week we have learned that the police are pursuing an investigation – they're investigating the Minister of Health, a Unionist politician by the name of Jim Wells. And he is being investigated because of comments he made at a public meeting – he did nothing other than express his obnoxious views in relation to gay people. His views were wrong. But this is not a policing matter! There are means within society for dealing with this. 

Giving these powers, these draconian powers to the police so that they can go around and behave as the thought police - investigating people for what they think and for the thoughts that they express: this is a very dangerous situation! And I think the eagerness with which the police have pursued Jim Wells is matched by the eagerness with which they have pursued Dee Fennell. They have too much power and it needs to be curbed.

SB:  Anthony, speaking of dangerous things: I think there is a real full-scale attack on all sorts of Republicans now. I mean, we've been talking about recently about Michael Burns, who's a dying man, and got a letter from the British government saying he wouldn't be prosecuted and now they're trying to prosecute him.
AM: That's true – they are trying to prosecute him and they're trying to prosecute other people who may have fallen foul of the Sinn Féin leadership or who are not on board or who Sinn Féin don't vouch for.
Now, it's interesting that Michael Burns is charged with an action that took place in 1977. And in 1977 the British police, the RUC, what the PSNI were called before they were re-named the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the RUC were torturing people in Castlereagh and Gough Barracks. There's documented evidence. MI5 taped, secretly recorded, the torture sessions. And when the police discovered this they went on strike and refused to torture people until given guarantees that the taping of interrogations would cease. And this has been well-documented in Cruel Brittania by Ian Cobain.

Now, they're sitting on this evidence of torture, of false convictions – we have a number of police criminals who were engaged – police thugs – engaged in this activity - they are not being pursued by the PSNI. There is a cover-up of state activity on a wide basis taking place in front of our eyes and the party that should be saying – should be objecting the most about it – is very, very silent.

SB: And the unique thing about Michael Burns is, as far as anybody knows, he's not a dissident. As far as anybody knows he was a loyal member of Sinn Féin. They put him on the list saying: You can come back. You can get what they call a “comfort letter” from the British government - but the British government is going after him hammer and tongs and, as far as I know, Sinn Féin isn't talking about that case.

AM: Well, I mean, one of the problems – and I wasn't aware that Burns was still on board - but whether he's on board or not is secondary to the fact that he should not be prosecuted. In some ways it's an embarrassment to Sinn Féin who have said that they will put manners on the police. Sinn Féin moved very quickly on the policing issue in the hope in 2007 of getting a bounce here in the Southern elections for having traded-in everything. So they had what we call their “suck the truncheon” moment. And when they decided to support the police they simply didn't have the groundwork done.  They did not ensure that the PSNI were an open, transparent and totally accountable police force. They did not sever the relationship to policing of MI5. And all the promises that Sinn Féin made have been thrown back in their faces and now we have a police force that's carrying on pretty much as it did before in relation to cover-ups and political policing.

SB:  But again, I hate to harp on Michael Burns but it's such an outrageous case. I mean this is really... He got a letter – and we all know that the people who got these letters saying you can come home – it's alright – you won't be prosecuted – were provided by Gerry Kelly of Sinn Féin. And this is an agreement that Sinn Féin made that it is okay for these people to come back.

AM:  Well, obviously the letters and the undertakings in them aren't worth the paper they are written on. And the same can apply to any Sinn Féin member and they've been told: keep your nose clean because we can come after you at any time.

SB:  But certainly the implication of that is that: If Sinn Féin can't enforce an agreement they made and that the British government signed off to - they don't seem to have a whole lot of power.

AM:  Well they don't have a lot of power! Sinn Féin have just morphed into everything that they previously criticised. Sinn Féin are just a greener version of the SDLP and with all the substance lacking – sorry, with the same amount of substance that the SDLP had for resisting the draconian British state policies. Sinn Féin has failed lamentably in the security arena in terms of curbing the excesses of the state. And we've seen Martin McGuinness recently complaining about a new police building, I think it was a police training centre, that he accuses elements of “the dark half” again - within the police - of blocking - these so-called securocrats - he's accusing them of blocking this building. I mean - why are we at this situation today? Why have we arrived at a situation which was supposed to be solved?

It's again that the so-called “great negotiators” have not been great in terms of what they negotiated. They have negotiated a partitionist settlement and in that partitionist settlement the British state interests are being protected by the PSNI who are the cutting-edge of British state interests in the policing field in Ireland with a heavy reliance on MI5.

SB: Anthony, I want to come back to Dee Fennell who's in Maghaberry Prison, and what we've seen recently is you have something called internment-by-remand. And that means that even if you're acquitted – and a few people are acquitted, you spend a year or so in gaol and out of your life.

AM:  You could spend much longer than that, yes. Internment-by-remand is something that the British have employed since internment ended. Again, in terms of consistency with the Kitsonian strategy, they have removed unwanted members of the public by using the law. 

SB:  And Dee Fennell, let's be honest, would be an unwanted member. He's with the Greater Ardoyne Residents' Coalition – they've been resisting Orange marches through Ardoyne – and that doesn't go well with the British necessarily – so he would be an unwanted person.

AM:  Oh, very much so! People like him who are regarded as thorns in the side of the peace process, or the new dispensation, or who are nuisances in some way or another to the British state, they are unwanted members of the public. And if the British state gets the opportunity they will remove people. And this is what's very important – and I've pointed to it a number of times on my blog and elsewhere - it's very important for Republicans not to be giving the British state leverage over them in these situations.

SB:  But again, even if you're declared innocent, you spend that much time and more in prison for essentially for being what is called a “dissident”. I would contend that you can't be a Republican without being a dissident - but that's another story.

AM: I agree.

SB: But it's seems like the price of speaking out and saying: This settlement is wrong - or just saying: Orange marches shouldn't come through a heavily, hundred percent Nationalist neighbourhood - is prison. 

AM: Well, that will lead the state to take a very dim view of you. And when the state takes a dim view of you they will try find some way of removing you from society and placing you in prison. Dee Fennell has led a campaign against the Orange marches in North Belfast and the police are very angry - the Unionist politicians are very angry that this sort of resistance is taking place in North Belfast. The Unionist politicians responded very, very strongly when Dee Fennell made the statement that he did at the Lurgan commemoration and demanded that he be removed from the street.

And I mean, if we look back at the flag protests and the type of behaviour that was going on - which was to a large extent – not wholly – but to a large extent organised and orchestrated by the Ulster Volunteer Force, the UVF, an organisation which remains illegal – the Unionist politicians weren't out demanding that these people be locked up. Their response to the police failing to act in many occasions during those protests against Loyalists was mute as I recall it. So Dee Fennell comes out and makes a statement, they seize on it as a means to get him off the street for other reasons. They weren't calling for the arrest of Mr. Adams and Mr. Kelly who made statements remarkably similar to those that Dee Fennell made.

SB:  And I want to come back to what I think is the basics here which is free speech. Now, I don't hold up the United States as a beacon of democracy or human rights but we do have something here called the first amendment and he could make a similar speech here and it's just basic – you couldn't lock him up. Now, I don't happen to agree with what Dee Fennell said, but that's another story. I still think he has a right to say it and not to go to gaol for it. 

AM:  Oh, I agree wholeheartedly. I agree that we should be defending free speech just as I think that Jim Wells should not be hounded by the police – even though he's a member of the DUP - he's an obnoxious bigot as far as I'm concerned - but I feel that he has to be allowed to express his viewpoint. We disagree with it. We challenge it by expressing the alternative viewpoint. We do not resort to policing - with the forces of state policing his speech. And I think this is what makes it very dangerous: that the police are now taking on an increasing role as thought police within this society.

SB: And Anthony as far as you know, it seems like there's a category of “special targets” - people that are really singled-out – and that's what are called   “dissident Republicans” and Dee Fennell would be a classic example of that.

AM:  Well, there is an emphasis by the police on dissenting thought. I mean, the amount of time that the police spend monitoring dissenting thought anyway is probably inordinately high - and all sorts of dissenting thought as we have seen as they've been infiltrating groups in England, anti-war groups and the various left-wing groups, trying to find out what they're thinking, what they're planning. It's what states have always done, Sandy, and I don't think there's a lot different here.

But the focus this time is on the particular dissenting group that annoys them most within The North: the Republican dissidents. And Republican dissidents are pretty ineffectual in terms of operations, and this is the armed side of Republican dissidents – the armed dimension - there are many Republican dissidents who do not agree with any sort of armed dimension -  but all Republican dissidents, by and large, are viewed as persona non grata.

And if you're basically troublesome with your dissent to the state you're will be gaoled. I mean, we've seen it very clearly in the case of Gerry McGeough who was imprisoned – was a dissenting Republican – a dissident Republican - who did not advocate any return to armed struggle.  When he became plausible, intellectually articulate, persuasive - they decided that they would remove him and did so in very cynical fashion. They removed him, arrested him, at the election centre when he was going in to hear the result of his election or visiting it for some reason on election day.

SB:  Well, Anthony, thank you very much. We've been talking to Anthony McIntyre, who blogs at The Pensive Quill and I follow it every day and I hope you will, too. So Anthony again, thanks very much for being with us.  

AM:  You too, Sandy. Thank you. Bye.  (ends time stamp ~ 35:02)

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