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Meaning Of Internment Rally In Belfast

Martin Galvin in a letter to the Irish News replies to John Gray from August 14 “What cause was failed demonstration supposed to serve?”

While commending John Gray for protesting against Internment in 1972, I cannot share his view of those who marched against ongoing British injustice on Internment Day 2015.

Internment went deeper than the numbers imprisoned without charge or trial during the years 1971-5. British forces shot down those who got in the way in Ballymurphy. They picked victims to be hooded and tortured. They gave a final answer to those who dared protest Internment on “Bloody Sunday.” Internment became a symbol of Britain’s propensity to use and cover-up injustice.

Before the crown released the last of the Internees in 1975, they devised plans to replace Internment with new legal machinery fit for purpose. Diplock Courts and forced confessions would gift a legal 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.

As step one in Britain’s new legal machinery, Republicans were denied bail on flimsy pretexts and taken off the streets for lengthy periods awaiting trial. Republicans early on coined the phrase ‘Internment by Remand’ to describe this tactic. We protested the ‘Internment by Remand’ of Gerry Adams in 1978. Martin McGuinness may remember his own repeated use of this phrase to describe those from Derry held without bail on the word of Supergrass Raymond Gilmour.

Internment Day became a day to march against each new British injustice. British ministers and apologists took up the phrase “so-called” anti-Internment march, to jeer our rallies named for a policy they said ended in 1975.We knew better. Britain’s willingness to use and cover-up injustice, symbolized by Internment, still continued.

As a speaker at the huge 1979 Internment rally at Casement Park, I was briefed that the event must be a major show of support for the Blanketmen, in the fight 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 displayed the same British determination to impose and justify injustice represented by Internment.

There is no question that the number of Republicans wrongfully imprisoned today is dramatically less than in the past. However the plight of Republican prisoners, who suffer ‘Internment by Remand’ or other injustices, and of their families, should not be forgotten because there are fewer of them.

The 2015 organizers were blocked from the city centre, after refusing to accept a time table which would have conflicted with the Ballymurphy Massacre families. Some may count it a “failed demonstration”. It would only be a failure if we stopped marching against British injustice.

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Anthony McIntyre

Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher

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