No Further Forward At All

Via The Transcripts, from 28 January 2017 Martin Galvin (MG) speaks to Doire-based journalist Eamon Sweeney (ES) via telephone from Doire who updates us on the Bloody Sunday prosecutions status and about events this week leading up tomorrow’s Bloody Sunday March for Justice.

Radio Free Éireann
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28 January 2017
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(begins time stamp ~ 23:19)

MG: Okay. We’re back. I believe we have Eamon Sweeney on the line from the very well-known…

ES: …Hi, Martin.

MG: Eamon – Hello! Welcome back to Radio Free Éireann. Eamon, of course, is a well-known Doire reporter and journalist who was formerly with the Derry Journal. Eamon, this week – it’s the forty-fifth anniversary, I believe it’s today, of Bloody Sunday – that terrible day when people were protesting – it was still a predominance in terms of the civil rights movement as opposed to armed struggle. Internment had been begun by the British, torture had been coupled with internment. There had been the Ballymurphy Massacre and other events like that that had escalated the level of armed struggle between the British and between Irish Republicans but on Bloody Sunday a large civil rights march had occurred and thirteen people were shot down – cover-ups. The Widgery Tribunal, which was a complete judicial whitewash, immediately it was announced that the individuals who were shot were gunmen or nail bombers or otherwise criminals and for those forty-five years the families of those victims have been fighting for justice, fighting to put the real criminals of that day, British troopers and those who commanded them, in the docks. Eamon, where are we in terms of getting prosecutions of those British troopers who committed those ‘unjustified and unjustifiable killings’, as it was called by British Prime Minister Cameron, on Bloody Sunday?

ES: At the moment no further forward at all – forty-five years later on as you said. The update on that would be that the murder investigation that took place under the auspices of the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) has concluded some months ago but as yet the Department of Public Prosecutions have not announced the decision on whether they are going to prosecute any soldiers in relation to the murders on Bloody Sunday or not. Time is dragging on – it’s been purposely delayed – as well-known by all the relatives seeking the prosecution of soldiers. The update at Westminster at the moment where they have openly admitted they’re formulating specific legislation in terms of making sure that old age pensioners soldiers, ie soldiers over the age of sixty-five, are going to be immune from prosecution and that of course would include the vast majority, I would assume, of those who carried out the killings forty-five years ago in this town. So in essence no further forward at all, Martin.

MG: Eamon – we’re talking to Eamon Sweeney about Bloody Sunday – what’s happening this weekend. The person who’s going to make that decision – now there was – I actually, in researching this article, hit up ‘Bloody Sunday prosecution may soon occur’ – it was from a BBC article in 2010; we’re now in 2017. The person who’s going to make that decision, Barra McGrory, he is the Director of Public Prosecutions – like what we would call a District Attorney in the United States, he’s not viewed as a very strong Republican figure by many people here. His father was a very strong opponent of Diplock non-jury courts. Barra McGrory continues to use them against Republican suspects. But during the week there’s been a number of actions taken which seem designed to influence or put pressure or embarrass him – there’s been calls for an independent inquiry, there have been other statements and actions taken – what’s been done, which it seems like it’s there to intimidate or influence Barra McGrory from making the decision to announce prosecutions?

ES: I don’t think Barra McGrory as a person would be swayed either way by any of the criticism that he has encountered in the past week. I think this is directly as the result of a snap election being called and I would imagine that the vast majority of the criticism is being leveled by Unionism and its representatives. Barra McGrory has been labeled as somebody who is not strictly impartial by those in the Unionist community because in the past he has represented figures like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness – that doesn’t make him any less of an impartial figure when it comes to operating the position of Director of Public Prosecutions. It’s just nonsense but the man has had to take to the media to defend himself. Whether or not he in the end-up does take the decision to prosecute some of those responsible for the killings in Doire forty-five years ago will rest solely on his shoulders and it has to be evidence-based. And it has to be based on the evidence gleaned from the interviews conducted on these soldiers by the PSNI. So it’s the quality of evidence that will eventually lead, or not lead, to the prosecution of these soldiers. So to point the finger at Barra McGrory for being not an impartial character is absolutely ridiculous when the testimony will have to be tested for its quality by those who gained that information, ie the Police Service of Northern Ireland. So let’s see what they actually come up with. It’s my understanding that a lot of these soldiers who were questioned simply replied when asked questions during the interview, ‘no comment’ which, by and large, keeps them out of contempt of court. So let’s see what actually comes forward from the interviews that were conducted by the police and then, and only then, can Barra McGrory take the decision to prosecute or not.

MG: Well one of the ironic things – I was reading reports that they want to have an inquiry because there’s been some sort of more selective prosecutions of British troopers or British Crown forces since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 – and actually nobody – no British trooper, no member of the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) has been put in jail as the result of any conflict-related offence. Although people like Gerry McGeough, like Seamus Kearney and others have been, who are Republicans, who were jailed for conflict-related offences. So some of the arguments that they’re putting forward, which it seems to embarrass Barra McGrory, just have no validity. But what is going to happen with the families this weekend? Tomorrow there is another activity, it’s a climax of a week of activities to commemorate Bloody Sunday – what’s going to happen tomorrow? What’s been happening all week in Doire to commemorate Bloody Sunday and also to put more pressure, more drive, more demand and more appeal for there to be prosecutions of those who are guilty of murder of their loved ones?

ES: Well the March for Justice as it’s now called doesn’t just concentrate on the events of Bloody Sunday. Whilst it commemorates the victims who were killed on the thirtieth of January 1972 it takes in the broad remit of international human rights. So during this week there have been several well, very well-attended events. The one which I attended and I found very fascinating was in the City Hotel last Wednesday night and it was broadly on the theme of internment which was what the Bloody Sunday demonstration was originally about in 1972 – campaigning against taking people from their beds basically and putting them in concentration camps without trial or charge – so on Wednesday night we had a speaker for the campaign Justice for the Craigavon Two, which your listeners would be well aware of. We had Francie McGuigan, he was one of the ‘hooded men’ – twelve guys who were taken to Ballykelly Army Camp in the early ’70’s and basically subjected to five horrific techniques of torture which the British invented and then sent around the world to countries, including your own, as a blueprint for the way forward for torture methods.

We also had Moazzam Begg who spoke of his incarceration and torture in Guantánamo Bay. Interestingly, as Moazzam Begg was speaking we received news that Donald Trump had just authorised through an Executive Order the re-opening of CIA torture units throughout the world. So things like that but it also covers topics such as austerity, economic austerity, which has been rampant in Britain and Ireland for the past almost ten years now since the economic crash and the effect that it’s having on working-class people on a day and daily basis. So the scenes of Bloody Sunday, whilst it concentrates and remembers those butchered in the streets of Doire – and they were butchered by the British Army – it also highlights these other injustices throughout the world. It’s becoming more of an international event as the years go on. Tomorrow the main speaker, after the normal march, which beings at around two thirty from the usual spot in Creggan shops, which you’ll know well, Martin, will be a lady called Sheila Coleman. Sheila is a Liverpudlian woman from England and she will speak about her experiences of spearheading the campaign to break the cover-up that took place over the deaths of ninety-six football fans at Hillsborough soccer ground in England in 1989. Now the parallels between the cover-up that happened after Bloody Sunday and the police cover-up which took place in England are startling – the same amount of aggression, the same amount of whitewashing – it went on and on. The likelihood however for the relatives of Hillsborough will be that it’s quite likely, sooner rather than later, that the policemen at high level in England who attempted to cover this up for twenty-five years and more will face prosecution and quite likely face jail time. That’s the main difference between what’s happened at Hillsborough and what’s happening with Bloody Sunday in Doire. So she would be a very powerful speaker I would imagine. And the crowds that typically attended the march in the past five-six years are growing – I estimated myself as a journalist last year it was around four or five thousand people marching on the streets on Doire in the pouring rain, which being here at this time of year, Martin, is not particularly pleasant at times but the event is going from strength to strength each year. So that would be the fulcrum of it tomorrow I would imagine.

MG: Well the families – Kate Nash, Linda Nash – all of the families who continue that march have done a tremendous job. They’ve gone through so much – forty-five years, the Widgery Tribunal, all of the other things – delays that they faced and it seems that every time they get close to prosecutions it’s just – it’s like Sisyphus – the boulder gets pushed down the table. But I just want to mention – I was just struck by something – a press release that came out during the week and it was by a member of the Ballymurphy Massacre Families and it was really poignant. And I know Kate Nash, Linda Nash, some of the Bloody Sunday families have sympathy for other victims such as the Ballymurphy Massacre Families. And that had occurred just in August, around the time of internment – a number of people had been shot in the Nationalist/Republican areas by some of the same troopers, the British Paratroop Regiment, and one of the spokesmen for that campaign was saying we haven’t even gotten to the point where our families have been cleared. I believe John Teggart said my father is down as a gunman – that’s how he was branded after he was shot. He was shot a number of times, he was just there on the street near his own home as internment was being carried out or in the three days following internment. So it’s not just – Bloody Sunday stands out as an example because there were so many thousands of witnesses who were there because there were so many photographers, reporters like yourself, Eamon, who were there to cover the event. It was done outside, in public, and the British were able for so many years or have been able for so many years to stall any prosecutions. But it just brings to mind the impact on so many other families in The North of Ireland whose family members were murdered, who were never given any kind of justice even in the form of having the excuses – having family members then branded as criminals to excuse and cover up their murders by British forces that they haven’t been able to get to the truth and how Bloody Sunday, really, is a fight for all of them. Would you agree with that?

ES: I can agree with that; one hundred percent agree with that. I mean you also have an incident not related to Ballymurphy or Bloody Sunday around that same time by the same members of the Parachute Regiment: Two completely innocent Protestant civilians shot dead on the Skankill Road by these guys as well for no apparent reason apart from they took pot shots at them and more or less executed them in the street. Those families – let it be made clear that it’s just not Nationalist or Catholic communities who have suffered at the hands of British forces in Ireland. You know, the Protestant community has been hit as well, many times. So on and on and on ad infinitum. The purposeful policy of the British government, with regard to Northern Ireland, is to delay and stall and go on and on until they hope that those relatives here fighting for justice – whether it be from the Shankill Road, whether it be from the Bogside in Doire, whether it be from Ballymurphy in Belfast will die and eventually the claims will go away. If you listen to people, for example, like Kate Nash and Linda Nash or Francie McGuigan, one of the ‘hooded men’ who spoke in the city on Wednesday night, they make it perfectly clear that when they go their children and their grandchildren will continue on this campaign until their loved ones’ names are completely vindicated and those responsible, whether it be posthumously or not, responsible for their murder will eventually have their names be made public and shamed as such which is judicial process – it’s the rule of law in any other civilised society. The shroud of darkness conducted by British forces in Ireland still remains the same. Whilst violence has largely abated in this country the legacy of what’s left behind and what went on carried out by a supposedly legitimate state force of a western democracy has been utterly shameful. Be under no illusion that the relatives of these people will not stop this until redress is actually achieved.

MG: Alright Eamon, before we go we’d like to ask you about one other case – you mentioned internment – there is a case – it’s called internment-by-remand that of another Doire man, Tony Taylor, who was – served a sentence as a Republican and then just one day was shopping with his wife and child and was picked up and was put in prison, doesn’t get told why or what the basis of putting him back in on licence – what’s happening with Tony Taylor’s case?

ES: Well as I’m sure you’re aware there was another event last night but I know Mr. Taylor’s family and his wife and the supporters of his campaign, which there are many across a large spectrum, held an event to highlight the plight of Tony Taylor in one of the hotels in Doire. I can’t comment on how well it was attended because I unfortunately wasn’t there. But what I can tell you is that the campaign to free Tony Taylor is ongoing. This guy, as you said, was simply lifted from a shopping mall one afternoon with his family and taken away by the police and incarcerated. He has not been informed why – largely it’s on the say-so of undercover security operations, or security forces. His lawyers haven’t been informed of the reason why he’s been incarcerated without charge. His family hasn’t been told why. So whilst internment was launched on the ninth of August 1970 internment in Ireland has gone on in every single decade since Northern Ireland was formed as a state – from the ’20’s right through to this present day. It’s called something different, slightly different now – it’s internment-by-remand. So this guy is sitting in jail for almost a year now, or over a year, and hasn’t been informed why he’s there.

Now if, as I’ve said on this programme many times before, the British are so proud of their great form of justice then bring the man into a courtroom and let’s see what the evidence against the guy actually is otherwise release him. What they’re doing is technically illegal. On the say-so of some British apparatchik this guy has been taken from his family home and put in jail. He’s not the first – this happened to Marian Price. It happened to Martin Corey. They were eventually released but under horrendous conditions in terms of they weren’t allowed to fraternise with certain people, they were under curfew, they had to report to a police station every day, they were removed of any communication devices and so on and so forth. So in the twenty-first century in the year 2017 this type of bullying from the British state still continues in this country. There’s no other way around it. Give the man due process or let him go.

MG: Alright. Eamon on that note – we’re talking again with Eamon Sweeney, a Doire-based reporter and journalist. I want to thank you. We want to – we hope you’ll extend our good wishes and our support and our solidarity with all of those who march tomorrow – marching for justice not only for the victims of Bloody Sunday but for all of the other issues that you’ve talked about, the injustices under British rule. Thank you, Eamon.

ES: Thank you, Martin.

(ends time stamp ~ 41:38) 

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