Lestat’s Coffee House Hosts Irish Political Meeting
February 3, 2005
“Foremost in my tortured mind is the thought that there can never be peace in Ireland until the foreign, oppressive British presence is removed, leaving all the Irish people as a unit to control their own affairs and determine their own destinies as a sovereign people, free in mind and body, separate and distinct physically, culturally and economically.”
Bobby Sands, Irish Peace Activist and Member of Parliament March 1, 1981
It is the haunting faces of those who have lost their fathers, husbands, brothers, or sons that grips her audience. Bernice Swift starts her lecture with a video documentary outlining the history of England’s occupation of Northern Ireland. Afterwards, she stands in front of a single microphone and talks of her efforts to enlist help for her cause - Irish Northern Aid.
But nothing she can say is as devastating as the tears on the faces of those who have lost members of their family in a war that has lasted over eighty years.
“This is simply British state sponsored murder,” said Swift during a presentation she made for Northern Irish Aid at Lestat’s Coffee House on Adams Avenue last December.
She spoke of what has been dubbed “the collusion campaign” by families of the dead. They believe there was a systematic execution of Irish political activists by the British Government, in collusion with Unionist North Irish officials and police, so as to maintain England’s control of Northern Ireland. The families have formed a charity to support the victims, which they named “An Fhirinne” … Irish for “The Truth”.
“An Fhirinne is the anti-collusion campaign set up throughout the six counties in the North of Ireland. A few people got together in support of the families who were victims of state sponsored murder and violence throughout the six counties. These people decided to support the families and bring them along to a platform where they can highlight their quest for the truth about collusion,” said Swift.
Ireland was partitioned in 1921, with the southern twenty-six counties gaining independence from Britain. However the six north-eastern counties remained part of England. According to Irish historian John Darby, the new state of Northern Ireland had “an in-built Protestant majority (roughly 65 percent Protestant and 35 percent Catholic at the time of partition) and acquired its own parliament and considerable autonomy within the United Kingdom.”
In his 2003 book Northern Ireland: The background to the Peace Process Darby wrote that North Ireland’s population was currently 55 percent Protestant and 45 percent Catholic - with each side seeing the decades-long struggle in a different light.
“Protestants are more likely to see the conflict in constitutional and security terms, and are primarily concerned about preserving the union with Britain and resisting the perceived threat of a united Ireland,” said Darby. “Catholic views fall generally into two broad categories. Some perceive the issue as a nationalist struggle for self-determination, looking back to what they regard as the historical integrity of the island and the gerrymander of partition. Others approach it as a problem of corruption or unfair practices by successive Unionist governments between the 1920s and the 1970s.”
This latter point of view is what brought Swift to San Diego as part of a national speaking tour which concluded with her and other representatives of Irish Northern Aid lobbying members of congress in Washington D.C.
“The British Government and Unionist death squads colluded to ensure that people were targeted, that intelligence files were updated at all times and that people were assassinated who posed a threat to the occupying forces and British invasion in Ireland,” said Swift during both the presentation at Lestats and later in an interview with San Diego Irish Northern Aid activist Roy McCann. “The Brits had agents who worked in the highest ranks in the Ulster Defense Association in updating intelligence files and taking people out for assassination.”
Darby also documented this violence in his book, which described the increasing social unrest and calls for civil rights in Ireland during the late 1960s. This unrest eventually resulted in the removal of the local Northern Irish Government by the British Parliament as a means of restoring order.
“During the 1960s … politics spilled onto the streets. In 1969 the London government deployed the British army in an attempt to restore order,” wrote Darby. “For more militant nationalists, however, the introduction of the army restored the traditional republican symbol of oppression - British troops on Irish soil.”
Darby said this battle to remove the English from Ireland eventually superceded any other issues in the minds of Catholics and those seeking Northern independence.
“A rejuvenated militant republicanism, in the form of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA/IRA), emerged from the increasingly politicized and assertive Catholic minority. This in turn prompted violence from Protestant loyalist militants. By early 1970 the Provisional IRA had started its campaign of violence against the army. By 1972 it was clear that the local Northern Ireland government, having introduced internment in 1971 as a last attempt to impose control, was unable to handle the situation,” wrote Darby.
Under the Government of Ireland Act, England abolished the Northern Ireland government in March 1972 and ruled the country directly from London, with the British Secretary of State responsible for Northern Ireland affairs. According to McCann, starting in the mid-1980s, the British government under Margaret Thatcher adopted a policy which gave England control of unionist death squads.
“These paramilitaries were re-organized, re-armed, resourced and directed by the British intelligence services to ensure that their targeting was more professional,” said McCann. “Hundreds were killed, and many more injured and maimed, in a campaign of state terror.”
In 1998, U.S. President Bill Clinton and former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell helped to negotiate what would be referred to as “The Good Friday Accords.” According to Darby, that peace agreement established five main constitutional provisions.
“First, Northern Ireland’s future constitutional status was to be in the hands of its citizens. Second, if the people of Ireland, north and south, wanted a united Ireland, they could have one by voting for it. Third, Northern Ireland’s current constitutional position would remain within the United Kingdom. Fourth, Northern Ireland’s citizens would have the right to ‘identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both.’ Fifth, the Irish state would drop its territorial claim on Northern Ireland and instead define the Irish nation in terms of people rather than land. The consent principle would be built into the Irish constitution,” wrote Darby.
But McCann, Swift, and the families of the victims of British violence say the Good Friday Accords did not require any acknowledgement of the murders committed under collusion. The families insisted that an accountability by the British government for those deaths was needed, and that was why Swift was speaking in San Diego and Washington D.C.
“What we hope to accomplish is support and funding from the people interested in getting behind the families and supporting them in their quest for truth and justice,” said Swift. “To date, there has been absolutely no acknowledgement from the British Government. They are the only protagonist that has yet to acknowledge their role in the conflict. We still await an acknowledgement from the British Government and An Fhirinne is working to demand this acknowledgement from the British Government.”
In a prison cell in March of 1981, Irish freedom activist Bobby Sands kept a diary. He was on a hunger strike in protest of British occupation of Northern Ireland that would eventually take his life. But for many still fighting for that cause, his words remain a call to action.
“Unfortunately, the years, the decades, and centuries, have not seen an end to Republican resistance in English hell-holes, because the struggle in the prisons goes hand-in-hand with the continuous freedom struggle in Ireland,” wrote Sands. “Many Irishmen have given their lives in pursuit of this freedom and I know that more will, myself included, until such times as that freedom is achieved.”
For more information on Northern Irish Aid, please visit their website at http://www.inac.org or contact them at their American headquarters in New York.
Their address, e-mail and phone number are:
Irish Northern Aid; 363 Seventh Avenue, Suite 405; New York, NY 10001; Phone (212) 736-1916 or toll-free at 1-800-IRELAND; Fax (212) 279-1916; email@example.com
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