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IRELAND: 8OO YEAR POLITICAL STRUGGLE

by Michael Steinberg Sunday, Mar. 13, 2016 at 9:50 PM
blackrainpress@hotmail.com

On the 100th anniversary of the start of the Irish Revolution that freed most of the country from 800 years of British tyranny, the author's 1988 report about British terror tactics and peoples resistance in the small border city of Strabane.


The following article originally appeared in 1988 in Justice Speaks, a publication of Black Workers For Justice, in North Carolina.

Almost 30 years later, Ireland is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Easter uprising of 1916, which eventually freed most of the country from British rule.

But the nation is still one of many around the globe that has yet to complete its “Unfinished Revolution,” because that phase of the struggle ended with its northeastern region partitioned in the 1920s into a new entity, “Northern Ireland,” so that places like Strabane still remain under British domination and occupation to this day.


On November 29th [1988] the European Court of Human Rights ruled that a British law allowing Britain to detain suspects for up to 7 days without charging them is a breach of the European Convention of Human Rights. The court's decision is a blow to Britain's attempts to crush the 800-year old Irish national movement. While the British government incorrectly portrays this as a religious conflict, in reality it is a political struggle for liberation and independence from British rule.

Recently, Britain banned the Sinn Fein Party from being given publicity by the media and removed the centuries-old presumption of innocence for defendants in Northern Ireland during questioning bu British occupational forces. The following is a report sent to Justice Speaks from a fact finding tour this past summer.

When we hear about Northern Ireland, it is usually reports of violence committed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA).We are told that the British Army is there to fight terrorism, to act as a peacemaker between warring Catholic and Protestant communities.
Last August, I was among a group of North Americans who went on a fact finding tour of the North of Ireland sponsored by the Sinn Fein Party.

The Sinn Fein (pronounced shin fain) Party wants the British to leave so that the Irish nation can be reunited. It's ultimate goal is a democratic socialist Irish republic.

On August 11. our contingent arrived in British-ruled Strabane, an impoverished city of 12,000 just inside the border./ Less than a mile to the west an Irish government is in power.

POWER AND ECONOMY ARE THE ISSUES; NOT RELIGION

Strabane's population is 90% nationalists.Nationalists too want an end to British rule and a united Ireland. They are not necessarily in favor of a socialist Ireland.

The unemployment rate in Strabane is officially 35% but is 80% for young people. Many are forced to emigrate in search of a future.

We stayed with families at Innishfree Gardens housing estate. Similar to US 'housing projects.” families with low income occupy tiny, cheaply built homes. Colorful wall murals supporting the people's struggles for freedom enliven an otherwise bleak environment.

HOUSING DESIGNED FOR MILITARY OCCUPATION

Only one road leads in and out of Innishfree Gardens. And it is surrounded on 3 sides by steep hills. Such housing is designed with British Army input in order to be more swiftly and easily encircled.

That afternoon one such display of British imperial power took place. Our bus drove into the estate only to confront a British Army foot patrol in full combat gear.

The four surprised soldiers quickly withdrew up a hill to huddle behind a wall at the top of the estate. Soon a like number of Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), Northern Ireland's paramilitary police force, appeared out of nowhere to join them.

BRITISH OCCUPY ESTATE

We visitors gathered outside the local community center. Another British foot patrol came up the road by us. As they did, small boys, some as young as 4 years, began flinging stones at them. The soldiers aimed their automatic weapons at these children.

About the same time, British troops in camouflage were spotted in the green hills above us. Both these soldiers and those in the estate trained their weapons on us.
More British troops and RUC kept arriving, some on foot and others in armored cars. During all this time.except, for sporadic rock throwing by young boys, there was no aggression directed against the British forces.

After an hour we anxiously went onto the community center for sanctuary and an evening meal. But soon a shout alerted us to more danger outside.

PEOPLE'S PRESCENCE CREATES STAND-OFF

We hurried out to see a dozen RUC and British soldiers arresting a young man. But when they saw us they immediately let him go. The main arresting officer arrogantly faced us, brandishing a wide barreled plastic bullet gun. Plastic bullets have caused international outrage through their use by Israeli soldiers in killing protesting Palestinians. But they have been used in Northern Ireland since 1970 where 16 people have been killed-7 under the age of 14-and hundreds maimed.

One of our Sinn Fein guides identified the arresting officer as the same RUC who smashed another guide's fingers the night before. This tense standoff went on until the soldiers and police piled into their armored cars and roared off, back doors open so they could hold their weapons on us. The children pursued them and threw more rocks.

From here on the British operations intensified. Armored cars sped recklessly around the estate,screeching to a halt and tearing off again and again. Foot patrols saturated the area, harassing people at the center.
This reign of terror went on for another hour. Finally the soldiers in the hills ran down into the estate and signaled the begrudging withdrawal of British forces from the area.

PEOPLE REFUSE INTIMIDATION,
BRITS FIND NIGHTTIME REVENGE

Their evident purpose had been to intimidate the people of Innishfree Gardens, and to show their visitors who was boss through brute force. This attempt failed.

At dusk we gathered with the local people outside the center to hear the Strabane Memorial Band, named in memory of 3 IRA martyrs murdered in 1985 by a British death squad ambush, who marched with proudly pounding drums and lilting flutes. The RUC watched menacingly with weapons drawn.

At 2:30 a.m., the British took sadistic revenge by kicking in the doors of the community center and demolishing the children's hard-earned equipment. The “men with no faces,” as the local people call them, also broke into the house of the man they had tried to arrest earlier. They took him to an interrogation center notorious for its use of torture.

BREAK THE CHAINS

Today's military police state in Northern Ireland is the modern expression of 800 years of tyranny the British have inflicted upon the Irish. It used to be said that the sun never set on the British empire. To build that empire we remember that the British also stole Africans from their homes, shackled them in death ships, and sold them into slavery in the Americas. Less well known is that the British shipped rebellious Irish into slavery. From Strabane to Soweto to the US South the sun is setting on all the evil old empires. The same shackles still bind, and the same chains must be broken.
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