Gerry Adams ruling will have far-reaching consequences

Posted By: May 14, 2020

Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Thursday, May 14, 2020

YESTERDAY’S decision by the British Supreme Court declaring Gerry Adams’s internment in 1973 unlawful and quashing his subsequent convictions for attempting to escape will have far-reaching consequences.

First, for Adams himself it means vindication: he now has a clear record and, secondly, he can claim compensation for unlawful imprisonment.

However, on a wider front, the decision further exposes the arrogant and cavalierly unlawful behavior of British politicians which made the effects of the Troubles on people here incomparably worse.

The profoundly stupid decision to intern suspected, note suspected, republicans in 1971 at the behest of desperate, frantic, discredited unionist leaders like Brian Faulkner was against the advice of the British army and senior civil servants, including Robert, later Lord Armstrong, then Prime Minister Heath’s principal private secretary.

It was also unlawful under the European Convention on Human Rights so the British had to derogate from the convention in keeping with their historical tradition of obeying only those parts of treaties that don’t discommode them.

In the immediate aftermath of the internment sweep in August 1971, violence escalated exponentially leading to the bloodiest year of the Troubles in 1972.

By 1973 British ministers here were signing off Interim Custody Orders – internment – by the dozen, ruining families, often based on nothing more than tittle-tattle or personal vindictiveness by RUC Special Branch men.

Furthermore, thanks to diligent research by the Pat Finucane Centre in 2009, acknowledged by Adams yesterday, we know that the British Prime Minister Harold Wilson was aware in 1974 that many of those orders were unlawful because they had not been personally considered and signed by the secretary of state as required by legislation.

On July 17 1974. the attorney general had discussed the matter with Wilson, warning him. Nothing was done to remedy those orders and that knowledge remained secret until the documents were uncovered in 2009 under the 30-year rule.

A number of questions immediately arise.

Internment continued until December 1975, by which time 1,981 people had been interned – 1,874 Catholic or nationalist and 107 loyalists, who only began to be interned in February 1973.

How many people were interned unlawfully in the same terms as Adams?

Did the British government alter its procedures after being warned they were unlawful in July 1974?

If not, how many people were subsequently unlawfully interned?

Sinn Féin estimates that around 200 people are in the same boat as Adams, most in 1972 and 1973 when British ministers were throwing internment orders around like confetti.

As Adams pointed out yesterday, it’s now incumbent on the British government to identify and inform all those  who fall into this category rather then sitting on their hands and waiting for the victims of the unlawful behavior to search for the answer themselves.

There is also the matter of men seriously injured or killed by British troops while trying to escape from Long Kesh.

The case of Hugh Coney, from Coalisland, shot dead without warning on November 6 1974, is the most egregious. Bishop Edward Daly called for an inquiry at the time.

Coney was one of 33 republicans trying to escape through a tunnel that night; others were badly beaten when recaptured. How many of them were unlawfully imprisoned?

Yesterday’s judgment opens the floodgates for appeals against convictions and compensation claims.

Watch out for dirty tricks as the British government tries to invoke—all together now!”‘national security” to avoid paying out by handing the matter to the current know-nothing proconsul [Secretary of State for NI] rather than the north’s Department of Justice. END