The Irishworld Online


9 April 2004

Paul Donovan asks whether Muslims have replaced the Irish as Britain’s suspect community

The cry that the Muslims have replaced the Irish as the suspect community seems a growing reality with each passing day.

The media choreography of the arrests of eight British men of Pakistani descent bore all the hallmarks of the way anti-terror operations were handled during the conflict in Northern Ireland. The broadcast media were tipped off and obediently followed every police and intelligence service direction. Despite the historical precedent of miscarriages of justice each individual arrested was immediately considered guilty. It was not a time to question methodology but to pat the police and intelligence services on the back for a job well done.

If the eight individuals are released in a few weeks time there will be no banner headlines leading the television news or across newspaper front pages. Yet on the record so far the majority of people being picked up are being released without charge.

Over the past few months hundreds of suspects - including many of North African or Middle Eastern origin - have been arrested but most have been released without charge.

Four men were arrested in Sheffield earlier in March. Another four men were arrested in early December after raids in the West Midlands, Luton and Birmingham, and in November police arrested a number of suspects following raids in Manchester, Gloucester and Birmingham.

Last September, eleven men were arrested under the anti-terror laws in another wave of raids in London and Manchester following dawn raids, and in one of the most controversial operations, seven people were detained after 150 police stormed the Finsbury Park mosque in north London in January 2003.

Muslims have also increasingly become the victims of stop and search operations. Home Office figures show that in 2002-03 there were 32,100 searches overall under the Terrorism Act, 21,900 up on the previous year and 30,000 more than in 1999-2000. Metropolitan Police figures show an increase in the number of Asians, who are mainly Muslim being stopped. From April 2000-01 it was 9.9per cent; 2001-02 11.8 per cent; 2002-03 12.2 per cent; and 2003-04 11.7 per cent so far.

Muslim people are claiming they have been pulled over for questioning at airports or ferry terminals, and that they have been picked on for no apparent reason other than their ethnic origin.

Then there is the hanging threat of the 13 people being detained indefinitely in British prisons under the Anti Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001. These detentions remain as a permanent reminder to foreign nationals in the country as to what could happen to them if they step out of line. The effort of the Home Secretary to extend the powers to British nationals is no doubt intended as another move to ratchet up the pressure on the Muslim population.

Post Madrid, Muslims in east London are reporting the hostility they are encountering on the street is getting back to post 9/11 levels. They are being attacked simply for their beliefs and who they are. Add in the growing threat of police and intelligence service actions against parts of the community and the tension continues to grow.

The post 9/11 approach of blaming the Muslims for terrorist attacks across the world is building racial tensions across the country. The Muslims are being seen as the new Irish in that they are viewed as the new suspect community. When the Prevention of Terrorism Act was brought in following the Birmingham and Guildford pub bombings in 1974 the Irish became a suspect community. Thousands were stopped at ports and airports. Houses were raided and people detained for anything from a few hours to seven days. Most were then released without charge - as is happening now with the Muslims - but the message was clear don't get involved in the politics of Northern Ireland. The fact that you are Irish and in this country means you are automatically suspect.

The miscarriages of justice involving the Birmingham Six, Judith Ward, the Guildford Four and the Maguires proved the racism of the policing and intelligence operations. The police, intelligence services and their bosses in government were quite happy to see innocent Irish people remain in prison for long periods of time. The effect of the operation of the PTA and the miscarriages of justice was to make Irish people recall what they were doing and where they were at the time of a bombing. In Liverpool many Irish people went absent from work the day after a bombing atrocity for fear of reprisals.

The PTA and miscarriages of justice had a salutary effect on the Irish community resulting in it effectively retreating into itself. The Irish clubs developed as a network of havens where people could go and mix with their own. On the political front the Irish largely retreated from the scene. Despite being the largest ethnic minority in Britain, the community certainly didn't pull its weight on the political scene. It has only been with the advent of the Northern Ireland peace process and an end to the bombing that the Irish have been able to emerge and start to assert themselves fully both in a political and cultural sense in Britain.

At present the signs are there that the Muslim community are all set to follow the exodus of the Irish into on themselves. Multi faith organisations operating at community level are already feeling the tension as communities that perceive themselves as under attack withdraw into themselves where they feel safe. This trend if it continues will not be healthy for racial harmony in the UK.

From the point of view of safety from terrorism, the withdrawal of a community back in on itself is unhealthy. For the few terrorists around who may be plotting bomb outrages there is likely to be far more opportunity to hide. The feeling of a community under threat from the rest of the society will also foster sympathy for such individuals and their aims. The government and police have gone to some lengths since 9/11 to reassure the Muslim and other ethnic minority communities that they are not the target. However, the raids, surveillance and attempts to employ informers is telling those communities something completely different on the ground.

Irish people need to be prepared to support those in the Muslim and other communities that now feel under threat. It is not acceptable to take the self-preservation approach that simply says we are one rung up the ladder and safe, let someone else take the heat. The British state has taken the methodology it used for so many years against the Irish and deployed it against the Muslims. This is not acceptable in any civilised society. In the longer term it will simply lead to a more authoritarian state which will be bad news for everyone from the Irish and Muslims to the Hindus, Sikh Jews and English.

The present approach to counter terrorism could create a race war. Communities that have lived side by side and contributed to British society for years are suddenly beginning to feel like outcasts. At present many just feel frightened and are retreating in on themselves. In time this fright will turn to anger which will not only help the terrorists but in the end lead to a sectarian society divided along racial and religious lines. Is that what we want in 21st century Britain?


Newshound (www.nuzhound.com)

HUMAN RIGHTS BODY TO DISCUSS CITIZENSHIP REFERENDUM --Mark Brennock, Chief Political Correspondent Irish Times 13 April 2004

Representatives of the human rights commissions in the Republic and Northern Ireland will hold a joint meeting this month to discuss the proposed citizenship referendum, as opposition grows to the planned June 11th poll.

News of the intervention of the human rights commissions - independent statutory bodies set up under the Belfast Agreement - will add to the growing pressure on the Government not to hold the referendum as planned on June 11th, the same day as the local government and European Parliament elections. The commissions are empowered to advise the governments on how proposals will affect human rights.

The president of the Republic's Human Rights Commission, Dr Maurice Manning, wrote to the Minister for Justice, Mr McDowell, a fortnight ago expressing concern over the issue, it emerged yesterday.

This followed a meeting of the commission on March 25th at which several members said they feared a referendum could have implications for the Belfast Agreement.

The commission referred the issue to the North's Chief Human Rights Commissioner, Prof Brice Dickson, who agreed to the meeting of the joint committee of the commissions, north and south. This body was not due to meet until June, but has decided to meet earlier because of the speed with which the Government was moving on the issue.

At the weekend the SDLP, Sinn Féin and the DUP joined the Dáil Opposition parties in objecting vehemently to the proposal, albeit for different reasons.

In his letter to Mr McDowell, Dr Manning said he believed there should be consultation with interests in Northern Ireland. The right to Irish citizenship for children born on the island was inserted into the Constitution as part of the Belfast Agreement.

The SDLP, the Labour Party and others argue that the proposal now to restrict citizenship rights of children born to non-nationals may amount to a unilateral alteration to the terms of the deal.

The letter also expressed concern, said Dr Manning yesterday, "about the danger that holding it [a referendum] on the same day as the elections could lead to it being hijacked by racist groups".

This is the same concern expressed by Fine Gael, Labour, the Green Party, Sinn Féin and other Opposition deputies, all of whom fear it will be used by some Government party canvassers to exploit public unease over immigration during the election campaign. They have demanded that the referendum be deferred to allow the Government seek an all-party approach to the issue.

The two human rights commissions have agreed in principle to hold a meeting shortly of their Joint Committee of Representatives, which provides an all-island forum for discussion of human rights issues.

"Clearly on the face of it, it could have implications for the Good Friday agreement," Dr Manning told The Irish Times yesterday.

A Government spokeswoman said yesterday they have not yet received a formal request for a meeting from the SDLP, which said at the weekend that it wanted an immediate meeting with the Taoiseach. Senior SDLP negotiator Mr Sean Farren urged the Government at least to defer the referendum.

The Sinn Féin president, Mr Gerry Adams, said it would "have negative consequences for Irish society and the Good Friday agreement".

The DUP claimed the move was proof that the Belfast Agreement could be changed, as has been sought by the DUP.

The Human Rights Commission's letter to Mr McDowell was sent after the commission's racism sub-committee told a commission meeting on March 25th that it was concerned about what was proposed.

The commission also asked the Minister to give it early sight of the actual legislation and the proposed wording of the referendum. It expects to receive these early this week.

Dr Manning said yesterday that Mr McDowell had "diligently referred all upcoming legislation" of relevance to the commission.


Newshound (www.nuzhound.com)


The SDLP's Alasdair McDonnell's platform piece in the Irish News of March 26th, under the headline "Only the paramilitary criminal fears police" was dismissive of whole sections of our community.

The unfortunate fact is there is a fear and mistrust of this police force, which is deep-seated both in the past and the present. Members of the RUC and PSNI have been involved in a campaign against nationalists and Catholics for generations. More importantly members of that force still run unionist paramilitary agents who have been involved in every conceivable crime including the killing of citizens. Since the setting up of the PSNI this partisan political agenda has continued. For example, in the Abernethy case the forensic scientist involved stated under oath that systematic attempts were made to interfere with evidence.

In the recent investigation into Sean Brown's murder members of the PSNI acted to conceal two critical pieces of evidence from the Ombudsman's office. Also, for more than a decade the RUC has refused to give information in their possession critical to the inquests of 10 Tyrone people including Roseanne Mallon even though the Coroner demanded the evidence be produced. The latest refusal to comply was by the present Chief Constable of the PSNI, who sent documentation that was censored. The Coroner ruled all the information should be made available to him.

This is the tip of the iceberg.

Judge Cory's report has been published. At least some of it has been published. A large part of the section on the Special Branch has been censored by the very people Judge Cory was tasked with investigating or held back from the public gaze by other devices. Despite this, from what has been published of the Cory Report the public now know that what Sinn Féin and others have been saying all along is true.

The Cory Report shows that there is clear and strong evidence that British military intelligence, MI5 and Special Branch were involved in collusion with unionist paramilitaries. Hundreds of nationalists and Catholics died as a result. The report shows that:

Special Branch and MI5 officers from the joint security service knew as far back as 1981 of a plot to kill Pat Finucane and did nothing about it. They acted likewise in 1985 in respect of a second plot.

Seven weeks before Pat Finucane was murdered, MI5 became aware of the plot to kill him but did nothing to prevent it.

Special Branch, both in 1981 and five days before his killing in 1989, had information on these plots but did nothing.

Special Branch, despite being informed by William Stobie about the murder weapon 3 days after Pat Finucane was killed, did nothing to trace it.

Documentary evidence indicates that Special Branch did not take steps to prevent UDA attacks or to warn those who would be victims. This had fatal consequences

Special Branch frustrated the RUC investigation into Pat Finucane's death by withholding information about Nelson, FRU and Stobie.

A senior government official, in November 1990, asked for information to be supplied to him which could be used with the Attorney General to persuade him that FRU agent and UDA intelligence officer Brian Nelson should not be prosecuted.

The British defence secretary wrote to the Attorney General in the terms provided in the information brief on Nelson asking him not to prosecute Nelson.

The British Attorney General allowed bogus testimony favourable to Brian Nelson to go unchallenged at this trial

Military intelligence, senior British government officials and the British defence secretary were all implicated in attempting to keep a lid on collusion by seeking to halt the prosecution of FRU agent and UDA Intelligence officer Brian Nelson.

Multiple impediments were placed in the path of inquiries into these matters by FRU and the RUC.

Despite, or perhaps because of, these findings the British government has refused to act on Judge Cory's recommendations even though Tony Blair gave a public undertaking to do so.

The excuse is the "sub-judice" rule which the same British government is ignoring in another case presently going through court by pushing the International Monitoring Commission to publicly report on this case in the next week or so!

Alasdair McDonnell's colleagues in the SDLP have spent the days since the Cory Report was published avoiding attacks on the Special Branch involved and attacking republicans! While most nationalists were appalled at the Special Branch activities the SDLP diverted attention onto republicans.

The Cory Report is as much an indictment of the SDLP as it is of British policy. Instead of acting as a catalyst for change within the policing system and on the policing board, the SDLP has become part of the system. It has failed to hold to account those human rights abusers who moved from the RUC directly into the PSNI. It has failed to advocate or demand the expulsion of human rights abusers from the PSNI. It has failed to challenge the structures, individuals and continuing culture of collusion.

Many of those who ran and carried through this strategy of administrative collusion and state-sponsored killing still serve British interests in the Special Branch, in MI5 and within the political and bureaucratic structures which established and protect those involved.

The SDLP made a fundamental mistake three years ago of signing up to these policing arrangements. By its policy the SDLP is failing all of those who supported the demand within the Good Friday Agreement for a new beginning to policing.

When Alasdair McDonnell writes in the Irish News under the headline "Only the paramilitary criminal fears the police" he unintentionally highlights the reality, thus far, that Special Branch, MI5, British military intelligence and senior British government officials – all of whom were involved in collusion or attempting to cover it up – have nothing to fear from the police. And isn't that the problem?

I have continually said that those nationalists in places like north Belfast who have suffered from bad policing over the years want proper policing most. However, they are not naive. Sinn Féin is striving to achieve a politically neutral, civic policing service, which will be representative of all sections of the community. The SDLP jumped too soon and accepted too little. We will not.

April 13, 2004


Gerry Kelly is the Sinn Féin spokesperson on policing and justice.

This article appeared first in the April 9, 2004 edition of the Irish News.

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