John McDonagh (JM) and Martin Galvin (MG) talk with Francie McGuigan, (FM) one of the ‘hooded men’, via telephone from Belfast about internment, the recent Internment Day rally in Belfast, the torture he endured and the status of the legal case. (begins time stamp ~ 33:50)
MG: We have our guest on the line. Francie – we’re talking to Francie McGuigan – Francie, I’m sorry we’re a few minutes late coming to you. How are you today in Belfast?
FM: I’m grand, thank God.
MG: Francie, you’ve had more than most experience in terms with Internment Day rallies. Last week there was an Internment Day rally in Belfast and I saw your picture in the Irish News. You were asked to be a supporter, or sponsor, of that rally as a veteran Irish Republican, you, Ivor Bell – I saw some other photographs I that recognised in the Irish News – how do that come about that you were asked to be a supporter or formal supporter of that rally?
FM: Because I myself had been interned and not only that six members of my family have been interned – in fact, my father was interned on three separate occasions so I am very much against internment and always have been. I suffered it as a child with my father being arrested and interned. So I had no hesitation whatsoever. I’ve attended all the anti-internment marches that’ve been in Belfast for the past four years – for the last two years now we’ve been blocked from entering into the centre of Belfast – it seems it’s okay for the Orange Order and that to enter in to the centre of Belfast but not for Republicans. It’s still – this talk about a ‘shared future’ still has yet to arrive.
MG: Francie – we’re talking to Francie McGuigan who is one of the original ‘hooded men’ from Belfast. Francie, some people would ask: Why an Internment Day rally? They say that internment no – well, you were interned in 1971 and we’ll get to that in a bit – no longer exists in that form. But internment, correct me if I’m wrong, the Internment Day rallies have always gone to the heart. Internment was such an injustice under British rule and not only internment but what happened to you that it seemed to summarise all of the injustices of British rule and that was the thing that was used as an occasion, the Sunday closest to August the 9th, to highlight injustice, to go back to the streets of Belfast. Tell us what injustices that you were highlighting last week as you and others attempted to march from the city centre?
FM: Well I’ll give you a few examples: For instance, in the North of Ireland today we don’t have the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) we have the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland). Name change. Long Kesh, when were in it – we went to sleep one night in Long Kesh – were told the following morning it’s no longer Long Kesh – it’s Her Majesty Prison The Maze. We were told we’re no longer ‘internees’ you’re now ‘detainees’. They change the name. And today the practice is: is ‘remandees’. They take you in. They put you on a charge. They hold you in prison for a year or two years. They then offer you extreme bail conditions: Don’t live within forty miles of your own home, don’t visit this one , don’t speak to such and such a person, you’re not allowed to attend parades or commemorations – so it’s another form of internment. And the same as they’ve done all along – they’ve change the names – they adjust the thing just so that the Brits get their own way in Ireland and still have the heavy hand down on Irish Republicans.
MG: And Francie – we’re talking to Francis McGuigan – I can remember years ago being at a demonstration against what was called ‘internment by remand’. And the person who was interned at that stage was Gerry Adams and I believe he was in for about eight or nine months before they announced that there was no real evidence against him and he was released. But now, the people who have been interned by remand in that fashion, simply deny them bail, they’re presumed innocent but yet they said: We can’t give them bail because they may re-offend – commit a second offence – although they’re presumed innocent of any offence – they can be in jail, in prison for much longer. What sort of periods are we talking about for internment by remand?
FM: You’re talking two – three years! You know and then after three years – there’s been six or seven cases now where somebody’s been remanded in custody on a charge, when the charge actually appears in court, the day it appears in court the charge is withdrawn and the person is released. But they just spent three years in prison – always claiming not guilty to any charge but still refused bail.
In fact this week MI5 has come out and recommended to judges that they don’t grant, to what they classify ‘dissident Republicans, don’t grant them bail. This is MI5 interfering in the judicial system here in Ireland – they’ve always done that.
MG: And another form of internment that I’ve heard used, or another phrase, is ‘internment by licence’ where someone, and there’s an example, I think there was a demonstration in Doire and he was one of the people who I believe that was highlighted in your march named Tony Taylor.
FM: Yeah, that’s right.
MG: Could explain what happened to him?
FM: Tony had been released under licence and was re-arrested and put up on a charge – was acquitted of the charge but was returned back to Maghaberry Prison again under licence. So he’s in there now. He’s appeared in court, the charges were withdrawn but he’s returned to prison under licence. They have not put any charge against him. They have not given him a release date so he’s just… They can call it whatever they like – they call it a licence if they want but as far as I’m concerned it’s internment. It’s imprisonment without trial. You know and this is from the country that, this is from the country that’s supposed to have given us the Magna Carta, the great principles of freedom and all that? They have just – for eight hundred years they have sat on top of the Irish people.
Go back to internment – going back to when Strongbow first came to Ireland. The first notable case of internment, from my recollection now, was back in 1803 – Anne Devlin, who was an associate of Robert Emmet. She was imprisoned for three and a half years in a cell three feet wide, fourteen feet long and straw on the floor. Not only was she imprisoned but her entire family were imprisoned – she had a fourteen year old brother who died in prison. I know I’m going back over the years but this practice still goes on in my country today by a foreign government.
MG: Alright. What happened last Sunday, you wanted to highlight those injustices. I know the committee had applied for all the permits that they would need to march. I believe the place that they marched from was actually the place where John Downes was killed at the Internment Rally in 1984 by the RUC and that’s the place where they really attacked a rally simply because I was introduced by Gerry Adams as one of the speakers. Is that correct?
FM: John Downes was murdered there. They shot him – he was three feet from the police – an RUC police officer who fired and hit him in the chest with a rubber bullet. He was murdered. You know and they still… Our march was into the centre of Belfast. We’d applied – we gave all the reasons we were going in, we told them exactly how we were doing it, how many people would be involved, how many bands would be playing, we gave them all that information and they told us: ‘No, you can’t’. One of their reason, by the way, in their definition is the fact that the Anti-Internment League does not support the Good Friday Agreement. As far as I know the Orange Order does not support the Good Friday Agreement, the DUP did not support the Good Friday Agreement but yet with all they can freely march in – in fact, the previous Saturday the Loyalist flag protesters went into the centre of Belfast and stood outside the City Hall opposing a gay pride parade. You know? So they have freedom through the whole city of Belfast but yet all Republicans are confined within their own ghetto areas. We were allowed down the Falls Road – they stopped us at the bottom of Divis Street and Barrack Street and told us we could go no further. So we held our commemoration there and peacefully dispersed.
The previous year they stopped us in the Oldpark Road. The reason they stopped us they said we were going to go into Belfast at a busy shopping time – which was on a Sunday at one o’clock – and we were going to go in and it would upset trade in the centre of Belfast so they blocked us in the Oldpark Road. And again we held our commemoration and dispersed again. They just will not permit Republicans into the centre of Belfast. They brand us all as ‘dissident Republicans’. I’m a Republican. I’m also a dissident because I dissent from British rule in Ireland – that makes me a ‘dissident’ you know so (inaudible) about a shared future does not exist.
MG: We keep hearing all the influence that Sinn Féin has in the new administration and Nationalists have in the new administration. Why is it that this influence can’t be used to at least give members of their own community the right to march into the centre of Belfast and highlight injustices that are being used by the administration which they represent against fellow Nationalists and Republicans?
FM: They pay some lip service to it in the fact that one of their elected representatives said they should be allowed into the centre of Belfast. Not one member of Sinn Féin has ever turned up at any anti-internment march. They have got to the situation now with their cosy jobs – they have it all nice and handy – they’re on good wages now and good salaries, great expenses, and they have lost the ideal of Republicanism and they have lost the aim of Republicanism. They can no longer follow the path of Republicanism. They’ve stepped out. They’re part of the system now. They are employed by a British government to administer rule here in the Occupied Six Counties.
JM: (station identification) We’re speaking with Francie McGuigan talking about an internment march that sort of happened last Saturday. Francie, I want to talk about the strategy of the British and they’ve learned well over the years during The Troubles that: You could have done time in Long Kesh and support the peace process and get a visa to come to New York. If you did time in Long Kesh and you didn’t support it you can’t get that.
Part of bail restrictions right now are that you cannot do any interviews while you’re out on bail and you have to watch who you’re associating with. And I feel like I’m a member of the RUC or PSNI – I have to give you a warning: Really watch what you’re saying here because after what happened last week with Gerry McGeough – that you speaking to an audience three thousand miles away – you could be brought up on charges in the Six Counties which is now getting so bizarre that not only do they not want you speaking in the Six Counties without being brought up on charges – but you cannot speak anywhere else in the world, via television or the phone.
FM: No. They prefer we just all go away now but unfortunately we are not going anywhere – as somebody once said: ‘We ain’t going away!’ We’re still here today. We’re Republicans. I’ve been a Republican all my life. I’ve been a Republican activist all my life and I say: I dissident from Britain’s rule in Ireland. Unfortunately, Sinn Féin and their associates have now accepted that position. They accept the status quo that Britain has a right in Ireland.
MG: Francie, we want to just talk a little bit, we want to explain to our audience a little bit about what happened – why internment is such an emotional day. Internment always meant you could be picked up and be held for as long as the British wanted to hold you. But there was a lot more than that. You were arrested at the beginning, in August 9th of 1971 and you became what was called one of the ‘hooded men’. Could you tell us what happened?
FM: Well I was arrested on the 9th of August in the internment round-up and was held for the first forty-eight hours in Girdwood Barracks – went through the usual: In and out for interrogation, back, threatened, punched, battered, they took boys out, put them into the helicopter, lifted the helicopter up, spun it round a few times and then threw the boys out backwards but the helicopter was only two-three feet off of the ground. Now this went on constantly for the first forty-eight hours.
When the forty-eight hours were up they were starting to transfer the men into Crumlin Road Prison to bring them in for internment. In my case, they came to me, they by-passed me and took the lads at the end of the line along with me – they emptied the hall and left two people sitting in the hall, myself and a lad called Joe Clarke. I was then dragged out by a military policeman. When I was arrested and taken out of the house I’d only had a pair of trousers on – I didn’t get no underwear, vest, shoes, socks – so I was actually stripped naked by him and he had himself photographed holding me by the hair.
I was then taken up and brought into a room, kept there for about an hour with military police and RUC and I actually, at that stage, could hear the bombing and shooting going on outside. I was then gripped, taken up, handcuffed behind my back and a hood placed over my head and dragged out and placed into a helicopter handcuffed to three other lads that were there with us. The helicopter then flew, we don’t know, we think somewhere in the region of forty to fifty minutes. I was then – the doors opened in the helicopter. I was handcuffed to Kevin Hannaway. The handcuffs were taken off, I was handcuffed behind my back and then thrown out of the helicopter. Again, at this stage, I did not know how far off the ground I was because in the other case it only lasted three or four minutes. On this occasion we’d had been in the air so I thought this was the end. As you hit the ground, picked up, dragged in, the hood was pulled off my head and there standing in front of me was a man with a white coat on and a stethoscope round his neck. I got the impression he was a doctor. He gave me a thirty minute medical examination and then nodded.
MG: And that meant you were fit for more torture?
FM: This was the start of it. The hood was then replaced. I was stripped of the trousers and given a boiler suit that was four or five sizes too big. Thankfully in my case it was too big – some of the boys got suits that was four or five sizes too small. I was then taken, dragged into a room, placed against a wall, fingertips and toes – legs wide apart and this high piercing noise was there. I attempted to come off the wall and received such an awful battering and kicking, placed back against the wall, and this proceeded for the first half hour where I then refused to stand against the wall – got battered – physically dragged up against the wall and this went on indefinitely for I don’t – we can’t put a period of time on it.
But the next thing I remember was being dragged along a corridor, brought into an interrogation room and this was old-style film stuff -bright lights shining in my face and the hood was taken off, my hands were handcuffed behind my back and I was accused of everything that ever happened in the North of Ireland. They then wanted to know: Who’s in the IRA? Who do you know that’s in the IRA? Who does your father talk to? Who calls to see your mother? Did you ever see guns? They went over all this and again I refused to answer questions for them. I kept asking why this was going on and told them I wanted to use the toilet and they told me ‘No’.
So for the next seven days this boiler suit that I had on became my day clothes, my night clothes and my toilet. And there was fourteen of us that went through this – you were then dragged back out, put up against the wall again and this piercing noise coming through constantly – it seemed to go in through your hair and your head, down through your body out through your toes and it seem to touch every nerve and sinew in the body. And each time you tried to come off that wall you were battered so you’d just roll up into a ball and get an unmerciful kicking.
I then came to handcuffed to a cast iron radiator with a hood on lying on a concrete floor. In this room there was no noise but the cold in this room was unbelievable. You’re lying on a concrete floor. The next thing the door burst open and I was kicked and thumped and told: You were told not to sleep! You were told not to sleep! And that was just it for seven days – you were either up against the wall with the noise, in the room lying on the concrete floor handcuffed to a cast iron radiator or else you were in for interrogation.
Now the interrogation, as I said, consisted of this physical abuse – somebody behind was swinging the handcuffs – he’d slap his two hands against your ears simultaneously and at times would grip you by the back of the hair and smash your head against a table. And they then on one occasion I remember they asked me – they’d start off each interrogation having your name and address. So I gave them my name, my address. They asked me to spell my name. I could spell the ‘Francie’ part alright but couldn’t spell ‘McGuigan’. I kept making a mistake. Didn’t know what the mistake was but I knew it was wrong. And I kept trying to do it which they found very humourous and had a great laugh at this and then told me: It was alright – they knew how to spell it – but just to be on the safe side for yourself – try counting up to ten, Francie.’ And I wouldn’t attempt to count to ten in case I couldn’t make it. At this stage I thought I was losing my mind. I was actually convinced that my mind had cracked when I couldn’t spell my own name.
On another occasion when I told them I lived in Jamaica Street they said: ‘Oh! Jamaica Street – Jamaica Street – yes. We believe there was a massive bomb explosion in Jamaica Street and there was seventy-odd people killed in it. We hope your family’s all safe.’ You know, this was the sort of thing that went on…
MG: Right. And that was not true – nothing like that had ever happened. Francie, how long was it before you were transferred from this type of treatment – and again – all this – there are no charges against you – you were never charged with anything – they just picked you up at random. How long was it before you were transferred to Crumlin Road or another prison?
FM: Nine days in total. During that period I lost twenty-one pound in weight – and I was no heavy weight going in – I think I was eleven stone and come out just something over nine stone. So that whole thing – and that went on to the fourteen of us. We were then as you said, transferred back to Crumlin Road Prison and then to Long Kesh. Now some of the boys spent as long as four and a half years in there. Two of the hooded men spent four and a half years. A couple of hooded men were released but re-arrested and re-interned maybe a month later, you know? In actual fact they say that there’s no psychological damage to what they put us through. But yet with this all, four of the victims of this torture were released from Long Kesh only to be brought in to psychiatric hospital – released from the prison into a psychiatric hospital.
MG: Now, Francie, you and the other hooded men – we’re talking with Francie McGuigan who is talking about the Internment Day rally which was halted and stopped from going into the Belfast city centre last week and is also talking as one of the hooded men who was interned in 1971 – You brought a court case, you and the other hooded men, to the European Court. Originally the European Commission found that Britain was guilty of torture and inhuman treatment and I remember the European Court modified that finding and said it was only inhuman treatment. And there were headlines in American papers and British papers: ‘Britain Not Guilty of Torture’ – even though they were found guilty. But you’re appealing that now. Where is that court case and what’s the next thing that’s going to happen with it?
FM: We have – in the intervening years – this was forty-five years ago – we’ve never let go of it. We’ve been fighting for justice for the forty-five years. In the interim we discovered British government documents that they release every thirty-forty years where actually in some of the documents they actually – this was discussed at Cabinet – and the word torture was used and accepted and this was sanctioned by the British government at the highest level. We have also evidence that not only did they withhold information from the European Court but they actually lied to the European Court – the doctors lied and some of the officers lied and we now are firmly, firmly convinced that when the case goes back to Europe on this occasion Britain will be found guilty of torture.
I think on the first occasion they didn’t want the stigma of torture applied to the British government who was one of the founders of the European Court of Human Rights. You know, to have one of the founders of it get the stigma of torture – you know so, we’re going back there – we are fairly confident that we’ll get the true result this time.
MG: Alright, Francie – we’ve been talking to Francie McGuigan – it’s near one o’clock – six o’clock your time, Francie, we want to thank you. Yeah – like they say you know, if someone is willing to use torture they’re probably willing to lie about it and cover up and withhold documents – but we’re hopeful. I want to thank you just for talking about what happened last Sunday at the anti-internment rally and also what’s happening with the hooded men. Thank you, Francie. (ends time stamp ~ 56:33)