John McDonagh (JM) and Sandy Boyer (SB) interview Mandy Duffy (MD) via telephone from Belfast about the annual anti-internment march held in Belfast on Sunday, 9 August 2015. (begins time stamp ~5:28)
JM: But right now we head over to Belfast and we speak with Mandy Duffy – she’s with the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association (IRPWA) and she was at the march. I don’t know if it was much of a march – it started off as a march – it certainly did end with that with the amount of police security that was there to stop them from going into the city. Mandy, what exactly happened? Now I heard you on The Stephen Nolan Show during the week and the debate seemed to be over the times: What time were you starting – what time were you finishing. But it really didn’t seem to matter what time you were starting or finishing – you were not going to get into the city centre where there had been many rallies – there had been gay rights marriage, there’s been union organising down there but it seems Republicans still can’t get into the city centre.
MD: Yeah well, on the event on Sunday basically the Anti-Internment League had applied for the march to the Parades Commission and the Parades Commission came back with a – well, it was basically impossible to meet the determination that they gave because the march was due to start at half two and they had said we had to be clear of Royal Avenue by half one which was impossible to meet. So, if we had’ve brought the march forward like they had wanted us to do we would have been clashing with the Ballymurphy Massacre March. And there’s so many people in attendance at that march that wanted to come to the anti-internment march so it would have been so wrong of us to have an impact on their march so we agreed that we would start – the Anti-Internment League agreed that it would start at the time that we had put in for at half two because a lot of work goes into this parade. You know, this is an annual parade, it’s every year on or around the anniversary of internment. The purpose of the parade is to recognise the anniversary of internment but also to highlight the internment-by-remand that’s taking place in The Six Counties and also the other injustices that’s happening in the prisons. So we just felt that it would be wrong of us to clash with the Ballymurphy Massacre so therefore it was agreed that we would start at the same time as we had already advertised. We had buses coming in from all different areas, we had bands traveling from Scotland – we had so many plans put in place that really to move the march would have had a massive impact. So therefore, we were left with no other choice only to start at half two.
JM: And what about the route of the march? I mean, we see week after week there’s huge demonstrations: there’s flag demonstrations – God forbid if a Tricolour goes up somewhere or they’re taking down a Union Jack – that a lot of groups are allowed to demonstrate, protest and march through Belfast city centre. This specifically said you couldn’t do it and the way they blocked it – there was no way you were getting into the city centre.
MD: Well, this is one march a year that Republicans ask for to go through the city centre. And listen, it isn’t about getting into the city centre. The reason why the city centre route – it’s basically the only route that will take us through to West Belfast without walking into contentious areas. Now, Republicans as a rule do not march in contentious areas. We wouldn’t do it. We just wouldn’t do it. It would be zero-tolerance policy for us to impose our views, our Republicanism, onto a Protestant/Loyalist/Unionist community. Now, the Parades Commission had suggested that we avoid the city centre and go through the Loyalist Brown Square Peter’s Hill area but we just thought that was unfair. We don’t want Loyalists feet in our area so we certainly wouldn’t be putting Republican feet into Loyalist/Protestant/Unionist areas. So, the city centre was the only shared space – it’s a shared space – you know, we’ve told that often and often again – it’s not about being a Loyalist area – it’s not Republican area/Nationalist area – it’s a shared space so that was our rationale for going through the city centre, you know? But unfortunately, we weren’t able to go through at the time that we were needing to go so we were unable to get through – we were blocked.
SB: Hi, Mandy. This is Sandy Boyer. Now, when – this may not be accurate but I can only rely on what the media says and we all know it’s not necessarily true – but they were saying: Oh, we’re afraid that if you get into the city centre there might be violence. Now the way I read it: This parade was attacked last year by Loyalists. In other words – you can’t parade because someone else might attack you.
MD: Yes, there was a number of Loyalist protests last year at the very fact that Republicans are marching through the city centre. Last year the march was accommodated through the city centre and it was attacked by Loyalists. In the previous year we didn’t even get to the city centre even though the determination hadn’t blocked us at that stage – but the fact that the Loyalists went mad – they went mad in the city centre – so we were held back for a couple of hours and it was getting quite dark and people were tired – you know, people had traveled a long distance – had to travel a long way back. So we actually accommodated by not walking through the city centre and just made our way on down to The Busy Bee. So we have bent over backwards in recent years to accommodate. In fact, the march this year was scheduled to be on a Saturday but we felt that was a busy day – a busy shopping day – so it would be better to have it on the actual anniversary of internment – have it on the Sunday which is seen as not as busy a day for the trade – so we would have little or no impact on the trade in the city centre. But unfortunately, we didn’t get very far. We got about five hundred metres I’d say and then we had a large – a very, very large-scale policing operation and to say it was over the top is – you couldn’t exaggerate how heavy the policing operation was put in place to prevent us from getting through the city centre – it was ridiculous.
JM: And Mandy, we’ve been doing this show long enough to see the evolving British policy on how the Republican message gets out. During the ’80’s and early ’90’s we would have prisoners who, when they got out of jail, and in particularly blanketmen, they were sent over to the United States, they did radio shows and when that was prevented we were able to interview them over in Ireland. Now the British, not wanting to get that message out, have set such stringent bail conditions – particularly with someone, say like Marian Price, who was a regular guest on this show – but part of her bail condition was she could not talk to the media. Maybe you could talk from a personal point of view: How is it getting the message out and what are some of the bail restrictions that you know of – that why you’re living in Belfast?
MD: Well, the bail – Marian’s conditions were off her licence – her release – when she was released that time and wasn’t able to do media. I know Martin Corey wasn’t able to do media either. They also have censored Dee Fennell who would be a very active Republican and very to the fore on prisoner issues and in fact, was a spokesperson for the Anti-Internment League. And they censored Dee Fennell as part of his bail conditions in that he’s not allowed to speak publicly or media or even to post on social network or anything as such like that. So the Anti-Internment League, I know that they then felt if you were to put somebody else forward that basically you’re giving into the Brits and their bail conditions. So I was asked to do the media because I am a part of the prisoners’ group and therefore the media – the march was about the prisoners’ issues – so therefore I was quite happy to do the media. Bail conditions in The North are getting exceedingly worse as you alluded to there. I myself: My husband’s out on bail and his bail condition are ridiculous in the extreme and it’s ludicrous. He’s not allowed home, he’s not allowed to live at home with his family – you know, our young children, his grandchildren. He’s forced to live in Belfast. He can’t even visit the family home. He’s not allowed even to visit Lurgan. He’s not allowed in Lurgan. He’s not allowed in the car. It’s really is ridiculous. It puts an awful strain on the family but at least he’s not in Maghaberry so that’s something to be thankful for!
JM: Well now when you say: ‘not in Maghaberry’, that’s the prison now where Republicans are being held. Can you give us an update on what the conditions are like and why he’s very grateful he’s not there?
MD: Well obviously, I’m sure people are aware that the conditions are abysmal; they’re not great. There has been a long, long campaign led by Republican prisoners against certain issues: There’s controlled movement, which is basically whereby you are restricted in your movement in that you have to be accompanied by screws basically every step you take, every journey you make, be it from your cell to the canteen, they lock grilles down – it gives prisoners no freedom of movement whatsoever within their own wing. They also have forced strip-searches whereby a prisoner is degradingly strip-searched – obviously Republicans would never accept strip searches so they refuse – so then they are forced to be strip-searched.
They also have the ever-increasing issue of Republicans held in isolation. We currently have a prisoner, Gavin Coyle, who has spent his entire sentence in complete isolation on the CSU and his human rights are beyond attacked. This man has spent one thousand five hundred days in complete isolation with one hour into the yard, one phone call and one visit a week. And we actually do believe that there’s going to be a hardening up from Maghaberry and in fact, the facilitators/assessment team that were put in place to see the smooth introduction of the agreement (five years ago this week there was an agreement that we thought, and the prisoners believed, was going to do away with all these areas of concerns) but obviously that didn’t happen and they have told the prisoners there last week there’s going to be a hardening-up of their position in which we’ll see more Republican prisoners held in isolation – instead of an easing of the situation – there’s going to be more.
Now, on the day after the anti-internment march that failed – we didn’t get through the town – we had two Republican prisoners from Roe 4 – Nathan Hastings, twenty-two and Conal Corbett, eighteen, were asked – there was an incident the night before and they were put on a charge for calling the Governor a clown. You know, so they were put on a charge because of the incident from the night before – and the next day they were told that they were going to be moved from their cell to other cells. Now, Nathan’s been in the cell for two years and young Conal was quite happy in his cell, too and said: No, we’re fine – you don’t need to move us on the Republican wing. We’re alright where we are. And they were told: No, you’re being moved.
So they expected that the riot squad would come in and move them. So I got a phone from Nathan and he said: Look – Listen, we’re being forcibly moved from our cells and I said: What do you mean they’re moving you from your cells? What’s the problem with the cell you’re in? And he said: No problem. They’re just trying to disrupt. They’re trying to control; it’s a further controlled movement policy. So that was – we expected the riot squad to go in. We knew that they would wait until after lock-up and that was just what they did.
Once the prisoners were locked up at half seven later on that evening in comes the riot squad – now when I say the riot squad I’m saying these are the notorious, hated riot squad. They have inflicted so many injuries on prisoners on the Republican wing you’ve lost count. They came in and first off trailed Nathan – took Nathan out of his call, put him in handcuffs and trailed him to the CSU – the boards as we would call it – trailed him over to the CSU and then came back for young Conal, who’s only eighteen. And they beat Conal to the ground, trailed him out of his cell and threw him into the empty the cell that they wanted him to go into initially and Conal was then forced to lie for hours on the ground because there was no bed – no bedding – and this is just further abuse by Maghaberry and the riot squad and inflicting their rules – what they want – and that’s it. They want to control that wing and that’s what they’re doing.
SB: And Mandy, going back to the march against internment Martin McGuinness had something to say about it after you got attacked by the police he blamed you!
MD: Yeah. Martin McGuinness blamed the Anti-Internment League for bringing people out onto the street. Now, I personally believe that that is an absolute insulting statement from Martin McGuinness. Beacause if you were to apply that rationale: Martin McGuinness says blame the organisers for bringing these people out onto the street – and if you apply that rationale to Doire and the civil rights march and where thirteen men were shot dead then that would be Martin McGuinness saying that the civil rights movement was the cause of these mens’ death. And it hasn’t went down well believe you me in Republican circles. But thankfully, don’t pay much attention to what Martin McGuinness has to say these days. But I do know one thing: And I would like to actually challenge Martin McGuinness, here and now, to share a platform with IRPWA. Let’s have a debate. Let’s have an open, public and frank debate on the prisoners’ issues – on internment-by-remand, on what’s happening in the jails. He’s quite willing to share a platform with George Hamilton last week at St. Mary’s…
JM: …And he’s the head of the PSNI.
MD: He’s the head of the PSNI. We actually had a protest outside that – it was a fantastic protest – a very loud, vibrant protest and we never – we quite often have protests obviously on the prison issues. We had that one on the fact that he was meeting him and that George Hamilton was made to feel so welcomed by Sinn Féin on the Falls Road. So we had so much support. We had black taxis tooting their horns – shouting support. We had ordinary members of the public – tooting their horns – shouting support. At one stage coming near the end of our protest we decided to go in to St. Mary’s – the car park. Now, it was all barricaded – we couldn’t have gotten anywhere near the PSNI/RUC or the Shinners. But our intention was never to disrupt the meeting. That was very clear. We were never going to disrupt the meeting because we were conscious that there was family members there, obviously, who wanted to attend the debate – family members who had lost their loved ones in the conflict. So, but we did go into the car park. And as we approached into the car park the RUC jumped out of the Land Rovers and got their batons and their dogs and came for us. At the same time so did Sinn Féin. So what we had was a line – a massive number of protesters in the car park – a barricade – then we had the PSNI/RUC standing talking to Sinn Féin members deciding what to do with us – discussing how they were going to approach Republicans protesting on the Falls Road! And I’m going to tell you now: It was a sorry sight – it was a sorry sight! It just showed me how much the tables have turned and that these Sinn Féin members are now with the enemy, colluding with the enemy, against Republicans.
JM: And Mandy, to let our audience know, Martin McGuinness is the Deputy Dawg First Minister of The Six Counties and just to say that you were responsible for being beaten – I was over there at the internment march when Séan Downes was shot dead because the Republican Movement brought over Martin Galvin to have him speak there. And the Brits at the time said that it was Martin Galvin’s fault, it was Sinn Féin’s fault for organising this when they were the ones that came in with the plastic bullets and the batons and hammered people right there. So now you have Martin McGuinness, on the front lines you could say, condemning Republicans now organising, marching and having – you can’t even get the people you want to speak at these rallies, as you were bringing up. Dee Fennell used to come on the show. Now part of his bail conditions: He can’t do any media. So I mean the noose is tightening but it’s being tightened by the Republican puppets on behalf of the British government.
MD: It’s certainly being supported by them. You know, we don’t have – Republicans – our prisoners’ support group – we don’t have very many opportunities to highlight what’s happening in the jails because we certainly don’t have politicians standing up and shouting out about what’s happening. We’ve had Sinn Féin in meeting with the prisoners. And you know, it’s very ironic and very rich that we have Sinn Féin members in sitting meeting with prisoners. And these Sinn Féin members actually shared cells with these same prisoners in the H-Blocks and actually sat and discussed strategy – you know: Where we go, how we move forward – with these same prisoners. And now are coming in to meet as muppets in the government. And can they not see how ironic it is that they know that they actually discussed and sat down with these same prisoners – been comrades with these same prisoners – and now they’re in government and they’re doing nothing for these prisoners!
JM: Well Mandy, any final words? Because I know you’re heading off now to another rally or a meeting…
MD: …Yes, we have – there’s a march here in Lurgan tonight – it’s been billed as a anti-internment march. We had such a big massive weekend of events last week in Belfast that Lurgan didn’t have the opportunity. I have also have put out a call for all areas to highlight the brutality of young Conal and Nathan so I obviously have taken this opportunity to highlight the brutality so I’ll be just heading here shortly for that so, but I really appreciate the airtime and you getting in touch and allowing me to highlight what’s going on in Maghaberry and, of course, talk about the Anti-Internment March.
JM: Well listen Mandy, thanks for coming on and giving us the latest update. But it’s not a good sign. A lot of people that we’ve had on the airs end up at some stage been banned from the airs so we wish you all the best.
MD: Not a problem. Thank you so much. (ends time stamp ~25:09)