Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Buzzkill – Ireland’s bees are being wiped out

MORE THAN 30% of all fruits and vegetables and as much as 70% of all the world’s food production is heavily reliant on one tiny insect – the honeybee. Its role in pollination is absolutely vital in agriculture but all is not well in Ireland – a third of our wild bee species are in danger of extinction.

Nobel Prize-winning playwright Maurice Maeterlinck famously wrote (although often misattributed to Albert Einstein):
“If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.”
While that may not be entirely true, the disappearance of the planet’s most important little workers could indeed spell the beginning of an ecological Armageddon. 
Across the globe, many bee species are simply vanishing due to a mysterious phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder. So far there has been no single cause identified but the use of pesticides, loss of habitat and the spread of mites are all believed to be factors.
In some parts of the world, particularly in the USA and China, vast swathes of land are essentially devoid of pollinators. Beekeepers have seen a surge across the USA for their services as farmers rent mobile hives in the hopes of pollinating their crops. In some parts of China, where chemicals have all but wiped out bees, workers are paid to climb trees and hedgerows and pollinate flowers by hand.

Irish Wildlife Trust ecologist Billy Flynn says the Irish countryside has been made “inhospitable” to pollinators.
“The need for shelter and food are common to all living things, and we have deprived many of our native invertebrates of both,” Billy says.
He points to the loss of nesting sites, removal of hedgerows, disappearance of small woodlands, the lack of native wildflowers and the constant cutting of park and road verges as soon as dandelions and daisies appear as all contributing to this decline.
The decline, which included an up to 50% reduction in bees in the Six Counties, prompted a debate in the Assembly in 2008 and eventually led to The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015-2020, supported by over 80 public, private and non-governmental bodies.
The Heritage Council’s Michael Starrett said: 
“Gone are the days we can choose to ignore warning signs. Our science is sound. Our concern has to be to get it done. The alternative is not acceptable, and should not be acceptable to anyone. This is about improving the quality of our environment.”

Billy Flynn says there are few plans that mean so much for biodiversity on this island: 
“This is a call for action that may well be critical in saving many of our invertebrate species from extinction. By doing so, we might be able to stave off a calamitous collapse of ecosystems the like of which we have not yet seen.”
As well as engaging with county councils, farmers, and environmental and heritage groups, a new part of the plan aimed at gardeners and homeowners was launched this summer. Simple tips include planting native wildflowers, leaving a patch of the garden to grow wild, manual weeding rather than pesticides, and installing an ‘insect hotel’ nesting site for solitary bees. It also contains a handy list of what plants and shrubs are best to attract pollinators all year round.
There’s already been a great response from local organisations, including Sligo Tidy Towns who are running beekeeping classes in the community gardens. Places like Leighlinbridge in Carlow, Castletownroche in Cork and Galliagh in Derry swiftly incorporated insect corridors – uncut areas of wildflowers – into their Tidy Towns plans and they are now commonplace across Ireland.
In July, scientific research debated at European level conclusively showed that insecticides – as well as killing or seriously weakening bees – are having a detrimental effect on bee fertility. 
Dublin MEP Lynn Boylan, an ecologist, says the temporary ban on three insecticides should be made permanent in light of the evidence and called on the European Commission and Ireland’s Minister for Agriculture to take this into account.

Speaking to An Phoblacht, the MEP said:
“Governments need to stop contradicting themselves. On one hand they are producing detailed plans for protecting bees, which is welcome, yet in Europe they continuously take the side of the big corporate lobbies and chemical companies which have been directly linked to the decline in bee numbers.
“In the absence of Fine Gael ever opposing corporate interests, I’d encourage everybody to do what they can to help bolster the bee population.”
  • This article first appeared in the September 2016 edition of An Phoblacht

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

How Israel is using gay rights to deflect from the Occupation

DUBLIN’S annual Pride Parade parade in June saw signs saying “Queers Against Israeli Pinkwashing” as members of Ireland’s LGBT community showed their anger at Israel using a veneer of acceptance of gay people to gloss over its ongoing brutal occupation of Palestine.

In recent years, Israel has been busy promoting itself as one of the few gay-friendly tourist destinations in the Middle East. Tel Aviv was named “World’s Best Gay City” in 2011. The Israeli Tourist Board has pumped millions of dollars into promoting the country as a gay-friendly destination through billboard advertising, sponsorship of LGBT film festivals and other events.

Same-sex marriages may be conducted in Israel but they have no legal recognition, although if a couple have a marriage certificate from another country where it is legal then their marriage is legally recognised. Despite this, Israel still has the most advanced LGBT rights in the Middle East where in some countries, such as Yemen and Saudi Arabia, homosexuality can result in a death sentence.
Though Israel’s Pinkwashing campaign has been going on for over a decade, not everybody got the message. 

In 2012, Channel 10 News in Israel exposed a communique from former Israeli Deputy Ambassador to Ireland Nurit Tinari-Modai to Israel’s Foreign Office in which she suggests that left-wing and Jewish activists in Ireland who oppose Israel’s occupation should be smeared by claiming their opposition is based on “sexual identity problems”.

Palestinian-American journalist Ali Abunimah said the Deputy Ambassador’s comments “indicate an innate homophobia that is at odds with Israel’s efforts – known as pinkwashing – to portray itself as supportive of the rights of people who identify as LGBTQ”.

A month before Dublin’s Pride Parade was the world-famous Tel Aviv Pride festival. ‘Pinkwatching Israel’ – an organisation created in 2010 to “expose efforts by Israel and its supporters to pinkwash Israeli crimes” – called on those thinking of travelling to Tel Aviv for the festival to take a deeper look at Israel’s gay-friendly persona.

“Gay pride brochures fail to mention that it is also an hour away from the world’s largest open prison, Gaza, and that it is built on stolen land,” the group said. “They forget to mention that the gay soldiers you dance with in the Pride parade check, arrest, and kill Palestinians on a daily basis.
“After your day of Pride, some tour operators will take you to Bethlehem or the Dead Sea, without telling you that you will travel through the illegally Occupied Palestinian Territories, or that the wine you are drinking in the Golan Heights comes from businesses that have been declared illegal under international law.”

Fadi Khoury, an Arab LGBT activist who boycotted the Tel Aviv Pride parade this year, told the AFP news agency:

“Israel wants to rebrand itself as a liberal democracy – despite the Occupation – by claiming that neighbouring societies, especially the Palestinians, aren’t as tolerant towards sexual minorities. A moral human rights struggle cannot be one that is partial. The state is the same source of human rights infringements for both the Israeli LGBT community and the Palestinians under occupation.”
LGBT activist Haneen Maikey, an Arab citizen of Israel, told Israeli newspaper Haaretz that, despite the hype, in reality there are very few gay rights in the country:

“There are specific court cases that, when won, allowed certain individuals for instance to adopt a child. What is worth noting is that these decisions are case-specific, in the sense that they are made for this specific case, for this specific child and for these two mothers. You cannot build a human rights campaign on court cases that are not ratified.”

Attacking Israel's policy of ‘pinkwashing’, she said:

“Stop speaking in my name and using me for a cause you never supported in the first place.

“If you want to do me a favour, then stop bombing my friends, end your occupation, and leave me to rebuild my community.”
  • This article first appeared in the August 2016 edition of An Phoblacht

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Roger Casement – A Champion of Human Rights

How a 1916 rebel became a national hero of the Faroe Islands

While the executed 1916 leaders are revered as heroes in most countries with a substantial Irish emigrant population, some have become well-known in rather unexpected locations. One such place is the Faroe Islands,the self-Governing nation north of Scotland and part of the Kingdom of Denmark.

Roger Casement's work in exposing the horrors inflicted on native populations in the Congo and South America made him a hero to many across the world. His report on the horrors inflicted on the people of the Congo was instrumental in forcing Belgium's King Leopold II to relinquish his hold on the territory. Casement also helped organise the Anti-Slavery Society. His report on the treatment of indigenous peoples by the British-registered Peruvian Amazon Company saw him knighted in 1911.

In 1901 Daniel Jacob Danielsen became the first Faroese missionary to serve outside the Faroe Islands as part of the Congo Balolo Mission which operated in some of the most remote regions of the upper Congo.

Before this, Danielson had moved from the Faroe Islands to Scotland to train as an engineer on boats and steamers. He worked throughout the world for 10 years before converting to become a deeply religious man and involved in the Plymouth Brethren Movement after hearing a missionary speak in Glasgow in 1898, aged 27. He was originally based in Bonginda where he was assigned to the SS Pioneer – a gift to the missionaries from the Irish YMCAs.

Around this time word had begun to reach Europe – often via returning missionary workers – of some of the most appalling human rights abuses imaginable taking place in King Leopold's personal colony.

The brutal atrocities perpetrated in the Congo under Belgian rule included the systematic hacking-off of limbs of civilians as punishment for very minor issues. Most of the local population was enslaved to enrich the personal wealth of King Leopold through the exploitation of natural resources – notably rubber. Women were often taken hostage to ensure cooperation by their forced labourer husbands in what Casement described as an “infamous, infamous shameful system”.

The missionaries were not immune to allegations of cruelty either. Danielsen and other members of the Bonginda-based mission were investigated over claims they had whipped natives who were working aboard their boat and at the mission itself. Danielsen was recalled from the mission over the allegations – something he entirely refuted. Eventually his recall was withdrawn after the Mission's standing committee decided the allegations had been either false or grossly exaggerated by a fellow missionary worker with whom there had been a disagreement.

As word of these atrocities reached Europe, diplomat Roger Casement was tasked by the British Government to compile a report on the situation. He had already spent years living in sub-Saharan Africa.

Casement was an unusual character for a British diplomat at the time. He had an obvious sympathy for the native Congolese peoples and lacked the imperialist attitudes which were so prevalent among many Europeans at the time.

When Casement arrived in the Congo, the Belgian authorities tried to hamper his investigations. In order to get around this, Casement hired a small steamer named the SS Henry Reed but needed an engineer. On 17 July 1903, Danielsen, who had been on his way home due to ill health, agreed to take the job. Casement was also reliant on Danielsen to act as an interpreter with local peoples.

Writing to the British Foreign Secretary's office, Casement said of Danielsen:

Mr Danielsen's services were of the greatest value: Indeed without his help I could not have proceeded very far in my journey.” He said it was only down to Danielsen's “skill and hard work” that the aging vessel the Henry Reed managed to make the journey.

Soon after arriving in Congo, the Belgian authorities began a campaign to discredit Casement and accused him of being too close to 'English Protestant missionaries'.

Throughout their journey, Casement's team took photos to illustrate the horrors inflicted upon the natives. Most famous are the 'cut hand' photographs – most likely taken by Danielsen – which show dozens of natives displaying their severed limbs.

Towards the end of the journey Danielson became increasingly unwell and in late 1903 returned to Europe and undertook a speaking tour in Scotland about the horrors he and Casement had witnessed. He also toured his native Faroe Islands. The fact a native from such a tiny community had witnessed these atrocities first hand led to almost universal condemnation of Belgium from the Faroese people and made the rights of natives a cause célebre on the archipelago.

An article in the newspaper Tingakrossur on a talk given by Danielsen says that the Belgian regime in the Congo is “a regime of horror that is caused by capitalistic Belgian interests”.

Speaking at Synod Hall in Edinburgh, Danielson condemned the Congo Free State as nothing but a slave state.

'The Casement Report', published in 1904, and the subsequent high-profile campaign by Edmund Deane Morel's Congo Reform Association were instrumental in forcing King Leopold to relinquish his 'personal property' in the region in 1908.

Both Roger Casement and Daniel Danielsen would die just a few weeks apart in 1916. It is unlikely that news would have reached Danielsen in Tórshavn before his own death that his employer and friend – with whom he shared an obvious affinity for native people of the Congo – had been executed for attempting to liberate his own island from imperialism. 

The two were reunited almost a century later when, to mark the 110th anniversary of the Casement Report, Danielsen and Casement appeared on the national stamp of the Faroe Islands.

  • This article first appeared in the Special 1916 Centenary Edition of An Phoblacht

Friday, 29 July 2016

More questions over RUC involvement in gun attack on Thierafurth Inn

Peter McCormack died when unionist gunmen opened fire on customers in the Thierafurth Inn
MORE QUESTIONS have been raised about the level of collusion between the RUC and loyalist murder gangs in County Down after a local man revealed how he only became aware of a UVF plot to kill him following the publication of the Police Ombudsman’s report into the Loughinisland Massacre.
On 6 November 1992, a unionist death squad abandoned a plan to kill Peter McCarthy – whose family own the Thierafurth Inn in Kilcoo village – after fearing their murder bid may have been compromised. During the attempt, a car was hijacked and its owners held at gunpoint to stop them reporting the vehicle as stolen. 
The Police Ombudsman report says it believed this was just one of several plots to kill him.
Speaking to The Irish News on Monday, Peter McCarthy said he believes the RUC allowed the UVF gang to operate freely in the County Down area. 
The RUC first became aware of its members’ links with a unionist death squad in the region following the 1988 murder of Dundrum man Jack Kielty, father of TV host and comedian Patrick Kielty. 
Jack’s killing was believed to have been carried out to stop him giving evidence in court on a loyalist protection racket.
In the subsequent RUC investigation, the Orange Hall at Clough was raided and various firearms, balaclavas, ammunition, British Army maps and a UDR album containing photographs and details of suspected republicans were recovered. One of those pictured in the album was Peter McCarthy from Kilcoo.
The Police Ombudsman notes that the investigation into the murder of Jack Kielty “was successful in identifying personalities and associations, including those within and associated with the security forces, within a small, embryonic loyalist paramilitary unit operating mainly in the Newcastle Sub-Division of the RUC’s ‘G’ Division”.
It criticises the RUC, nevertheless, for failing to monitor and investigate this death squad “as a result of which it re-emerged a number of years later as a fully functional UVF unit, embarking on a campaign of murder that would ultimately escalate to the Loughinisland atrocity”.
The Police Ombudsman notes an attempt to murder Peter McCarthy – whose name and photograph were found in Clough Orange Hall – was planned for 6 November 1992 but was abandoned.
Two weeks later, Peter McCarthy’s cousin, Peter McCormack, was murdered in the Thierafurth Bar when a UVF death squad burst in and opened fire indiscriminately, killing Peter and injuring three other customers – including a blind man.
The UVF attack came hours after the IRA had shot dead a British soldier in Portadown. In a phone-call to Downtown Radio, the UVF claimed responsibility for the attack claiming the “IRA commander in South Down was in the pub at the time” and was their intended target. 
The Police Ombudsman’s report found that, by mid-1993, the RUC had extensive intelligence indicating who was responsible for the attack – including a UDR soldier – but this intelligence was not circulated. 
This same UDR soldier's fingerprints had been found on the UDR album containing photographs of suspected republicans which was found during the raid on Clough Orange Hall several years earlier.
A car containing this UDR soldier, accompanied by a suspected UVF member, was stopped on the evening of the Thierafurth Inn murder at a checkpoint in Ballynahinch but allowed to continue. 
This same UDR soldier was later arrested by the RUC investigating the 1994 Loughinisland Massacre.
Loughinisland massacre scene
The Police Ombudsman’s report also said the RUC officer leading the investigation told the Ombudsman investigators that the Thierafurth Inn “had been frequented by ‘bad people’ and queried why Mr McCormack was in the public house that night”.
The Ombudsman noted:
“This commentary by a senior police officer charged with the investigation is considered to be poor practice and suggests a lack of objectivity.”
Peter McCormack’s sister, Mary Sloan, told The Irish News:
“That police officer is the man I would like to speak to, to find out what made him so biased.” 
Gavin Booth, solicitor for KRW Law, says there is a huge amount of unanswered questions in relation to the Thierafurth Inn: 
“The families deserve truth and we will be calling for that process.”
  • This article first appeared in An Phoblacht online on 18 July 2016

Shane Ross – 'Independent' cog fits neatly in Fine Gael machine

AS the LUAS light rail dispute rumbled on in Dublin City's transport network, new Dáil Transport Minister Shane Ross's unwillingness to weigh in and help find a solution indicated he would be perpetuating Fine Gael's hands-off approach to industrial disputes.
Ross, a former stockbroker, regularly used his position as Business Editor at the Sunday Independent to criticise Ireland's transport system, particularly during the years of the Celtic Tiger, but as Transport Minister bowed out of doing anything to hasten an agreement between workers and company Transdev.
Representing the prosperous Dublin Rathdown constituency, Ross was first elected to the Seanad as an Independent representing UCD in 1981. He was re-elected eight times since, making him the longest-serving senator in Seanad history. He also served as a Fine Gael councillor in Bray from 1991 to 1997 and stood unsuccessfully for the Fine Gael party at a 1992 general election in Wicklow before reverting to being an Independent.
Throughout his political career, Ross has been one of the most conservative politicians in the Dáil. He reserved much of his venom for republicans.
In an interview with the Evening Herald in August 1983, the then senator said he would leave Ireland the minute Margaret Thatcher or any other British Prime Minister announced the withdrawal of Britain from the North.
He went on to say: 
“Pearse and Connolly had no mandate to take up arms . . . They were the original terrorists. The Provos of today are the true inheritors of 1916.”
Ross's dislike of Sinn Féin wasn't helped when he was humiliated in the 1984 European elections. The sitting senator contested the Dublin constituency and finished tenth of 12 candidates with a paltry 2.9% of the vote. Compounding his frustration was the fact that the Sinn Féin candidate – who was banned from TV and radio and censored in the press – finished over 6,000 votes ahead of him.
Ross decried those campaigning for the release of some Irish people imprisoned in Britain, saying the “presumption of the innocence of the Birmingham Six had been taken for granted for too long” and Irish people should “cease their persistent criticisms of the workings of British courts whenever Irishmen are on trial”. 

He added that, too often Irish people from positions of “ignorance and emotion” complain about the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, the Maguire Seven and the Winchester Three:
“I would like to put on record that I do not believe for one moment that all these people – leaving out the Winchester Three for the moment – are automatically innocent. It seems that all you have to be is an Irish person in Britain charged with a terrorist crime for politicians on all sides here to throw up their hands and call 'foul'. This is completely wrong.” 
The Birmingham Six, Maguire Seven, Guildford Four and Winchester Three were all exonerated after being wrongly imprisoned for years.
Tentative moves towards the Peace Process didn't deter Ross from spewing his anti-republican vitriol. In August 1993 he continued:
“Sinn Féin should be proscribed in exactly the same way as the IRA. Membership should carry the same penalties.
“Sinn Féin offices in Parnell Square and throughout Ireland should be closed. An Phoblacht should be banned.
“No statements from either group or its leaders should be allowed to be carried by any national or local newspapers. No public meetings would be permitted under the Sinn Féin banner. The organisation and all its activities would simply cease to exist.”
He added: 
“We could lock up the leaders of Sinn Féin. In a rare display of Irish unity, we could take joint action against them by closing their advice centres. We could extend Section 31 [the broadcasting ban] to all sections of the media. We could simply blot them out of the political consciousness.”
Some letter-writers to the Irish Press were shocked by Ross's comments, saying his “lecture to us to cease our concern for Irish citizens subjected to charges in British courts is pathetic. In effect, he says, don't object to or confront past, present or potential injustice.”
Responding to talks initiatives by Gerry Adams and SDLP leader John Hume in September 1993 that eventually led to the Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement, Ross said: “I should prefer to see him [Gerry Adams] interned without trial.”
In the 1990s, Ross was a regular at pickets outside Sinn Féin offices alongside arch-reactionary Conor Cruise O'Brien, Pat Rabbitte and Michael Nugent. The group that organised the protests, Families Against Intimidation and Terror, focused almost exclusively on republican violence. It was heavily criticised after it emerged that it was actually funded by the British Government.
In the run-up to this year's general election, Ross was scathing in his criticism of his former comrades in Fine Gael – but was quick to put clear blue water between himself, Sinn Féin and others on the Left. 
Now, after almost 20 years as a populist right-wing voice, Shane Ross is once more back to being a cog that fits neatly in the Fine Gael machine. 
  • This article first appeared in the July 2016 edition of An Phoblacht

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Interview: Mary Lou – Stepping up to the plate on mental health

ANNOUNCING its new spokespersons in May for the fresh Dáil term after February's general election, Sinn Féin said that in keeping with its mandate from the election the party would be placing priority on the areas of mental health, disability inclusion, public services and Irish unity.
Deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald took up the Mental Health brief.
“I want to be part of having a big conversation about not just rebuilding the social fabric of our communities but also people's lives,” Mary Lou tells An Phoblacht.
Working alongside the Dublin TD in the Mental Health brief, and with special responsibility for Suicide Prevention, is newly-elected Cork East TD Pat Buckley. Pat founded the Let's Get Together suicide prevention charity after two of his brothers, Mark and James, died by suicide. Mary Lou says Pat is a man whom she greatly admires and describes his story as “both tragic and heroic”.
“Pat is very personally courageous in terms of sharing his family's experience. He does that because he knows exactly where it's at when that tragedy of death by suicide hits a family, and he knows he can reach out and assist others,” she says.
Mary Lou explains that a big part of her decision to take on the new role was down to her constituency work, where meeting people who are dealing with issues such as self-harm, emotional distress and suicide prevention is a daily experience:
“This is a very human brief,” she says. “It's about people, their families and communities.This is me stepping up to the plate on an issue that I think is core to people's lives, experiences and happiness.”
When Gerry Adams publicly announced the new Sinn Féin spokespersons at a media event in Leinster House in May, one of the first questions he was asked by waiting reporters was whether Mary Lou moving from Public Expenditure to Mental Health was a demotion.
“I was really astonished by that,” Mary Lou tells An Phoblacht. “What on earth does a reaction like that say about commentators or the media – when being given such a critical brief is regarded as a demotion? I regard this as a promotion. I regard this as me and Pat being asked to take on an issue that could not be more sensitive or central to people's live.”
The Dublin Central TD is critical of how the state has failed to fully-implement the now 10-year-old 'Vision for Change' plan. That plan is now being updated.
“If the common political consensus is that mental health, emotional health and suicide prevention are extremely important issues then the system has to put its money where its mouth is,” says Mary Lou. 
Mary Lou says she will be working closely with new Assembly Health Minister Michelle O'Neill in developing strategies and ensuring that funding is brought forward so that counseling services, support services, helplines and community initiatives are properly resourced.
In April, shortly after the Dáil returned, there were protests outside Leinster House organised by the Mental Health Reform group and the Union of Students in Ireland after it emerged that state funding ring-fenced for mental health services had been diverted elsewhere. Mary Lou McDonald and Sinn Féin also took part in the demonstrations.
“What an awful way to start the new Dáil term,” says Mary Lou. “To meet under a situation where €12million of the €35million in funding was to be siphoned off elsewhere. That rightly caused huge anger right across the board. Those protesters understand that the budget isn't just about figures on a balance sheet, what's in the balance is people's lives and people's ability to function, cope and raise their families.”
She says that Mental Health is an area that cannot be divorced from other vital issues such as housing, rural affairs, health, public expenditure and much more.
Mary Lou praises PIPS, Pieta House and other groups for their work on suicide prevention and says there is a serious need to get behind and support the great work already underway. But she admits that the statistics of the number of young people dying by suicide is frighteningly high.
“I have two kids. I have a daughter who will soon be a teenager. I'm no different to any other mammy, so those things worry you. You want your kids to be both physically and emotionally well. I think many people are afraid of mental health issues but we need to break down that stigma in a way that's comfortable and positive,” she says.
Mary Lou says she has been heartened by how much importance Sinn Féin activists have placed on mental health issues, and she gives this commitment:
“Myself and Pat Buckley have vowed to get out, visit, talk to – and most importantly listen to – every section of society where people have a view on mental health and emotional health.”
  • This article first appeared in the June 2016 edition of An Phoblacht

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Frame-up victim Nicky Kelly says Special Criminal Court must be scrapped

On 31 March 1976, armed men robbed the Cork to Dublin mail train at Sallins, getting away with approximately £200,000. 
A botched Garda investigation saw three members of the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) charged with the robbery. They were innocent.
The three, including Nicky Kelly, appeared before the non-jury Special Criminal Court. There was no book of evidence against them and the only evidence was confessions the men said they were forced to sign after being beaten by a notorious group of Special Branch detectives widely known as ‘The Heavy Gang’. The three were found guilty and sentenced to between 9 and 12 years. Nicky jumped bail and fled to America. 
When his co-accused were acquitted on appeal in 1980 after it was found the confessions were indeed signed under duress, Kelly returned to Ireland in the expectation that he too would be acquitted. Instead, he spent the next four years in Portlaoise Prison. He embarked on a hunger strike. Outside, dozens of political, community, human rights and legal organisations launched the ‘Free Nicky Kelly’ campaign. Christy Moore even released a single entitled Wicklow Boy about his plight – the campaigning civil liberties ballad was swiftly banned from RTÉ.
Journalists Gene Kerrigan and Derek Dunne wrote a celebrated exposé of the case entitled Round Up the Usual Suspects, taken from a famous line in the Humphrey Bogart movie Casablanca.
Released in 1984 on humanitarian grounds, Nicky was given a Presidential Pardon in 1992 and £750,000 in compensation for his wrongful imprisonment.
Last month, speaking at a debate on the issue of the Special Criminal Court as part of the Dublin Anarchist Book Fair, alongside Jim Monaghan, Nicky Kelly says there has never been a better time for a campaign to have the Special Criminal Court scrapped. Recalling how much of a farce it was, he said:
“In my trial the judge slept for 66 days. The whole country was talking about ‘the sleeping judge’. They were amused about it. People were coming in for 10 minutes to have a look. They weren’t coming in worried about Nicky Kelly – they were coming in to look at the sleeping judge!”
He says a Fine Gael representative who also criticised the ‘sleeping judge’ found his budding career ended while media organisations faced legal threats, as did their advertisers.
News that the Government is not scrapping the court – which has been condemned by the United Nations, Amnesty International and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties – but instead establishing a second one is “very worrying”, to Nicky.
“It is creating the mechanics where community protests may also come under the SCC,” he says. “There will come a time in the future where the SCC will be a controlling factor for a lot more than republicans.”
The SCC became a general election issue as feuds between Dublin criminal gangs led to a surge in shootings across the capital.
“I think the SCC is vulnerable,” says Nicky, a former Labour Party councillor, Mayor of Arklow. and Dáil candidate. He notes that other European states do not require non-jury courts to tackle their gang problems. 
“A lot more people are talking about it and many are wondering what is the need for it, and why are they establishing a second one? We saw the crocodile tears about Joan Burton’s cavalcade being held up for a while by a protest – these are the type of cases that could end up in the SCC,” warns Nicky.
He has no doubt that anybody who speaks out and calls for the scrapping of the SCC will be hounded and portrayed as attempting to undermine the state:
“But in general, people are a bit more copped-on nowadays on many issues. It is not as impossible as it might seem to mount a campaign against the SCC and the timing has never been better. They need to be challenged on the need to retain it.”
Mentioning Aengus Ó Snodaigh, who was in attendance, for his work on campaigning against the SCC, Nicky says it is time people put it up to other elected politicians:
“In relation to mobilising people, it is near impossible to get the public at large out marching on an issue like the Special Criminal Court. What we need to do is to get those who have been elected – progressives, liberals, independents and so on – and ask them are they prepared to address the issue of the SCC which has this state in the category of a banana republic on the international stage.” 
He says it's time for progressives to set out their stall on the issue:
“I’ve no problem with right-wing people justifying the Special Criminal Court because it’s for their own self-interest and protection. It’s the people who pretend they are liberal in some attitudes, they are the ones who have to be challenged on it.”
  • This article first appeared in the May 2016 edition of An Phoblacht