‘Internment’ by John McGuffin (1973)

Chapter 13

WITH Long Kesh being rapidly filled, the Unionist Government appointed an "advisory committee to consider representations from internees." Its chairman was Justice James A. Brown QC (56), a county court judge from Co. Down. Its other members were Reginald Berkeley (62), a managing director of the Belfast Steamship Company and "a notable figure in NI business circles." He had been a member of the 'advisory committee' during the 1956-62 period. The third member was the obligatory 'Castle Catholic', Philip Neale Dalton, South African born, English educated, a former Attorney General in Zanzibar, with plenty of experience as a colonial administrator. The press were quick to reassure internees, lest this background might make them feel despondent, that he was a good Catholic.
     Like the Compton Committee, these men did not inspire confidence. Nor did the committee work, as Merlyn Rees MP, one of the ten members of the all-party delegation of British MP's who visited the camp, testified. More than 90 per cent of the men in the camp refused to have anything to do with the board. There were many good reasons for this. Firstly, an internee appearing before the committee was asked to prove his innocence without even being informed of what he was being accused. This clearly violated the supposedly sacrosanct principle of 'British Justice' that one is innocent until proved guilty. Secondly, the advisory board had no executive power whatsoever. It was ordered to merely advise the Minister for Home Affairs, who just happened to be the PM who just happened to be the man who had signed the internment orders in the first place, and happened to be the man who had appointed the members to the committee. In most cases, even if the committee were bold enough to recommend a release, Faulkner merely ignored the 'advice'.[1]
     Moreover, the internee, completely in the dark as to what allegations about him were being made by anonymous Special Branch men, was only allowed a lawyer to prepare a written submission. The lawyer could not attend the oral session to help the internee put his case to the sophisticated legal 'experts' (two of the three Board members were lawyers), despite the fact that this is contrary to all accepted legal procedures. As well, many questions about the evaluation of supposed 'evidence' remained unanswered. The committee refused to state whether it personally examined those police officers, Special Branch men or paid informers upon whose say-so the suspect was interned. Brown remained silent about this, but one 'power' did emerge – as a result of interrogating internees: Brown could recommend that persons not already interned could be arrested and put in Long Kesh!
     To most of the internees there was an even more serious objection: 'the oath'. In Ireland oaths are taken much more seriously than would appear to be the case in England. Men who had not been charged or tried found it extremely objectionable to be required to take an oath never "to join any illegal organization or engage in violence," especially when, under the Special Powers Acts, the Unionist Minister for Home Affairs had the power to declare illegal any political, social or trade union group, without giving any reason. Many, too, felt that to give such an oath would be a tacit admission of previous guilt, and so men like Councillor James O'Kane, whom the board accepted was guilty of no crime, had to languish in camp for four months more before they were released. [In England, except for those holding or accepting high office of state, the oath is not administered. In Northern Ireland, as Austin Currie has pointed out, "one had to take an oath to even become a sheugh cleaner" (ditch digger).]
     Brian Faulkner had said that Republicanism was a legitimate political philosophy, provided that violence was not used to obtain its ends, and yet his committee (by their own admission) tried to force innocent men to swear an oath to the monarch, an oath which is repugnant to any Republican, Nationalist, agnostic or atheist, however pacific they may be. Under this duress innocent men like Billy McBurney, Ivan Barr, Pat Shivers, Charles Fleming (67) and Terry McCullough had to take the oath in order to be released. That the oath-taking was only a charade was soon to be demonstrated anyway in the case of Ian Campbell, the only member of the Communist party to be originally interned. He was recommended for release, refused to take the oath and kept in. Two weeks later he was released anyway.
     As to the actual proceedings of the 'advisory committee', Paddy Joe McClean, writing to The Irish Times of 28 October 1971, gave a fairly typical account. In an open letter to Judge Brown he said:

On Tuesday October 5th, you invited me to meet you. As far as I can recollect the following conversation took place:
You introduced yourself, Mr. Dalton and Mr. Berkeley to me. You told me that the function of your advisory board was to recommend or not recommend a man's release. You then asked me if I had anything to say. I said I had but that I would need to know why I had been interned in the first place. I told you I could get no answers to this question from anyone and I had asked the military (who wrongfully arrested me), the police, the prison governor and Mr. Faulkner. You said that you had not noticed my open letter to the press but that over 200 people were interned because they were connected with the Official or Provisional wings of the IRA. I went on to say that my letter to the press had publicly stated that I had no such connections but that I was engaged in a number of organisations, notably the GAA, the CRA, the National Graves Association and registration work. You then asked me if I was politically involved and I stated that I was always politically interested, having worked at elections since I worked for a Fianna Uladh candidate in 1953, until the last Westminster election when I supported Miss Devlin MP in her campaign. Both of us agreed that all this was perfectly legal and was, indeed, a man's moral duty. You seemed to wonder that I should support an illegal organisation like Fianna Uladh until I pointed out to you that Fianna Uladh was declared illegal by the then Minister of Home Affairs on or about December 27th 1956 and I had been interned on December 21st. When I was released in 1960 Fianna Uladh was non-existent so I could not have supported an illegal organisation. (This by the way, was the first indication I had of why I was interned from 1956 to 1960).
You then were kind enough to inquire about my wife and family. I told you how my wife's mother had died on the morning of my arrest, how our new baby, our ninth, was about to arrive, and how I was taken away for a week's torture at an unknown destination. You quickly intervened to say that that was no concern of yours and then invited both Messrs. Dalton and Berkeley to ask me any questions, which they declined to do. We then parted. Can you imagine my surprise when on October 15th I learned that your board had recommended the release of some 5 men who were required to sign a document which the news media referred to as an oath? Now, as you know, I and all other teachers take an oath; you never asked me about it – in truth you did not suggest in any way that I had broken it .... that same day a prison officer came round and sympathised that your board had not recommended my release. No reason was given. You, as a judge, had condemned me to an indefinite prison sentence as a result of the above conversation. Is this justice? I suggest that you owe it not only to me whose liberty is at stake, but to the dignified position you hold to explain how you arrived at a verdict of guilty. Do you wonder that, seeing this execution of 'justice', other internees refuse to even bother to see you?
Internee No. 2466. Patrick J. McClean.

The Brown Committee was an abject failure. Even before Whitelaw and direct rule it had been allowed to fall into disuse and its members had resigned. They were replaced by Whitelaw's own functionaries: the British Judge Leonard (deputy chairman of Oxfordshire Quarter Sessions), it was announced on 2 May, would head the new "advisory committee to consider representations from internees," but it was little more than a piece of window dressing. The general review of releases was solely the prerogative of Whitelaw himself, and it became obvious that all releases would be not on possible grounds of "danger to the community," but on purely political expediency. Whitelaw was making little secret of the fact that the internees were nothing more than hostages.

Footnotes Chapter 13:

  1. It is worth noting that while the Special Powers Act (regulation 12) specifically calls it 'an advisory committee', Faulkner, in yet another semantic game, always referred to it as 'an appeals tribunal' although it had no judicial powers whatsoever. But then, 'tear smoke' always sounded better than old-fashioned 'tear gas'. (See also appendix on Parker Committee and Special Courts, respectively).

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