by KEVIN McNAMARA Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull, Central, and chairman of Parliamentary Labour Party Northern Ireland group,
Labour when it came to power had an uncertain attitude towards internment without trial. In Opposition 74 Members, including Members of the present Government, had voted against the Tory Administration's unthinking support of Brian Faulkner's ill-fated policy. The official Labour leadership had abstained. Willie Whitelaw — or "Whitewash" as he is less affectionately known to some Unionists, and the nickname is apt in this context — had attempted to change the unacceptable face of internment, to give it a lift, to call it "detention", to introduce a bastard system of law of trial before Commissioners thus enabling prisoners to appeal against detention. In so doing he tried to shift from the politicians the onus of depriving a man, untried, of his liberty. "A rose by any other name . . . "
Those of us who argued against the consequences of internment before it was introduced have had little satisfaction in seeing our prophecies fulfilled. We still believe that 'Until the slate is wiped clean, the 'Kesh is emptied, that terrorists will feel that they have an excuse for their actions and will win a degree of sympathy from the minority population. The liberal conscience with its tortured writhings is always against repressive measures but supports their introduction as a painful necessity. It is now in despair because having let loose the tiger of internment it does not know how to cage the beast when the only way is to kill it, end it. lt cannot be tamed.
So Merlyn Rees set up the Gardiner Committee to do the impossible, to discover a detergent that was to wash clean the liberal conscience and conjure up a method of ridding the Six Counties of imprisonment without trial or of rending it acceptable. Of course, the terms of reference of the Gardiner Committee were more elegantly phrased than that bald statement but that was the object of the exercise.
It was an impossible task so Gardiner and his high powered and well meaning associates failed, They carefully passed the poisoned chalice back to Merlyn Rees and to mix the metaphor said "It's your baby, you've got to decide when and how to gel rid of it". So while it had a number of useful things to say on minor matters, on the whole the Gardiner Committee was an abortive exercise.
On the ending of internment it said: "We think that this grave decision can only be made by the Governmnt. Only they can decide the time taking into account a wide range of political, social and economic factors as well as the security situation .. Now nobody denies the problems that exist in this difficult situation which was not of Merlyn Rees's making and something which he inherited from the former Tory Government. But when is it to end? Gardiner again states the selfevident truth about detention without trial "In the short term, it may be an effective method of containing violence, but the prolonged effects of the use of detention are ultimately inimical to community life, fan a widespread • sense of grievance and injustice, and obstruct those elements in Northern Ireland society which could lead to reconciliation".
We are now in the fourth year of internment. Ilow long is "short term" and have we reached a situation in which those elements in Northern Ireland which could lead to reconciliation are already being obstructed?
Cameron Commission findings forgotten
To be fair to Merlyn Rees he is caught up on a Morton's fork. If there are a large number of men interned whom he believes to be guilty of vicious and horrible crimes which cannot be proved in Court, how can he let those men go free, no matter their political motiviation, if any? On the other prong he defeats his own argument because detainees are being released. They are being used as political hostages as part of the current deal being negotiated with the Provisional IRA; namely, if violence diminishes the same allegedly violent men now interned will be released.
This is condemned by Lord Gardiner's'Committee: "We do not think that such a policy is consistent with the requirements of social
justice". So much for the policy conducted by both the former Tory administration and the present Labour one.
The distinguished members of the committee demonstrate all the correct liberal attitudes and platitudes but they all seem to have forgotten the findings of the Cameron Commission in September 1969 which spoke of "a rising sense of continuing injustice and grievance amongst large sections of the Catholic population in Northern Ireland" and of the Scarman Tribunal in April 1972 which, speaking of the Reform Programme being introduced by the then Government of Northern Ireland in November, 1969, said: "It was regarded as inadequate by the minority, and did not efface or diminish their feelings that the police would be used as a partisan force to suppress the political demonstrations of those opposed to the Northern Ireland Government".
If you accept the premise that before 1969 the Six Counties were the epitome of a liberal democracy then the Gardiner Committee's conclusions are understandable: if you accept Cameron and Scarman then their conclusions are like Enoch Powell's arguments, perfect syllogisms but untenable premises.
To make this observation is not to seek to justify men of violence but to try and understand what motivates them and why after all these troubled years they still gain a measure of support and sympathy from the minority population.
Grasping at shadow of a solution
Brian Faulkner's introduction of internment merely confirmed the suspicions of the minority outlined by Cameron and Scarman. Faulkner believed that he had defeated the IRA campaign of the mid-1950s by his policy of internment without trial.
He persuaded the Heath Government that he would have the same success in 1971. He failed to appreciate the distinction between the indigenous nature of the current troubles and the external threat posed by the IRA in its earlier unsuccessful campaign.
The fact that the first political violence and bombings, indeed the first killing of a member of the security forces, were carried out by Unionist extremists, was ignored by Faulkner and on August 9, 1971, internment was directed solely at the minority population.
Of the subsequent chain of events, the alteration in the internment procedures, the internment of Loyalists, trial by Commissioners, the change in name, direct rule, none of this altered the first horrible impression that the lifting of men from their homes in the early hours of that August morning was internment directed indiscriminately by Unionists against Republicans, Protestants, against Catholics, them against us.
Until that fact is understood and accepted by British Governments and British political parties they will be forever grasping at the shadow of a political solution but never reaching the substance.
It may be that those of us who argue against continued detention without trial, and people like Gerry Fitt and the SDLP, will be proved wrong and to open the gates of Armagh, MeGilligan and Long Kesh will not end the violence. will not end the bombings and murder. Nevertheless. what we know for certain is that while internment is in existence the bombings and the killings continue.
In the end the detainees will be released. They will emerge either as free men or in their coffins. Until Merlyn Rees, or whoever else holds the position, decides to take the risk of abolishing detention without trial, the Provisional IRA will feel that it has its justification and it will be tolerated by elements within the minority population.
Because of that first impression of internment, the attitude of many within the minority population towards those detained remains:–
"Not for them a judge or jury Nor indeed a crime at all Being Irish means their guilty So we're guilty one and all".
To release the detainees will be a risk; but to ' give peace and reason a chance it is a risk that • has to be taken.