Socialist Party archives - Militant Irish Monthly, May 1980, No. 83

Editorial: H-Block

The inhuman conditions being inflicted on prisoners in the H-Blocks and in Armagh prison must be opposed by the Labour movement. For four years the blanket protest has been carried on in H-Block. Since 1978 the escalation of this protest in response to the brutality of the prison authorities has created absolutely horrific conditions which no prisoners should be forced to endure. The 24-hour lock-up, the deprivation of all reading and writing materials, the searches and beating of the prisoners, can only be described in one way - as torture.

The escalation of the situation with the women prisoners in Armagh has created for them conditions akin to those of H-Block. That these women should have been subjected to beatings by male warders, that they should have been denied proper medical and sanitary facilities is a crime which should be opposed by all sections of the Labour Movement.

'Militant' has always opposed repression in Northern Ireland. We deny that Armagh and H-Block conditions are simply self-inflicted by the prisoners. This nightmare has resulted first in response to the denial of basic rights by the authorities. However, the particularly vile nature of this protest is also due to the fact that the outside support organisations, because they have been linked to the Provisional IRA, have been incapable of mobilising mass support. Thus the prisoners have been left isolated.

Prisoners, no matter who, should be permitted basic human rights. They should have the right to wear their own clothes, to regular visits, food parcels, to exercise, to training and educational facilities, to trade union rates of pay. In addition, they should have the right to elect representatives to negotiate on their behalf with the prison authorities.

An immediate campaign for such conditions for those both in H-Block and Armagh must be begun by the Labour movement. In arguing for such a campaign, 'Militant' is not adopting the position of the various para-military groups who state that their members in H-Block and Armagh are entitled to such rights only because they are political prisoners. We believe that the basic rights listed above should be enjoyed by all prisoners in jails in Britain and Ireland.

However, there is something 'special' about those imprisoned in H-Block and Armagh. H-Block is the final stage in a long chain of repression, torture, forced confessions and non-jury courts. The Labour Movement must fight for the scrapping of the entire apparatus of repression in Northern Ireland. It has always been the case that repressive measures, no matter against whom they are first introduced, ultimately are always retained for use against the Labour Movement.

With regard to those who have been convicted under this system of repression, we demand that the Labour movement institute a review of the cases of all those now in prison on sentences arising out of the Northern Ireland troubles. The Movement must fight for the immediate release of all those who have been framed or whose convictions have been based on false confessions extracted by torture. But with one proviso - the Labour movement will not campaign for the release of sectarian assassins.

In relation to the question of who is and who is not a political prisoner, this is something which the Labour Movement, not the para-military groups must decide. As part of the review of the cases of all these prisoners, the Labour Movement can decide who is a political prisoner and whose release it should therefore fight for.

H-Block, like all aspects of repression, is not a sectarian issue. It is a class issue. It is the demands of the para-militaries which turn it into a sectarian issue. Only the Labour movement can take it up in a class fashion and campaign successfully against this torture.

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